The Digital Learning Hub Gets Theatrical

Four students with Oculus Quest headsets taking part in a theatrical experience

And here we thought the DLH-built VR Human Heart application was only for learning science! Associate Professor Paul Rae (English and Theatre Studies), together with award-winning theatre company Arena saw it differently.

In late September, the Digital Learning Hub travelled to Bendigo where high school students on work experience with Arena used Oculus's new standalone Quest VR headsets to interact through avatars and enact a range of scenarios using our virtual human heart. One activity involved a multi-player dance party inside the heart (cue playlist of your choice, perhaps starting with 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart'...); another involved individual participants encountering and manipulating the heart within a fictional narrative about lost property, only to find the heart speaking to them in their own voices, as recorded the day before.

The workshop was conducted as part of 'Creative Convergence', an ARC Linkage Project focused on enhancing the impact of theatre for young people in regional Victoria. The investigators - which also includes the School of Culture and Communication's Dr Jen Beckett, Prof Rachel Fensham and Dr Lynne Kent, and Mr Jeremy Rice from Melbourne Theatre Company - wanted to explore the theatrical possibilities of VR environments, and their potential for delivering multi-player theatre at a distance. They were intrigued by the poetic potential of DLH's VR heart.

With DLH's technical team (Keenan Hellyer and Jairus Bowne) programming multi-player functionality around the heart, composer Darius Kedros of Sonic State Design creating an ambisonic soundscape, and Arena's Jolyon McDonald redecorating the heart in a range of attractive new skins (cactus? ming vase? your own face? You've got it), and Christian Leavesly plotting a range of theatrical exercises, a live-mixed VR environment was created where up to four participants in different rooms could encounter each other, the heart...and their own innermost versions of themselves.