The future of immersive experience technology may already be here. Today Brooklyn-based tech collective Sangria, creator of such virtual-reality sensations as Rabbit’s Paw and Invisible Cities, unveiled a new platform, Theatron, which could revolutionize live performance. Drawing on their background in crafting experiential VR and their taste for lo-fi steampunk aesthetics, Sangria designers believe they’ve developed a unique new way to share narrative experiences “with a sense of immediacy and human-scaled intimacy” unmatched by any other medium, as Sangria’s lead experience engineer, Dre McGlore, put it.
After a tour of Sangria’s sprawling Dumbo warehouse, McGlore gave assembled visitors a tantalizing glimpse of how Theatron works. With guests gathered in rows of chairs in a partly darkened space, all eyes were directed to a raised platform, on which a meticulously curated installation resembling a familiar everyday setting—in this case, a suburban living room on a lazy summer afternoon—was illuminated by unseen tungsten lamps. Soon performers attired in handcrafted costumes emerged to enact a domestic scene, mere feet away from the gathered audience, without aid of amplification. The unseen lights later shifted to simulate night, and performers enacted a quiet scene in near darkness, followed by a complete and startling blackout. After a pause, the rapt audience struck the palms of their hands together in rapid repetition to express their appreciation.
As the lights in the warehouse came back up, a flushed and excited McGlore leapt onto the raised platform, called a “stage,” and put into words what everyone in the room was feeling.
“It was like we were both here and there, wasn’t it?” said McGlore, beaming. “Theatron has the potential to create a level of communal, in-person, virtual-reality immersion unlike any other experience we’ve yet developed.” Another way Sangria’s designers conceptualize it, he said, is as “social media outside the box.”
Still, a few bugs in the platform emerged during the demonstration. Some apparently flu-afflicted guests could not suppress hacking coughs, particularly at a moment in which one performer mimed the smoking of a not-even-real cigarette. One sleep-deprived guest seemed to choose the shaded area of the warehouse as the perfect spot for a short nap. And twinkling occasionally amid the darkness of the seating area were lights from a few guests’ smartphones.
Asked about these glitches in the presentation, McGlore was philosophical. “You get a group of people in a room, you’ve got to take the good with the bad,” he said. He added that Sangria—which plans to license Theatron to schools, community centers, and concert halls—is already at work on Theatron 2.0, which will recreate the live experience exclusively for VR headsets and eliminate the human element altogether.
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