From Autumn 2022 - Autumn 2023 we've been figuring out how to make a VR Theatre show. Whats the process? What's the show?! We thought we'd tell you about our journey so far.
Sagittarius A* is the story of a breakup - of a strike of lightning that ends a universe. Fusing live theatre and virtual reality, this show transports its audiences into a surreal world of black holes, stir fry and grief.
We meet Ren on the night that Sarah leaves her, and as Ren’s world implodes, we follow her into a night of tumultuous, vivid, exquisite dreams. In these dreams we watch their relationship start, and end and start again, as Ren desperately tries to reconcile herself with the world she finds herself in, and longs to understand what has brought her here. Sagittarius A* will premiere in Glasgow Spring 2025 before touring black box theatres around the country. Audiences will watch two performers live on stage in ‘theatrical reality’, but when the story can no longer be contained by the stage, VR headsets will transport audiences into Ren’s home, to a karaoke bar in Edinburgh, and to the event horizon of a black hole, to love, sex and out into our universe. Melanie Frances & Leonie Rae Gasson - Writer-Directors Tim Crouch - Dramaturg Biome Collective - VR Developers Chizu Anucha - Sound Designer
Yvonne Rowley- Trainee Producer Supported by the Citizens Theatre and Creative Scotland
Living outside of measured time!
In Autumn 2022 we went to Glen Lyon to write the show. We left all our tech behind - no phones, laptops, watches, digital cameras (we took a few disposables for the content) and we turned all the clocks to face the wall. We spent a week with no idea what time it was. We had no clue when we were sleeping, waking, eating, instead we guessed how much time had passed by how much our tea had cooled or if the pizza still seemed raw. Every morning when we woke up we recorded our dreams on some old tape recorders and then read books about what would happen to your body if you got sucked into a black hole. We also saw a pine marten. We took Leo’s dog Wolfie with us in case she brought us any insights (she didn’t).
Time for Tim
We then spent a few days with our dramaturgy Tim Crouch tearing apart everything we’d written over those days and finding the emotional heartbeat of the story. We wrote about Ren and Sarah and fleshed them out. We mapped the development of their relationship as the formation of a universe. We took the scientific principles we’d been reading about and translated them into dramaturgical devices. We looked at dream logic, dream architecture and allowed the show to loosen its grip on reality. Then we went away to redraft…
What kind of VR are we making (Unreal or Unity?)
We spent time storyboarding some prototype VR experiences (a constant experiment in how to draw 3D environments on 2D paper…). We spent a lot of time in outer space VR experiences, hovering on event horizons and whirling through the cosmos. We got our hands on a 3D camera and shot videos of cabbages, chocolate and us pretending to be planets. We worked with Unreal developer Suzanne D’Bel to see what Unreal could offer us and if it was the right virtual reality engine for us to build on (it wasn’t but we learnt a lot). After all that experimenting we spoke to the wonderful Biome Collective and found a new direction working in Unity.
We spent three days jamming in Dundee with our wonderful sound designer Chizu Anucha and the glorious Biome Collective. We played with the possibilities of passthrough on the Meta Quest 2s, experimenting with overlaying digital objects onto a live camera feed to make our own version of AR. We made tiny black holes, planets covered in cabbage, kitchens where gravity warped and golden glowing orbs. We heard the clips of lobster claws, sunk into some bassy synth and got uncomfortable with shepherds tone. Over the jam we created a potential VR sequence from the show, which incorporates a see through comet, a glitching, pulsating orb, and of course, the big bang.
Biome Collective were represented here by Malath Abbas, Matthew Cormack, Aleks King and Caitlin Smith.
We've just wrapped up this period of R&D (and funding). We've now got (a lot) of drafts of the script, a prototype VR experience and a good sense of the world of the show. So now its time to head out to venues and commissioners to say "please Sir/Madam/Your Excellence, can I have some more (money/time/space/resource)?"