Essex University pioneers new trials to enable virtual reality theatre performances

man wearing VR glasses as part of Essex university technology trials

Essex University are looking for volunteers to experience virtual reality theatre as part of a trial of new VR equipment designed to turn your home into your personal theatre - Credit: Eunji Jeong

Living rooms across the country could be transformed into mini theatres thanks to ground-breaking virtual reality technology being pioneered by the University of Essex – and they are looking for volunteers to put the new equipment to the test.

Lead researcher, Dr Abigail Webb, from the Department of Psychology, said that the digital technology would bring cultural opportunities to those missing out not just because of the pandemic, but because a normal trip to the theatre is impossible.

Researchers at the University of Essex believe virtual reality headsets could be the answer to reaching new audiences.

The development team is looking for volunteers to take part in a study looking at how enjoyable virtual theatre is and whether it can offer a different, yet equally valuable, experience to traditional theatre.

Dr Webb explained: “We are trying to find out how the arts can continue to bring people together during periods of social isolation.

“We want to know what regular theatre goers feel about the expansion of performance to a digital platform, but we also want to hear from those whose visits to the theatre are restricted, perhaps because of disability. It is important we reach them because they are perhaps the people who will benefit the most from what the arts have to offer digitally.”

The researchers have teamed up with digital theatre platform LIVR, who offer access to some of the best live performances, from independent works to critically-acclaimed shows, and participants watch performances then complete an online survey about their experience.

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“We are also working with The Mercury theatre in Colchester. They are especially interested in the findings, because they are forever looking to reach new and under-served audiences,” added Dr Webb.

“If it is the case that public reception of virtual theatre is a good one, then our data will provide a preliminary understanding of how virtual home theatre could be an effective digital pipeline for theatres to continue reaching audiences during auditorium closure.

"In future we could also look at how audiences can stream performances together, while apart.”

The trials take place from the comfort of your own home, using an app and VR headset – both the headset and access to LIVR are free for people participating in the study. 

To take part in the study potential participants should complete an eligibility questionnaire online