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Finnish National Opera and Varjo team up to create ‘Opera Beyond’- A Virtual Reality Theatre Experience

Theatre is perhaps the oldest form of art that is still being practiced. It has been around for almost 2500 years. However, the art forms are dynamic and so is the theatrical performance. From the ancient Greek theatre to the modern musicals performed with the aid of cutting-edge technology, the theatre has undergone paradigmatic changes over the centuries. The latest addition to this incredible list, however, is the use of augmented reality.

The Finnish National Opera, in collaboration with VR headset manufacturer company Varjo, has launched the brand new ‘Opera Beyond’, an immersive, interactive experience for the audience. The project, still at a research level, is set to explore the use of emerging, innovative technologies that can be used for theatre productions. The list includes motion tracking, spatial audio, projection mapping, machine learning, and so much more.

Magic with AR

To date, Varjo has ruled the space of VR headset manufacturing. Their cutting-edge technology has also been used for space missions as well as car designing. Keeping up with the constant evolution, Varjo is now entering the opera for creating some more magic with augmented reality. Together with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet (FNOB), they are ready to explore the uncharted territory of virtual theatre production.

Excellent opportunity

In an interview with ARPost, the project manager for Opera Beyond Annastina Haapasaari said that immersive mediums and emerging technologies are offering an excellent opportunity to conventional performing art organizations for exploring the limits of their distinct art forms and consequently, produce novel works of art. This is also an effective way to reach a new range of audiences, said Haapasaari. She also stated that the need for such innovative technologies particularly in opera and ballet organizations is seemingly high, for the productions are often conceived at a ginormous scale in terms of sets, props, visual elements, and of course people involved. All these elements are usually made from scratch. Hence, technological aid can be very useful since it can operate on a very advanced level.

Finnish National Opera and Varjo team up to create ‘Opera Beyond’- A Virtual Reality Theatre Experience

Brendan Bradley, one of the pioneers of virtual theatre in the world also remarked that besides leveraging emerging technologies and creating new kinds of immersive theatre experience, augmented reality can also become instrumental for reducing production cost and time.

Technological collaborators

Varjo is not the only tech partner of the FNOB. Rather, their list of technological collaborators is quite impressive. Previously, Opera Beyond has partnered with Nokia Bell Labs. Varjo has been on board back in the time when FNOB used to procure necessary hardware from the tech company. Their first collaboration for virtual theatre, however, came about at the Helsinki Opera House, although mostly for pre-production requirements.

Virtual Theatre

Opera Beyond, unlike the previous phases of collaboration, is not limited to the pre-production phase alone. Rather, the program is leveraging immersive technology to create complete virtual theatre productions. To date, it has already produced two such productions, namely Common Domain and Laila. The former is an interactive art installation created by Kalle Rasinkangas while the latter used machine learning and motion capture that turned participants into performers on the stage than being just a passive audience.

Future

Haapasaari remarked that in the future, we can expect more immersive theatres will be coming our way as artists and creators, together with technology developers, are constantly pushing the boundaries of entertainment.

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