#1061: Immersive Theater 1-on-1 Experiments in “Gumball Dreams” VRChat World Adaptation

Gumball Dreams is the latest immersive theatre production in VRChat by The Ferryman Collective, who previously produced Welcome to Respite: The Severance Theory. They just had their World Premiere last week participating in competition at SXSW, and I had a chance to catch up with co-writers and co-directors Christopher Lane Davis (aka ScreamingColor) and Diedre V. Lyons to talk about their production and their latest immersive theater production.

There’s a lot of stunning and awe-inspiring moments in Gumball Dreams that pushes forward how the spatial medium of VR can tell a story, but there’s also lots of interesting experiments with one-on-one interactions to cultivating a sense of intimacy with the performer. Forward-facing it’s a one-person show with a number of immersive theatre “ractors,” but also currently has someone on the backend to help produce the onboarding logistics and be on hand in case there are any technical difficulties. The folks at Ferryman Collective continue make incremental innovations in their production processes, but also refining their own best practices for onboarding and how to best leverage the medium of VR to tell big immersive stories that go beyond what a tiny-budge physical installation could pull off. Tune into the @Ferryman_VR Twitter and website for more information on where you can catch some of their shows. Also check out this press release for a bit more context on Gumball Dreams.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.412] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye and welcome to the Voices of VR podcast. So one of the immersive theater pieces that was shown within VRChat at South by Southwest was called Gumball Dreams. So this was an existing VRChat world by Screaming Color, also known as Christopher Lane Davis. He created this world and Deirdre V. Lyons saw it and actually took me and some other folks on a tour of this world with Christopher Lane Davis. And on the way to Venice, she decided to try to put a little bit more of a narrative on top of this existing VR chat world. It was already lots of different puzzles and very engaging as a world within its own right, but to be able to give a little bit more of a narrative layer on top of this world that had been created. So, thanks for coming on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So, this interview with Christopher Lane Davis and Deirdre V. Lyons happened on Monday, March 14th, 2022. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:04.637] Christopher Lane Davis: Hi, my name is Christopher Lane Davis and I also go by Screaming Color and I have been making art under that title for 12 years now. Music, photography, etc. 3D design. And I recently got into world making and I made a VR chat world that became popular and that is about the time that I met her.

[00:01:27.517] Deirdre V Lyons: Hi there, I'm Deirdre V. Lyons. I am an actor, a producer from Los Angeles. I started working in immersive theater in 2016, quite a bit, and then pivoted to VR in 2019, working as an actor with Tender Claws, doing The Under Presents, and Tempest, and continued working in VR, and now producing and performing in VR with the Ferryman Collective, a very small group of creatives who decided to create some VR theater.

[00:01:57.437] Kent Bye: Nice. And so, yeah, maybe you could each give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:02:02.399] Christopher Lane Davis: Okay. Well, this is the first time I've ever used Unity, the program used to make video games. I have had a lot of experience using similar softwares that use the same basic ideals, functions, layers, for instance. And so it was pretty easy for me to pick up this new software, especially since I was using Blender for the last three years or so. So at the beginning of the pandemic, I got the blessing of the stimulus checks and stuff. And because of that, I was able to join the Metaverse. And what I fell in love with about VRChat is that it seemed to me at the time to be the platform that most exemplified the opportunity to create anything that you wanted and to look like anything that you wanted. And that was very exciting to me. so I just felt like creating a world and it was something that I was gonna be quick in and out like a week you know and it just consumed my whole life this idea of a gumball machine that you could go inside of.

[00:02:57.005] Kent Bye: Just to follow up on that, because I know when I had the first chance to see these two worlds that you created and then this experience, I think you told me when you were helping guide me through originally that you were making this as almost an excuse to show your music, and I think that's another big key part of this is your musical background and the integration of music. So maybe you could talk about the role of music in the creation of these worlds.

[00:03:17.907] Christopher Lane Davis: Well, I love writing music. I would call it psychedelic electronica, which is very heavily influenced by trance, but also has some poppy aspects to it as well. And my main motive with my music is it's all perfectly intertwined together because I use music to help people discover who they are and remember that they create their realities and that miracles happen when you learn to love yourself and that we are all interconnected. And so that's which is what this show is about. And so when Deirdre approached me with the script that said all those things, I was like, fuck yeah, I want to do this. So.

[00:03:56.944] Kent Bye: Nice. Yeah. And I think actually the first time I saw this world, you invited me as a little world hop that we went through. And I don't know if at that point you were working on the show, but maybe you could give a bit more context to your background and your journey into VR.

[00:04:08.326] Deirdre V Lyons: Yeah, absolutely. No, it wasn't even a thought in my head. So I was, as I mentioned, doing immersive theater, and I feel like VR is the perfect platform for immersive theater. And this is the kind of theater where you don't sit in a seat, you don't watch it at a distance. It's the kind of theater where you're participating in. It has its roots in haunted houses and murder mysteries. You know, it's been happening for, you know, decades. It's just not as well known. It's more niche because the audience to actor ratio is really very small. We don't fill big houses full of people and you're like way back there in the nosebleed section. No, you're right there with the actor and you're interacting with the actor and your audience members and it's a journey. in an environment, in a world that isn't a theater. It's usually some other place. Now this has been done in real life and that's what I was doing when I contacted The Under Presents and started working with those guys. And I was like, wow, this is so cool. This is like the perfect world to create immersive theater because You can make it as big or as small, you can scale, you can play with all these different things, and it's a platform that's relatively unexplored for this particular kind of storytelling. So doing that made me want to do more. So we formed the Ferryman Collective and started doing theater back in 2020. We did Para, it was a 20-minute, let's see if this works. And then we did Krampusnacht, which was a little bit longer, a little bit funner. holiday-based, so we didn't have a lot of time to put these together. And we were like, well, let's submit Krampus, not for the PGA. And, you know, maybe next year they'll recognize our name. But then we were a finalist, and we were like, what? Okay, so this is working. Let's do this some more.

[00:05:47.397] Kent Bye: That's the Producers Guild of America?

[00:05:49.359] Deirdre V Lyons: Yes, that's correct. Not the PGA as in golf. You know, not that one. They do. I mean, why wouldn't golf people like to come and do a little theater every once in a while? So yeah, we did a Welcome to Respite, which was really well received. And that went really well. But I knew South by Southwest was coming. And I know that our lovely Christopher Lane Davis, who does the most amazing animations and the most amazing sound design and music and creates these amazing worlds, lives in Austin, Texas. And I was like, oh, wouldn't that be the coolest thing if we were in Texas? premiering world premiering which we are world premiering gumball dreams and so that was kind of the germination of this sort of idea which i think i started i actually started writing it before we went to venice with welcome to respite and i remember writing some of it on the plane and then i didn't know that that's great Yeah. And so then I approached Christopher and I said, what do you think? Do you think that this fits into the lore of the world that you had built? Because I was writing it based on how I felt going through the world. And he said, I loved it. And I said, well, let's make this happen. Because it had been seen at Venice as part of Venice's VR chat worlds that they were showing, but I felt like it needed more legs for people who don't go into VR chat to see puzzle worlds and stuff like that. I wanted to give it another round of life, and I think this is a great vehicle for that. And it so excites me, because every time I go and see worlds in VR, it's a set for me. It's like, what can we do here? Because it lives and breathes with people in it. That's where it exists, is when people come to visit it, people bring their friends, people play the puzzles, people see a theater show in these worlds. And that's what makes them magical.

[00:07:37.550] Kent Bye: Yeah, I wanted to ask about the animations and shaders because that was a pretty key part when I first saw it. And I think also what I saw you work on with Welcome to Respite, as well as in this piece, the ways in which that you're using animated shaders to help augment or amplify different moments and story beats in the story. Because shaders are not necessarily the first thing you turn to when you make an immersive world. And so how did you get into doing a bunch of shaders when you created your very first VRChat world?

[00:08:04.042] Christopher Lane Davis: Well, it's interesting that you ask because it's something that I often want to clarify, and that is, I use extremely little unusual shaders. Like, everything that you're seeing, for various reasons, one, I just like it, two, because it's what performs best, you know, really crazy shaders, you know, make your quests one of catch on fire, you know, but everything I do is basic particle systems, just billboards, just layering them and learning how to sort of manipulate them in different ways. But that is my favorite thing ever, is particle systems. They're just so fun. It makes anything alive, and you can make anything sparkle. And I love that. Where was I going with that? I don't remember.

[00:08:48.600] Kent Bye: experience of that is that because a lot of the performance limitations maybe it's just because people haven't been able to tinker enough with it but there's sometimes a static feel to a lot of immersive worlds especially when you get into the quest and so I feel like that it just helps add another dynamic layer to what's happening in the scene but also as the actors they're able to maybe move their body and have different things trace their movements and it feels like a little bit more interactivity when it comes to the spatial storytelling. So yeah, it feels like you had experimented a lot in the first iterations of the VRChat world, but then to have the story come in, it felt like it was adding more of those in the context of the story.

[00:09:25.927] Christopher Lane Davis: Thanks. I forgot to say a moment ago, you know, I get that often. How does your VR chat world in Quest look this good, is what they say. And to anybody listening who does make VR chat worlds, look up Noriben, like N-O-R-I-B-E-N fireworks. I don't remember what a website is, but it was an asset. of artificial bloom shader. So that's Quest's biggest downfall, is not having post-processing. But I use this to create lights that glow, and basically everything you see in Gumball Dreams uses this magical shader, and I really recommend it.

[00:10:02.836] Kent Bye: So yeah, Deirdre, I know that you had seen this VRChat world, and then you see what the potential is in terms of how you're taking through a spatial story, but yet there's no real explicit narrative elements. It's almost like you're projecting onto what it is, or there's puzzles you have to go and quest, but there's very little, like, what the context is. And so maybe talk a bit about taking this blank slate of the world and what has been created as part of this Gumball Dreams ecosystem, and then to create a narrative or story out of what was already there.

[00:10:33.804] Deirdre V Lyons: Yeah, the world itself, it makes you feel a certain way so it starts there, right? So I felt uplifted and wowed and amazed going through the world before we created the story and I wanted that to sort of be the basis of this narrative that was created. And I do believe that there is a narrative that was hinted at in the beginning. You know, you see the letter and there's this little token and there are little hints along the way. So I knew that Christopher had a much bigger lore in mind when he built it. So I was guessing at that. I was like, I think this might work and there's also a very specific type of immersive theater that I wanted to explore in VR and the intimacy of it, the connection and that's this sort of one-on-one moment that you have with Onyx where you are talking to this sort of ancient alien creature and there is a moment of connection and intimacy and just an opening of the soul both from Onyx and then hopefully from the audience if they respond to that and some don't some just chat about food or you know what this world is like but most people are are willing to go there with Onyx because I think Onyx is willing to be as vulnerable as they are with themselves and there are a lot of things in our lives that we don't have the opportunity to talk about and who we are and how we feel about certain things. And sometimes it's not until you're asked to those things that you reflect at, okay, how do I feel about that now at this point in my life? And maybe I felt differently about that certain thing at a different point, but to be able to have the opportunity to say those things in a safe environment, because Onyx is pure love. I mean, this whole show is pure love. and to be able to say that in a safe environment behind a mask because VR literally you're putting on a mask and so there's a little bit of anonymity which gives you the feeling of safety which allows you to kind of go places that you wouldn't normally go and so I wanted to try this particular version of an immersive story And then that leads into the journey afterwards with the beautiful animations and the profound wisdom and the songs that are all a part of this leading up to the climax of Onyx transitioning into the next existence of which, you know, is death or whatever transition that might be. Maybe it's from childhood to adulthood or maybe it's from one sex to another. It can be any of those things. It's really more of a story about transformation. That's what I wanted to bring to the story in this world and I think that's what I was feeling when I first saw it and that's how it kind of got built.

[00:13:09.346] Kent Bye: Yeah, Christopher, just to pass it back over to you, because there is a journey that you go on in the original iterations of this, and certainly there are things you want to communicate spatially, which I thought was integrated into this piece quite well as well, to be able to recall some of those, what I see as the highlights from the piece, where my original experience of your piece had a lot of puzzles, and I feel like it was almost like paring down a lot of the puzzles, and there are still some of the puzzles, but I understand you might be reworking some of the puzzles to kind of fit into the narrative a little bit more. But there's the highlights of each of those different moments that you're taking people through the journey. And when I went through the experience, I had like a guided tour from you. So I was able to cut straight to the chase to a lot of those different highlights of the world. And I feel like this as an experience was almost very similar to that best of some of the different scenes and moments that you had in that world. But just wanted to give you an opportunity if there's anything else you wanted to say from the original iteration of what you were trying to create with this world.

[00:14:01.365] Christopher Lane Davis: Well, I like our ability to have live actors in the show because we have the ability to be a little bit more explicit. Because I didn't want a bunch of text in the world and stuff, but having that communicated verbally with emotional power and depth behind it, and all of our actors are so awesome in that. They resonate already with what the script says so that they're not acting, they're just telling it like they feel it as well and it's been really a blessing to find people like that and you know you just couldn't have that in a static actor-less environment.

[00:14:35.761] Deirdre V Lyons: Christopher actually wrote an incredibly long and detailed backstory for Onyx that goes into the history, the planet that Onyx is from and you know the time on Earth and why they were on Earth and who Cardiff is and so if an audience member actually is interested in that and they want to talk about that they can ask about that or the actors can pull from that backstory to tell a story that seems relevant at the moment because there is a lot of elements of improv because we are interacting with people in real time. It's not just canned dialogue. It is scripted and it is a journey but there's a lot of freedom for them to go off depending on what the audience does because that's where it lives and breathes is with the audience interaction. And what's also kind of cool about this particular piece is that Onyx is intersex so there is no particular person that can't play Onyx. Anybody can play Onyx no matter what their pronouns are or how they identify and we do have both male and female people playing Onyx and we're, you know, embracing that kind of neutrality or inclusivity as well into the show.

[00:15:38.808] Kent Bye: Yeah, just to elaborate on the logistics of having one Immersive Theater actor who is playing multiple roles, which, you know, when I went through it, I didn't realize that it was the same actor, because they were kind of changing their voice in a way that I didn't pick up on. But to scale it up where there is one actor and three people, and at this point we've probably gotten into some of the spoilers of the content of the show, so I want to ask a question about working with multiple different types of actors, because you have a lot of different actors that are still playing this main role, and I imagine that just like The Tempest by Tender Claws, there was similarly one person who had a very distinct personality that I imagine that there could be a little bit of variation or distinct differences depending on who you go through this experience with. You might have a wide range of different types of experiences and what each immersive theater actor is maybe a specialist in or what they're interested in or what happens with the other two people who happen to be there.

[00:16:30.148] Christopher Lane Davis: Yeah, that's one of my favorite things about the show as well is I've been busy world building, but I try to hop into as many of the performances as I can, all the test audiences and stuff. And it was really amazing getting to see how different everybody's Onyx was. You know, some of them feel much older and give off an aura of wisdom and others are much more approachable. You know, yeah, they're very old, but they're old because you're only as young as you feel or you know what I mean, kind of stuff. So, yeah, it's really great to see different takes on a character.

[00:17:01.117] Deirdre V Lyons: Yeah, Jonathan tends to have this really quirky sense of humor that's always really fun to interact with. Kelly has this sort of grand queen kind of thing going on. Dosh is always really funny and a little bit like, what are you doing over there? Which ends up being kind of mischievous and fun. Brendan A. Bradley brings a weight, a depth, and a caring to their onyx. So yeah, every single one is different. I mean, I do the show as well as my husband Steve, and Whitten, Frank, also does the show. So, you know, we try to keep it open enough for the actors to bring their own personality into this, and that's what we encourage.

[00:17:42.316] Kent Bye: How many people on the back end does it take to run the show? Is it just one person that's in the show, or are there other people that are also helping trigger anything?

[00:17:50.527] Christopher Lane Davis: Ideally, the idea was it's convenient to be able to have a one-person show because there's a lot less preparation involved and stuff. And that was the idea, right? But we learned quickly that we really need someone there to help manage something if something happens amiss. So it's essentially a two-person show right now with one of them being an actor.

[00:18:10.876] Deirdre V Lyons: I think it depends on the actor's skill and knowledge of VRChat, which is the platform that we're using. So for South by Southwest, we do have Brian Tull, who is one of our team members from Ferryman Collective, also a very talented world builder and is helping with game design and avatar creation as well, is manning the Discord. So if one of our actors gets into trouble, they can talk to Brian on the Discord and say, OK, we need X or where's our other person? Are we going or are we not? But ideally, yeah, it is a one-person show, and one person can run the entire show, and I feel that if you're skilled enough at VRChat, that shouldn't be a problem.

[00:18:49.708] Kent Bye: Yeah, one of the things that came up for me, at least going through the piece, was this moment where I was having the one-on-one interaction with Onyx, and I'm being asked questions, and there's this moment in my mind that's like, okay, who am I in this situation right now? Am I playing a character, or am I just going to respond with whatever authentically is arising with just a direct response to the question? I'm curious about this process of onboarding people into this experience and trying to have them embody what the larger context is. Because there was moments where I was like really trying to be immersed in this world and sometimes I found like when the other participants that were with me were referring to things like the VR industry, it's sort of like would take me out of being immersed into this world and like have me think about stuff that was not happening in this moment. And so there's these moments where you have this kind of one-on-one interaction where you can actually get to know a stranger or just catch up with a friend if you're seeing it with someone you know. But this idea of am I immersed within a context or am I going to bring my IRL physical reality and identity into this experience right now and all these other things that are happening outside of this context. And so, yeah, just trying to like figure out like how to create that as a context to see like if there is directions to give to the audience members who may not be as familiar with this more live-action roleplay where you're embodying a character in this kind of immersive theater. So you're giving opportunities to express agency in a way that starts to, for me at least, bring up these deeper questions of like this onboarding and setting a context for embodiment for who I'm playing within this context of the story.

[00:20:19.825] Deirdre V Lyons: I think onboarding is super important. Coming from an immersive theatre background, that's what we all do in immersive theatres. When the audience comes to see a show, from the minute they walk up to the first person that they're meeting, they're meeting a character in a role and even though they may be checking in or they may be getting instructions, they're actually enveloped into the world that we want them to be in. So bringing that immersive theater background into VR, we try with our Cardiff, who's our robot, to sort of set up the world and slowly start to get people into this idea of being on the space station, floating around this space on another planet-type place. I think that it's up to the person, honestly. We try to give them the opportunity to lean into embracing a different being if they want to go down the road of like, what's Onyx about? What is this place? Who is Cardiff? And to play more of a role. But we only have the context of who we are as human beings. So those moments of true exchange between Onyx is really an opportunity for the audience to let themselves go a little bit, let their guard down a little bit, and really allow themselves to go places that they don't normally go in real life. But that's, as I said, it's up to the audience member how much they want to embrace that. And we only have the context of our lives to pull from. So, some have pulled from, like, I'm from some strange planet and I did this, that, and the other, and that's okay. But most people will actually just pull from their own lives and allow themselves to feel things. And that's really the goal, to allow them to feel seen, to feel special, to feel heard, to feel magic.

[00:22:10.800] Christopher Lane Davis: I was going to say, when somebody joins, you can't exactly tell them, all right, make sure you play along, because then they're going to be in their head about it. So you just have to let them play along as much as you want. But there are ways that we can sort of guide them into accepting an alternate identity. And one of the things that happens at the beginning of the show is Onyx says, oh, it's so good to see you again, like my friends. And even to us, that's ambiguous. There's a couple things we could mean by that. But it's planting a relationship. And then when Onyx names you, then it's like, OK, well, I'm no longer Christopher for the next 35 minutes. I'm Cobalt. You know what I mean? Which I think is a really powerful aspect of the show.

[00:22:52.333] Kent Bye: Yeah, that's interesting to see. There's moments where, when you have things like Sleep No More or Then She Fell, you have these one-on-one moments in immersive theater that are really quite magical. In both of those pieces, there's no explicit talking, it's all embodied movements, and Then She Fell is really orchestrated around those one-on-one movements, but I feel like in this piece, it's able to explore the dynamic of the one-on-one, but to send off the other two people, so then they have almost like a buddy experience, where you're going off to Do a task which is essentially solving a puzzle that you have to do together or alone But you kind of have this intimate one-on-one time and I felt like both of those both the one-on-one time But also have an opportunity to have a one-on-one experience with the other Participants and so there's actually like multiple one-on-one interactions that are happening here in this piece I haven't really seen that a lot within other experiences and I think that's one of the unique contributions of what you're doing here and

[00:23:45.466] Deirdre V Lyons: Yay! That's it. I'm just excited that we're bringing something new to VR. But, I mean, in some ways there's a lot to bring new to VR because it is still new and everybody's experimenting to see what works and what doesn't work.

[00:23:57.725] Christopher Lane Davis: The structure of all that was totally her idea for the record. I loved, like I mentioned, I silently watched in on a bunch of the test shows, and there was this one point where I was following the two off to the puzzle, you know, away from Onyx, and they said, so, like, what did you and the Queen talk about? And he's like, oh, well, let's see, love and mac and cheese. And the other dude says, oh, hell yeah, that's what life is really about. And that's like my favorite quote that I've heard from the whole project so far. And it embodies the love and the silliness of the show at the same time.

[00:24:30.980] Kent Bye: Great. So you're showing here at South by Southwest. And I know you had some runs of the Severance Theory. And what's next for this project? And what are you taking away or maybe learning from showing it here and premiering it at South by Southwest?

[00:24:43.728] Deirdre V Lyons: Yeah, yes, exactly. We're doing next month in April, we're going to be doing a public run of Welcome to Respite. We're going to do a hybrid version where in Los Angeles, four people can come in and see the show. If they don't have headsets, they can get put into headsets. They can be in a little in an immersive sort of environment and get to see the show because a lot of people are like, I really love immersive theater, but I don't have a headset. Well, hopefully we'll convince them to get one after this. And then six seats that are virtual. So anybody from anywhere can come. So we're doing that, which is crazy coming right off of this, which has been crazy as well. And I think that we're submitting to some of the international festivals to see if we can get our international premiere someplace wonderful and fabulous. And I think this will have a pretty good Run? We're only just starting with this one. So, you know, we'll continue on with Welcome to Respite, bringing that out into the world. We'll continue with this one, finishing the puzzles, developing it more, taking it around to different festivals as we'd go public with Welcome to Respite. But it's also exciting. So many people here, so many people we're talking to, so many people we're meeting. Maybe we can do a collaboration. I don't know. It's all possible.

[00:25:50.485] Christopher Lane Davis: I mean, you asked kind of where I wanted this to go. It's funny, short term, I have no idea. Short term, I'm going to sleep for a week. But after that, the whole gumball saga has just grown way more than I anticipated, just continually. But I have just so many ideas for it. I certainly don't want to be an artistic one-trick pony for the rest of my life. like Star Wars or something. I just have stories that could just forever branch out, you know, amidst other franchises that I wanted to be a part of and create, but I have a lot coming with this world still.

[00:26:24.330] Kent Bye: Yeah, there's a lot of moments at the end where I feel like there's this fractally nested conceits that you're exploring within VR. Having one context embedded into another context and, you know, the old hermetic axioms of the as above, so below that I think really get embodied in a way that was really magical. It's almost like within the virtual virtual reality when you're putting in the headsets and you're kind of going in for one reality into the next, but having a way of going from outside of the simulation and kind of jumping into the simulation in a way. So, I don't know, I just thought there were some really amazing embodied experiences there that also were exploring the affordances of VR in a unique way that kind of get to some real magic.

[00:27:04.000] Christopher Lane Davis: Thank you. That's my favorite thing about VR is doing things you can't do in real life. To me, that's like the whole point. So making things giant, making the floor drop out from underneath you and now you're in space just because. We'd have to have a multi-million dollar budget to do some of the things that we do in our show, like in real life or even somehow projected on the walls or whatever. VR is awesome.

[00:27:29.445] Kent Bye: There's two things in terms of things that you did both in Welcome to Respite and also in this piece, where you have a prologue and then like a credits world, which I think is kind of a nice thing to put people into to explore around, but also to portal into this world that is introducing anybody who's at the South by Southwest world can find a portal that goes into this prologue world. But then at the end of the experience, you go to the prologue, which was a little confusing because, you know, it just finished the experience and now we're going to the prologue.

[00:27:56.322] Christopher Lane Davis: I call that Tarantino-ing it. You know, we're gonna, it's a full circle thing.

[00:28:00.904] Kent Bye: Do you think that you might have that as the actual prologue for people to enter in before they get onboard? Because there's, I guess that's the other logistical thing that I just wanted to bring up was that for people who are familiar with VRChat, that's not any big deal to find the person you're supposed to friend, friend them, get a request invite, and then you go through all the onboarding of setting up all the VRChat settings, which I think are you know, there's some best practices for how to get the most immersive experience within VRChat. And as a default, it's not set up like that, so you kind of have to have this moment to step through all that. And I think that there's a refinement that I see within your stepping through, where you at one point have the big robot that shows up if you don't have avatars showing up correctly, and then, you know, people are seeing that, then So there's just a way to make sure that people have all those proper settings made up. But VRChat's not necessarily intuitive for people who've never used it before, so I think that can be a barrier for the immersive theater folks who are in some ways carrying the emotional burden of having to teach people. all these things for how to use the software to be able to get around and do things. Because there's some things that are more intermediate to advanced level with this experience that you don't want to make it feel like that people can't experience it because they're not skilled enough to be able to kind of navigate the virtual reality. So, yeah.

[00:29:12.715] Deirdre V Lyons: Yeah, we do a lot of thinking about onboarding. We start them off with a video. We're using the Tolstoy app currently that has an interactive video that they can walk through to get them set up with how to get there, how to do invites, how to do all these things. I like to liken it to You know how everybody knows how to go to theater. They get in their car, they're going to drive to the theater, they're going to park, they're going to walk in a building, they're going to see a show. Well, in VR, we're teaching them to drive to the theater by teaching them how to get to see us. And eventually, as this medium grows, more people will understand how it works or what to do or what an app is. As people didn't know what an iPad was when it first came out, like, I'm going to go buy one because Apple's doing it. very cool. I don't know what it does, but I'm going to get one. And then they figured out how to make it use it. And that's sort of where we're at now. How do you use this? And I think for any theater company that's doing theater at all, they have an obligation to get their audience in the right place in the right state of mind. So they need to, you know, if it's just regular theater, you know, you have to get the ticket, you have to tell them where the restrooms in or when the house is open, put your cell phones away, how long the show is. So that happens in real life, you know, but if you move it to tech, you know, you're now obligated, whether it's a zoom show or a VR to get the settings into a certain place so that people can see the show in an optimal situation. Now, not every show is going to require the same settings, you know you might change it depending on the show but we try to create that in a fun way you know incorporating immersive theater tactics to make it part of the show so it doesn't feel like work and then in off-boarding we also want to make sure that when they leave the show we are considerate that their settings are back to what they would be if they were to come into that space by themselves so that they're not wandering around in a way that's gonna be Not good for them if they were to come in by themselves, so this has sort of been developed over time You know what works the best and what doesn't work the best based on like errors We didn't used to have the little pop-up robot until we had this was fun We had a curator show Venice came through you know Liz and Michelle and came through and Michel was playing Alex and he saw a robot as one of the Alders the whole time and that's not supposed to happen so then you incorporate this new element to your onboarding and that's another 30 seconds you're like oh my god this is taking so long but I think once people get used to it it'll become much faster because when we have VR chat people who come in there normally or are used to sort of VR, it goes super fast. So I think it's going to change as people get more and more familiar with this kind of storytelling.

[00:31:55.262] Christopher Lane Davis: One thing that will be helpful in the future, so VRChat is amazing, and the team behind it is amazing, and the prefabs, et cetera, are amazing. But it is limited in certain ways. So a dream is to be able to have our own platform. You just get straight from the Oculus Store, like the Tempest was. That's stretch goals. But in the meantime, there's so much we can do in VRChat. And that's kind of one of the points of what we want to promote, is like, hey, look what you can do. You should do it too.

[00:32:23.208] Deirdre V Lyons: We'd love to have more creators. The more creators that are in the space, the more audience members. We grow the audience, the more demand, the more interest. And yeah, anybody, come on, join us. Lots of people are really excited about this space because it is so new and there's not as many gatekeepers as well. So in a very short amount of time, We've gone from not knowing anybody to being in some of the bigger festivals in the world, which is super amazing and exciting. So yeah, there's a lot of opportunities here for creators to get in on the ground floor of this.

[00:32:55.412] Kent Bye: Yeah, I can see how the workflow with how VRChat is even set up. There's a prologue world, which is a nice immersive trailer for what the world is that gives you a sneak peek of it, but there's no way to go from a private link that puts you into that world and then you go into the actual private instance because there's private instances and you have to negotiate all that. So creating a whole set of linked private instances is something that technologically isn't even there yet, and even if it were, you have to deal with people whether or not they are ramped up enough to even know how to do that. So imagine a future where there's like experiences like the Ghost Club where you kind of get there and to even get to the club is a journey that you go through where you have to walk down these alleys and find it and so adding those elements. But when you have a show and it starts at a certain time you want people to be there so that you're not having people lost in the onboarding.

[00:33:45.339] Deirdre V Lyons: It's a problem if, you know, it's taking a long time for people to get into onboarding. We try to keep our shows to an hour because it's about as long as people can stand to be in VR at this point. I'm sure it will get better, but, you know, people are still new and they got to get their sea legs, so to speak, their VR legs. So the longer onboarding it takes, the longer it takes to get somebody into the instance, the longer they're in VR for the entire show, which we don't want. So it's a challenge. It certainly is hard. It's very hard.

[00:34:11.742] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you each think the ultimate potential of immersive storytelling and immersive theater and virtual reality might be and what it might be able to enable?

[00:34:21.431] Christopher Lane Davis: I'm not going to get into like the dystopian possible future long-term possibilities of VR. But I mean, like right now, I just think what I've learned today is that every person in this room wants to change the world. Every single thing I've seen has given me more compassion or understanding for the planet and for the people on it, you know, especially those whose voices might not be heard otherwise, you know, the oppressed somehow. And we all share that in common, and all of these are powerful and effective. And I've personally come to understand that what we do is also extremely effective because the way we can humanize it. So I would love to introduce these theatrical aspects to as many of these other creators as possible so that we can all do better work by bouncing off of each other and inspiring each other and taking everybody's work to the next level.

[00:35:16.973] Deirdre V Lyons: It's a tool like any other tool. It's how we use it and how we choose to use it and how we allow it to be governed. So I just hope that we all support it and make sure that it isn't used in ways that are nefarious. And I know that, you know, you follow a lot of that stuff and the work that you do in that arena is really important. And your voice being out there, being a champion for people and for VR is super important. So thank you very much, Kent, for what you do.

[00:35:43.395] Kent Bye: Is there anything else at the Left Unsaid that you'd like to say to the rest of the immersive community?

[00:35:48.697] Deirdre V Lyons: Yay! Come see us! It's so good to be here and it's so exciting to be a part of this community and to be bringing immersive theater into VR and to start to bring the theater community into the tech community because there's a lot of opportunities here and a lot of exciting storytelling to be had.

[00:36:06.257] Christopher Lane Davis: I'm just super grateful for all the people that have paved the way for this, you know, all the people that created the original projects and the people that are inspiring, like a family tree, you know, it just branches out. Every action we take ripples throughout eternity.

[00:36:21.961] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Deirdre and Christopher, thanks so much for joining me here on the podcast. I really enjoyed the Gumball Dreams and I think there's a lot of really nice innovations of immersive theater and VR and looking forward to where this fusion continues to go in the future. So thanks so much.

[00:36:35.455] Deirdre V Lyons: Thank you.

[00:36:35.775] Kent Bye: Thank you.

[00:36:36.496] Christopher Lane Davis: Thank you so much. This is awesome. Thank you.

[00:36:39.379] Kent Bye: So that was Christopher Lane Davis, also known as Screaming Color, who's a musician and a VRChat world builder, as well as Deirdre V. Lyons, an actor and producer in Immersive Theater and one of the co-founders of the Ferryman Collective. So in the interest of getting through 20 different interviews I did at South by Southwest, I'm going to skip the takeaways and I'll be giving some other presentations where I dive into some of the other takeaways. So that's all I have for today. And I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a list of support podcast, and I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. So you could become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. Thanks for listening.

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