Virtual Theatricality integrates traditional stagecraft with virtual characters, scenery and props for live theatre production. Henry Ford College’s Virtual Theatricality Lab is a dynamic, risk-taking institute that combines artistic and technological disciplines in a pace-setting program that redefines the nature of live theatrical performance. The Virtual Theatricality Lab has established itself as a cutting-edge leader with the development of a revitalizing curriculum that unites the disciplines of computer science, art, music, theatre, dance, film, and video. The VTL is dedicated to forging the live performance technologies of the 21st century and beyond.
The Virtual Theatricality Lab was a division of the Theatre program at Henry Ford College that I was the Artistic Director and Founder of. It was operative from 1996-2017. I have included its archives here. Hopefully, it will be of interest to researchers and other digital theatre artists.
Today, projections are used much more in theatre than they were in 1996 when the VTL began. Disney even rents pre-fab animations for its plug and play theatrical musicals. However, theatrical projections are still used “straight,” (projected on surfaces and mostly for scenery). A technique called “image mapping” is very popular for this, although performance artists like Laurie Anderson were doing this 20 years ago. There still has not been any significant use of real-time scenery, 3-D stereoscopic projection, or motion capture, except the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest (motion capture) in 2016, ten years after motion capture was used in the VTL’s production of The Skriker.
In 1994 virtual reality and 3D stereo were utilized as multimedia teaching aids in HFC Theatre Arts classes. After experimenting with processes and techniques for approximately four years, the Virtual Theatricality Lab began production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Tempest (2003) used 3D stereoscopic projection and real-time VR navigated scenery to give new life and meaning to Shakespeare’s classic and make it accessible to a new generation of theatre-goers. The Tempest was a regional winner in The Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. The Tempest was featured in many Michigan newspapers and on the Associated Press, including a 4-page feature article in the Detroit Free Press’ Sunday Entertainment Section.
The Skriker (2006) was the first full-length theatrical production of a stage play to successfully combine real-time motion capture and 3D stereoscopic projection. The Skriker was featured in many Michigan newspapers and on the Associated Press, including articles in state and national entertainment magazines. Following the VTL’s trend-setting lead, several major Michigan Universities attempted theatrical productions using Motion Capture and 3D stereo.
In January 2009, a Motion Capture Certificate was developed and the first courses were offered to students, spring semester, 2009. During 2009 and 2010, VTL classes filled to capacity and the first Motion Capture Systems Certificate students graduated. As the film industry moved into Michigan, the VTL became a central hub for Motion Capture Animation activities. The VTL formed a relationship with the Screen Actors Guild and offered workshops and training to SAG members and Cadets. Major universities, such as the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor sent its faculty and staff to the VTL for training. Additionally, the VTL began artistic collaborations with other HFCC artistic areas, such as the HFCC Full Circle Dance Company.
After several years of research and development, production on the VTL’s next show, Dinosaurus! began in 2013. The show was presented to overwhelming public and critical acclaim in November 2014.
A Brief Timeline of the VTL
1996: Dr. George Popovich publishes the essay “Artaud Unleashed” in Theatre And Cyberspace. This essay examines VR Theatre and points the way to future uses of VR in theatrical entertainment.
1996: HFC Theatre Arts Virtual Theatricality Lab founded by Dr. George Popovich. Research beings exploring real-time VR scenery, live 3D stereoscopic projection, and animated characters.
1996-2001: Virtual Theatre techniques used in multimedia presentations for HFC Theatre Arts classes.
2001-2003: Pre-production and rehearsal for The Tempest.
2003: The Tempest premieres using live 3D stereo projection, 3D character animation, and real-time VR scenery and prop navigation. The Tempest is the first production in Michigan and the second production in the world (The University of Kansas was the first) to use 3D stereoscopic projection and real-time VR navigated scenery. The Tempest is selected as a regional winter in The Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival.
2004: The Tempest is presented to the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival for six performances. The Tempest is widely covered in Michigan and national media, including The Associated Press, The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Vue, Marsdust, The News-Herald, The Dearborn Press and Guide, and The Dearborn Times Herald.
2005: Pre-Production and rehearsal The Skriker.
2006: The Skriker premiers and is the first theatrical production in the world to incorporate 3D stereo and motion capture in a live theatrical performance of a stage play. (The University of Georgia was the first theatre venue to incorporate motion capture into the performance of a traditional stage play). HFC’s production was also the first time The Skriker had been produced in Michigan. Following the VTL’s lead, technical configurations, and staging practices, a major Michigan university produces a show using Motion Capture and 3D stereo in 2007.
The Skriker is widely covered in Michigan and national media, including The Associated Press, The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Vue, Marsdust, The News-Herald, The Dearborn Press and Guide, The Dearborn Times Herald and Dramabiz.
The Skriker wins many honors, including Critics Picks, Detroit Free Press; Workshop Invitation to The Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Winner, Best Innovation Team, LAND; Winner, League For Innovation In The Community College Award; Dr.George Popovich listed in 2007 edition of Who’s Who In America for his work in digital theatre development; visit by Dr. Guangyao Bai, Vice President The National Academy of Chinese Theatre Art; Bellwether Award Finalist; encore invitation for presentation at LAND; Key Presenter, Community Colleges Futures Assembly, Orlando, FL.; Dr.George Popovich listed in 2008 edition of Who’s Who In America for his work in digital theatre development.
2008-May 2009: Development of a VTL teaching curriculum, including a Certificate for Motion Capture Systems Technician. First students graduate Summer, 2009.
2009: The VTL hosts an exhibition at The Michigan Makes Movies Expo.
2009: The VTL presents an overview of Motion Capture to the Screen Actors Guild.
2009-2010: Following the VTL’s lead, several major Michigan universities create labs dedicated to the exploration of technologies such as Motion Capture and 3D stereo.
2010: The VTL moves into a new dedicated space featuring a new Vicon camera system.
2010: The Michigan Branch of the Screen Actors Guild attends a Motion Capture Workshop at HFC’s Virtual Theatricality Lab. The Lab was attended by SAG actors interested in acquiring Motion Capture performance skills.
2010: VTL presents at the Maker Faire, Greenfield Village.
2011: Workshop: The VTL hosts a Motion Capture Cadet Workshop at HFC’s Virtual Theatricality Lab. The workshop was attended by students from Detroit Metro Area high schools who are members of the Screen Actors Guild Cadet program
2011: Collaboration with HFCC Full Circle Dance Company for a Motion Capture Segment of Dance Concert in April 2011.
2012: The VTL receives a 150,000.00 Technology Improvement Fund grant.
2014: Dinosaurus! is presented to over 5000 elementary school children and 4000 general public members.
2015: Dr. George Popovich receives Dearborn Mayor’s Arts Educator Award.
2016: The VTL offers a Visual Effects Certificate beginning in the fall.
2017: Dr. Popovich retires and Henry Ford College discontinues the VTL.