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Using Augmented Reality in Theater Performances

During the month of June, The Technodramatists Performance Laboratory was showcasing what it called “the latest in theatrical, narrative, and artistic experimentation,” a three-part theater performance showcasing augmented reality (AR) and the possibilities of using AR on stage.

The Technodramatists are no strangers to using tech, as they work to continuously incorporate emerging technology into their performances. Actors were equipped with devices that sat on their shoulders, held a cellphone about 18” in front of their faces, and used an app to the AR characters (see images below). The technology was very impressive, as even the smallest facial reactions, smirks, headshakes, and smiles from the actors were all reflected in real-time on the AR-created characters.

Act 1

The first portion of the performance was titled “Error: A Comedy Of,” which used augmented reality to allow the actor to switch between three characters during the performance. It was an interesting and unique performance, as the screens on either side of the actress changed faces, depending on which character she was playing at the given moment. The actor used a remote, which was connected to the mobile phone and allowed her to toggle between the different characters she was playing, as she conversed with herself and her characters.

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Not only did this provide the audience with a unique experience, but this allowed the actor to play multiple roles, almost simultaneously. It will be interesting to see this technology continue to advance and be used in theater performances. Ultimately, we may see full performances conducted by only a couple actors, as they play multiple roles in the same performance.

Act 2

The second act of the performance was titled “Autokorrect – Face Sync Improv,” which featured a three-person improv crew, tapping into the capabilities of AR to play multiple characters and further engage the audience. 

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Typically with improv, the audience can play a part in the story by helping to dictate the scenarios of each improvisational skit. Using AR allowed the audience to not only help decide the story, but to also choose what type of character the actors were playing.

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From animated animals, to human beings of various genders, and talking mobile phones, the possibilities were endless. Not only were the actors able to play roles which we usually don’t see on stage, but the audience was able to further immerse themselves in the performance, creating a unique experience for the audience.

Act 3

The final act, titled “Kids Play,” was a much more serious performance in contrast to the first two. The goal was to showcase the use of AR in theater and the wide array of types of performances that can use AR to enhance the experience.

The AR noticeably created a deeper connection between the stage actors and the audience. When the characters laughed, the audience laughed, and when the characters cried, you could sense sorrow and despair blanketing the crowd. 

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Seeing this contrast was fascinating, and watching the audience’s response to the augmented reality-based characters was equally interesting to observe. The audience could either watch the actors in human form, their AR avatars, or look between both, further allowing the audience to have agency in their experience.

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This was the first time we had seen AR used in a theater and on-stage context, and we we’re impressed with the quality of the performance, how the AR was integrated, and the effect this technology had on the event. We look forward to seeing AR being used more for stage performances, both dramatic and comedic, and it will be interesting to see how future playwrights write their work with this technology in mind, and what these performances will look like. The possibilities are becoming endless.

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