Beyond the Stage: A Journey into Accessible Virtual Theater

by | Mar 14, 2024 | Articles, Content, Events, Tech

In the ever-evolving landscape of digital entertainment, The Grieving Project Online Experience is blazing trails, redefining the boundaries of accessibility and immersion in virtual theater. As we logged in from the comfort of their homes, we embarked on a journey that seamlessly blended innovation with inclusivity, setting a new standard for online events.

From the outset, we were greeted with several accessibility options, starting with creating our own full-body avatars. This simple yet empowering act allowed each of us to craft a digital representation of ourselves, setting the stage for a personalized and engaging experience. 

Once the avatars were fashioned to our liking, we were ushered into the virtual lobby, a bustling digital space reminiscent of a chic lounge, complete with inviting sofas where we could mingle and socialize.

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The Grieving Project virtual theater lobby

Amidst the virtual chatter, a figure emerged – Lis Sniderman appears as a digital presence, her warm greeting bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds. Through the magic of technology, we could converse with Lis as if they were sharing the same physical space.

As a playwright and co-composer, Lis has navigated the challenges of chronic illness, finding solace and inspiration in music and art. Recognizing the importance of acknowledging and processing her own struggles, Lis is on a mission to bring the therapeutic power of theater to others like her. 

Unable to attend live performances herself, she envisioned a new approach, and The Grieving Project was born. 

Through the stories of four disabled artists, Lisa delves into the complexities of mental and physical health struggles, prompting us to ponder the question: How can we truly live and thrive if we don’t allow ourselves to grieve?

“Ask yourself: what makes a live theater experience? I’m driven to find ways to take the spectacle of live theater and create comparable, immersive experiences, centering tech and accessibility, for a virtual audience. But more than that… I believe access to these experiences should be universal, especially for those like me—disabled and chronically ill communities unable to attend live theater due to access and risk.” ~ Lis Sniderman

When we’re ready, we click the button that says “Take a Seat.” In an instant, we are transported into the virtual theater, where darkness envelops us, punctuated only by the glow of three screens. Using the arrow keys, we easily explore the landscape and take in the other theater-goers.

The Grieving Project virtual theater

As anticipation builds, the virtual theater comes to life as real-life individuals begin to populate The Voxel Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, blurring the lines between the virtual and physical realms. 

This hybrid approach transformed the event into a truly unique experience, where we interact with both digital avatars and flesh-and-blood counterparts, fostering a sense of connection and community from the very beginning.

With the audience settled in, Lis takes to the stage – not in person, but through a telepresence robot provided by OhmniLabs. As her face appears on the screen, we are captivated by her presence as she sets the stage for the evening’s performance.

The Grieving Project Ohmni Telepresence Robot for virtual theater

And what a performance it was! Four actors graced the stage, their presence commanding attention as they delivered the spoken word musical about finding one’s voice. We can fully immerse ourselves in the experience by clicking on any of the three screens before us.

The Grieving Project virtual theater

During this proof of concept performance, the cast performs a scene from the larger musical that best profiles how The Grieving Project integrates American Sign Language and captions to move the story forward, not just as an afterthought. It also demonstrates how the play switches from the present in a 2D zoom room to 3D flashbacks using the stage. 

For those in need, closed captions are readily available, ensuring that no one misses a word of the musical unfolding before our eyes and ears.

The Grieving Project virtual theater

The Grieving Project Online Experience transcended the boundaries of traditional theater, offering a glimpse into a future where accessibility and innovation reign supreme.

Through thoughtful design and unwavering dedication, the organizers crafted an event that not only entertained but empowered us, proving that in the digital age, the possibilities are limitless.

Want to host an immersive event using advanced telepresence technology? Click here to learn more.

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