Before The Headset

Vic Liddelle and Milton Lopes in rehearsal for We are all made of stars

In the last couple of years I’ve been reading about mixed reality and talking to makers, producers and developers to try to find out what someone (me) who has worked as director and choreographer in dance, installation and theatre arts might bring to the mixed reality party.  This blog will result in a series of presentations and papers, but before that it’s a space to explore ideas and hopefully engage with other members of the community

I've been  working on a mixed reality installation with the composer Matthew Whiteside and the theatre company Magnetic North since early this year. I’ve been seeing a lot of 360 installations recently and before I begin to consider questions around presence or narrative in VR it strikes me that the first interaction I have with a person in a work can in many ways shape my experience. So in this first post I’m going to focus not on tech but the thinking that, what happens before I put the headset on is as important as what I find in the 360 space. Here are some thoughts 

  • I’ve heard a number of scripted introductions by ushers, some very good, delivered in a relaxed and friendly way, there’s something very interesting about asking to what extent is the person delivering the information part of the work when they are not ‘a character’?  If they are not ‘a character’ who are they because once they are in the space of the work they are part of it - an agent, a real world extension of the work, someone else?  What effect might that have on a participant? The director Simon Vincenzi casts ‘security guards’ ‘ushers’ ‘ticket sellers’ with the same attention he gives to performers  in his installation performances.
  • Being told what I’m about to see and feel before I put a headset on suggests to me that it’s worth exploring the 360 script equivalent to film’s 'show not tell'. How do you deliver warnings about motion sickness without making a user feel she’s about to ingest a potentially dangerous psychedelic? Then how might you deal with her resulting disappointment that she hasn’t?  She might feel cheated that it wasn’t an experience from which she will return permanently altered, it was only a 360 video.
  • There is a real intimacy to the one to one encounter in 360 work in the act of having someone fit a headset.  The pressing and adjusting of the device means different pressures on the skull, not to mention physical proximity that we would only usually permit to someone we knew well or a medical professional. 
  • I never thought I would say this but I might turn to my colleagues in Live Art. Here there is  a history of one to one performances where artists spend time thinking about different ways to define the engagement between a performer and an audience member.  I might also go to a make up counter where a similar interaction is often happening. 


Keywords : Presence, Immersion, VR, 360, Headset, #waamos

Next Post: Dramaturgy and narrative shapes: vertical, linear, rhizomatic, spherical