VR Theatre of the Future. #38 #cong16

By Camille Donegan.

Theatre was created by the ancient Greeks as a way for us to ‘see ourselves’ – a mirror of our psyches and our society. In the beginning of storytelling and theatre, there was no fourth wall. It was performed ‘in the round’ without separation between audience and performer. Jung believed that ancient myths hold encoded wisdom and that the characters in these tales are archetypes representing aspects of ourselves. He philosophised that through connecting with the myths of our place, we can connect more deeply with ourselves. 

In 2009, I set up a theatre company called Alive-O Productions. I yearned to connect with the mythological heritage of my country, yet I’d never learnt these stories in school or at home. Over the last seven years, I have immersed myself in Irish Myth. Most notably this summer at the Bard Summer school on Clare Island where a group of people came together for a week long immersion into the feminine figures of Irish Mythology, including Brigid, the triple Goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft.

Alive-O Productions brought shows inspired by these tales to parks and public places across Ireland. The shows were immersive, fun and family focused. The audience and performer were in conversation together and the energy between them was connected. Creating outdoor theatre in Ireland was not without its weather-related challenges so I began to explore other mediums. I received funding to transpose two of my outdoor theatre productions into radio dramas. I loved the freedom of working with this medium where the listener creates their own images, triggered by the audio content. I explored film making and animation. I could see how a blend of live action and animation could work well in order to depict where human realms meet with gods, goddesses and mythological creatures.

Then two years ago I discovered Virtual Reality. I saw it as a medium worthy of these characters and stories. One where you had your audiences’ undivided attention, and they could be truly transported to another time and place. 

I’m currently working on design projects at two sacred sites of Ireland to see how new technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, projection mapping and holograms can be blended alongside set design to explore the mysteries they hold. Through the power of new technologies, visitors can engage with these sites in innovative new ways, bringing their heritage to life. Visitors can interact with the characters and one another in both physical and virtual spaces.

I am filming tours at sacred sites of Ireland, capturing 360 footage of various tour guide perspectives  - archaeologists, storytellers, and shamans. I'm fascinated by the mystery of these sites. I love that we still don't know what their purpose was. Were they ancient burial sites or centres for ritual ceremonies? I believe that by exploring multi-faceted perspectives of these sites, we may be able to connect some of the dots and uncover ancient wisdom in the process. And what better medium to communicate these perspectives, show the physical beauty of these sites and bring their stories to life than virtual reality!

With this immersive new medium, we can return to the origins of theatre. We can place the viewer in the story and bring them to a world where the story reveals aspects of themself in an experiential way. Imagine what it would be like to see through the eyes of Finegas, the bard who was fishing for the salmon of knowledge for seven years before Fionn Mac Cumhaill came along and attained the wisdom by accident! Or to see through the eyes of Queen Maeve whose obsession with material gain over her own husband led to a nationwide war.

If we believe Jung’s theory, that myth is an expression of our collective consciousness and that all world mythology is connected, then creating content of Irish Mythological tales is a worthy and important path to explore. 

The next step is to go deeper. Design immersive and interactive experiences by collaborating with talented Irish theatre makers. We are a country of storytellers and now we have a medium worthy of our heritage. Through the power of virtual reality, we can bring the magic of Ireland’s mythological heritage to the furthest corners of the world!

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie