Living rooms across the country could be transformed into mini theatres – bringing cultural opportunities to those missing out not just because of the pandemic, but because a normal trip to the theatre is impossible.
Researchers at the University of Essex believe virtual reality headsets could be the answer to reaching new audiences, both while theatres are closed because of Coronavirus, and longer-term for those unable to get to a performance.
They are looking for volunteers to take part in a study looking at how enjoyable virtual theatre is and whether it can offer a different, yet equally valuable, experience to traditional theatre.
As lead researcher, Dr Abigail Webb, from the Department of Psychology, explained: “We are trying to find out how the arts can continue to bring people together during periods of social isolation.
“We want to know what regular theatre goers feel about the expansion of performance to a digital platform, but we also want to hear from those whose visits to the theatre are restricted, perhaps because of disability. It is important we reach them because they are perhaps the people who will benefit the most from what the arts have to offer digitally.”
The researchers have teamed up with LIVR, who offer access to some of the best live performances, from independent works to critically-acclaimed shows, on demand and from the comfort of your own home, using an app and VR headset. Both the headset and access to LIVR are free for people participating in the study. Participants watch performances then complete an online survey about their experience.
“If it is the case that public reception of virtual theatre is a good one, then our data will provide a preliminary understanding of how virtual home theatre could be an effective digital pipeline for theatres to continue reaching audiences during auditorium closure. In future we could also look at how audiences can stream performances together, while apart.
“We are also working with The Mercury theatre in Colchester. They are especially interested in the findings, because they are forever looking to reach new and under-served audiences,” added Dr Webb.
To take part in the study potential participants should complete an eligibility questionnaire online. Once registered for the study, they’ll be sent a headset, then all they need to do is download the app onto their smartphone and sit back and enjoy performances. In return they are asked to fill in a 15-minute online survey about their experiences.