National Theatre and Accenture partner up for VR studio

When it comes to creating experiences for virtual reality, theatres have emerged as the institutions often best equipped to deal with the nascent medium. Perhaps it’s the shared emphasis on presence, bodies and space, but some of the most thoughtful VR films/installations I’ve tried have been created by those with a background in performance and set design.

National Theatre and Accenture partner up for VR studio

The National Theatre’s Immersive Storytelling Studio has been responsible for some of these, and it has this week announced a new partnership with technology strategy company Accenture.

Accenture will be joining the National Theatre (NT) as a ‘partner for innovation’. I asked the NT what they meant by this, and they explained that Accenture will provide “both financial and in-kind support to enable digital innovation across the NT’s immersive storytelling strand”.

“Accenture will use their digital strategy and delivery expertise to create unique, immersive theatrical experiences,” a spokesperson said. “Planning is currently underway to identify specific projects that are currently being developed by the studio, to which Accenture can lend their strategic, digital and innovation capabilities.”

The NT’s Immersive Storytelling Studio began life creating ancillary VR experiences for its main productions, but has grown to create stand-alone films. Last year it premiered HOME | AAMIR – a 360-degree video piece centred on the “jungle” camp in Calais before its destruction. This year, the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival will include the premier of Draw Me Close, by Jordan Tannahill.

A co-production between the NT and the National Film Board of Canada, Draw Me Close imagines the final moments between Tannahill and his mother, in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis. Intriguingly, an actress will be in the room, playing the mother. Sensors will translate her movements into those of a digital avatar.

Framing such personal moments within VR always runs the risk of reducing tragedy into an ‘immersive experience’, but HOME | AAMIR managed to deftly tackle these issues, so here’s hoping Tannahill’s piece is similarly thoughtful in its execution. Marshmallow Laser Feast recently used tactile elements in its excellent Treehugger project – with a physical piece of set standing in for the virtual tree – so it’ll be interesting to see how the NT makes use of the physical body of its actress.

The Barbican also announced recently that it would be partnering with the NT’s Immersive Storytelling Studio with its alt.barbican accelerator programme for artists working in areas to do with technology and entrepreneurship. We’ve got more info on that here.

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