In Sheffield’s bustling and varied art scene rarely are we offered anything that pushes the boundaries of artistic medium and engages as playfully with new technology as Epiphany VR’s latest offering ‘New Template’. This 15 minute theatre piece plays with virtual reality technology in a way that anyone who has experienced virtual reality before can appreciate its progressive merits whilst simultaneously being a perfect introductory experience for any VR first-timers. In a city that literally forged its way to the technological forefront of the industrial revolution New Template broaches new technological ground with its 21st century look at divisive theatre.
The story focuses on our computer programme protagonist Template and explores the idea that a piece of programming, once artificially intelligent, could become self-aware. The story itself could be set in a scarily not too distant future and begs the question: can we still expect, once we bestow intelligence upon our creations, that they will want nothing more than to do what they are told?
The use of 3D-rendered live actors in a virtual reality piece is a progressive technological step where we see typical virtual reality games characters replaced with glitching footage of real people. The project also transgressively plays with space in an awe-inspiring way through its synergy between the virtual spaces and the custom built 3mx3m room that the viewer occupies alone with the freedom to walk around and view the piece from any angle. To describe this innovative use of space beyond the assertion that it’s well worth checking out would be to offer spoilers which I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin any of the ingenious surprises that New Template has to offer.
The culmination of these progressive elements forges a piece of theatre that completely turns the role of the audience on its head. Now encouraged to stand, walk, touch and with the freedom to look around completely unseen, each viewer becomes not a passive viewer of a play but more the director of his own individual piece. The cohesion between the virtual and physical walls of the performance box draws you further down the rabbit hole of wonder for the virtual reality medium and what talented artists of this medium could show us next. Epiphany VR are a company that force us to think outside the box by encouraging us to climb inside their own bespoke construction of one before shattering our expectations of what will be to pieces.
The really exciting part is the hints to the possibilities and yet to be discovered boundaries of virtual reality as an artistic medium. It has the power to be an artistic movement that transforms the film industry as much as it could the theatre and Epiphany VR are making sure that if that happens Sheffield will definitely not be left behind.
Words: Sian Ellis
Images courtesy of Epiphany VR