Virtual Reality

Affordable VR tech could breathe new life into Scottish theater

LEGENDARY football coach Jim McLean was known for his sullen attitude and outbursts of anger.

And now there’s a unique chance to experience what it was like to receive one of his fiery tirades – from the safety of your own armchair.

Thanks to leading development led by an Edinburgh film company, the hit play Smile about McLean can be experienced in virtual reality using just inexpensive headphones and a smartphone.

As theaters struggle to recover from the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, Dundee Rep has taken another bold step to make their work more accessible by embracing new technology.

The development means people can not only catch a show sitting at home, but could also help theaters boost ticket sales, which have fallen by around 25% on average after the pandemic.

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The innovation is a world first and the ‘pandemic baby’ of husband and wife team Kelman and Gemma Greig-Kicks, whose nine-year-old company Neon8 makes films for the third sector and the performing arts .

It is truly a passion project for the duo whose main goals are to help venues and production companies recover, as well as share the theatrical experience with those who might not be able to see a show. live.

Many theaters have switched to digital productions during the pandemic, but this takes the concept further by making audiences feel like they’re really there, rather than watching on a screen.

The new platform, Box Office VR, is already making waves, resulting in Neon8 winning the Innovation Award at the prestigious Creative Edinburgh Awards, after two years of hard work by Gemma and Kelman to create it.

“It’s been really exciting but also absolutely daunting and there have been a lot of moments where we wondered what we’ve been up to,” Gemma told the Sunday National.

The National:

“However, we wanted to introduce people to the joy of this soft, accessible yet immersive VR experience – one that brings you right into the space of the theater without actually being there. And while many people think VR is Reserved for gamers or tech enthusiasts, Neon8’s VR work for the theater doesn’t require you to stand or participate, nor do you need a dedicated VR headset for the see.

Kelman pointed out that their model was an ideal way to try virtual reality without shelling out big bucks for equipment.

“As well as people with suitable VR headsets being able to use the site, it also allows you to use a dummy headset, costing around £20, which you slip your phone into and using the Box Office VR app you can switch in VR mode. and see it all,” he said. “It allows people to experience it from a very low cost access point.

“Most of the industry is moving away from mobile VR because it’s not making enough money, but it still works for movie viewing and we really think people need time to see themselves. they love virtual reality.We think of people who don’t want or can’t afford to shell out for a VR headset because they think it will be a waste of money.

“With this, they can do something on their phone with a dummy headset and find out if they really like it.”

Kelman added, “We film either very close to the stage or right up front, so you get a view that you wouldn’t normally get. Nothing replaces going to the theater but you can see something a little different with the VR version.

There have been a few experiments with 360-degree VR theater productions before, but the Neon8 model is 180-degree to give people easier access while still providing an immersive experience.

It’s also a pay-per-view service rather than a subscription service, with around 80% of the money going back to the industry and the rest being used to maintain the platform.

Those who want to try it have the initial outlay for the headset, but it can be shared with others and there will soon be a number of productions on the platform, including Smile.

“A lot of people said it had to be subscription-based, like Netflix, but we didn’t want that because it just feeds into the big tech model,” Gemma said. We want it to be malleable and we want the industry to realize that it’s not about taking their product and making money from it because it has to go back into the industry and the work. If you start cutting where the real work is coming from, you’re not going to survive either.

“The industry is really hurting and it’s not easy to bounce back because there are still a lot of concerns about returning to spaces, despite the huge efforts of venues to allay those concerns. This is a response to that. This does not replace the actual experience of going to the theater, but it can be accompanied.

Liam Sinclair, Executive Director and Co-CEO of Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theatre, said: “We are delighted to be working with Neon8 to create this experience for audiences. Over the past two years, Dundee Rep and Scottish Dance Theater have embraced digital innovation as a way to create new forms and entry points for our audiences.

“In September, we were delighted to win the Digital Innovation Award at the Dundee and Angus Chambers of Commerce awards, and so the launch of Smile VR globally builds on that momentum.”

Access to Smile’s VR experience will be available from February 23.

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