Theatres tempt new audiences with virtual reality

Roberta Doyle was unnerved when she found herself on the receiving end of a football manager’s rant.

Despite just being a member of the audience, the play’s delivery – through a virtual reality (VR) headset – made the rant feel alarmingly real.

“You’re in the dressing room at half-time and getting his view of your first half performance. It rattled me, there was a lot of swearing and finger pointing. But it was very well done. It was uncomfortable in a good way.”

The play, called Smile, was about the life of legendary Dundee United manager Jim McLean.

Ms Doyle had been expecting a conventional performance of a play featuring the blunt-spoken manager when she arrived at the Dundee Repertory earlier this year.

Before the curtain rose she accepted an invite to a section of the foyer where VR headsets were on offer to curious theatre-goers.

Kelman and Gemma Greig-KicksIMAGE SOURCE,BOX OFFICE VR
Image caption,

Gemma and Kelman Greig-Kicks hope virtual reality headsets will attract a new theatre audience

The intense preview sequence came from Box Office VR, a firm founded by Kelman and Gemma Greig-Kicks of Box Office VR.

Having spent careers in film-making and touring theatre, the husband and wife team, hope that VR can extend the reach of theatre to untapped audiences.

Anyone who wants to use the service would have to buy their own headset, but Box Office VR is designed to work on cheap systems like Google Cardboard VR Glasses.

To watch a show the customer has to insert their phone into the VR device.

Once the phone is place, the users strap the box, effectively a pair of cardboard goggles, around their head and plug in their own headphones.

The app then streams a recorded performance to the phone, which the VR headset amplifies, taking the viewer into a 180 degree view of the stage and auditorium.

It is aimed at anyone who might not think of visiting the theatre, or who cannot physically reach a venue.

So far that’s a small audience. Around a 100 people have downloaded a show through Box Office VR.

Ms Greig-Kicks admits that Box Office VR is “a passion project” for her and her husband.

Yet she says the potential is real. “It means they can host shows that wouldn’t otherwise be able to tour due to size or cost.”

Box Office VR has filmed other productions, including one for London’s Sadler’s Wells dance theatre which has a Digital Stage label for its own online repertoire.

Other established names such as the York Theatre Royal have also experimented with making shows available via VR headsets.

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