How Augmented Reality Will Change Theatre

American NFL star, Chris Kluwe, filmed a TED talk about how augmented reality will change the sports industry. An industry desperate for the latest technological advancements to help its players perform better and give the audience a better experience, augmented reality is the next frontier for information communication between players leading to virtual reality opportunities for audiences. But how will these technologies change the theatre industry.

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The opportunities for virtual reality are pretty clear in the theatre world. Imagine if you could experience the story of Wicked from the point of view of Elphaba. It would give you a dramatically different experience compared to the view from Glinda’s shoes. What about Les Miserablés? Imagine standing in Javert or Jean Valjean’s shoes. But augmented reality is a much more interesting proposition.

Theatre is meant to imitate life. Shine a light on situations which we, as audiences, can relate to. Provide a different perspective on issues than we have personally confronted. But as our lives get more complex and our methods of communication become more diverse and more private, the multiple levels of storytelling now available to theatre creators are lost. If you were just to observe a live feed of someone’s life from the outside you would be missing a significant proportion of their feelings as our communications are increasingly non-physical.

Dear Evan Hansen is a great example of the potential in this phenomenon. Set in present day, the story centres on the remarkable influence of social media after a crisis in a small community. Thus, social media and online communication plays an important role in telling this story and needs to be communicated in an interactive way with the audience in order to create empathy and understanding . . . literally having them walk in another person’s shoes.

Enter augmented reality technology.

Imaging you are sitting in a theatre watching a character singing about his feelings while immersed in an online world. What if you could actually experience that online world in front of you while also watching that character live on stage? All of a sudden you will have a better understanding of exactly what this character is going through as Facebook updates, tweets, and Instagram posts appear in front of you as they appear to the character. Bam! All of a sudden, you are telling a story across multiple levels that will inspire new levels of empathy in your audience.

Maybe a feed of text messages appear to the audience? Maybe it is news headlines? This is essentially an extra stage that is open to all storytellers. You would be nuts not to use it!

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