On the back of last year's immersive exhibition for wonder.land, the National Theatre has launched its very own virtual reality studio.

Designed to help writers, directors and actors explore VR as well as create unique experiences for visitors, it’s one of the first theatres to experiment with the technology.

How will it work?

The National Theatre is known for being a “pioneer of dramatic storytelling” – and its VR studio is a reflection of this dedication. 

One of its main features is to allow those involved with a production to become fully immersed in the story and the lives of its characters.

The technology was recently used for the first time by the cast and crew of The Plough and the Stars – a play that marks the centenary of the Easter Rising. 

Wearing Oculus Rift headsets, the cast were able to live through the experience of 19-year-old William McNeive.

A transformative medium

Like cinema, the beauty of theatre is that it transports the audience to another place. Consequently, there is a natural tie-in with virtual reality and its similarly transformative ability.

With its VR studio, the National is certainly keen to explore the technology for the benefit of its performers.

The question is – will the next step be to use the technology during actual productions? 

We’ve already seen the National use VR as part of its wonder.land exhibition.

Designed to accompany the main production, the digital installation allowed visitors to tumble down the rabbit hole and experience Alice’s famous world.

Similarly, with the world’s first VR cinema opening earlier this year, it’s already becoming the norm in other areas of the entertainment industry. 

That being said, there is still a big difference between going to the cinema and seeing a theatre production.

The National's focus on digital is evident - it's 'Backstage' app offers a wealth of online content such as digital programmes.

However, whether theatre-goers be willing to experiment any further with what is essentially a very traditional pastime remains to be seen. 

Storytelling at its finest

If the monumental popularity of Pokémon Go has taught us anything, it’s that new technology is big business. 

As a result, there has been criticism that brands are using it just for sake of it or for PR value.

However, the National is one the few examples of a company using VR purely for the purposes of creativity.  

Head of digital development at the National, Toby Coffey recently commented on this staunch commitment:

We’re not trying to be the first or the biggest or the most, it is about creating the best. We’ll throw stuff away as readily as we will push it forward... it is about creating the right things.

In conclusion...

As one of the first theatre companies to experiment with VR, it's certainly a groundbreaking move by the National.

So, who knows what’s next for the theatre world. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in VR, perhaps?

Good luck trying to get tickets for that.

For more on this topic, read:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 8 August, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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