#1250: Translating 1:1 Experimental Theatre Encounters into 360 Video to Transcend Expectations with Craig Quintero

Over The Rainbow is the second episode of a 360 video trilogy by Craig Quintero (see my interview about All That Remains from Venice 2022). Quintero is the artistic director of Riverbed Theatre, a Taipei-based performance group that has been doing 1-on-1 experimental theatre shows. Quintero has been translating these 1-on-1 shows into 360 videos in a way that transcends the audience’s expectations, in a way that is very much inspired by the performance work of Marilyn Arsem. I had a chance to catch up with Quintero to talk about his philosophy of storytelling, the influence of Arsem on his work, and the role of associative memories.

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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. It's a podcast that looks at the potentials of immersive storytelling and the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash voicesofvr. So continuing on my series of looking at different immersive stories from Tribeca Immersive, today's episode is with a piece called Over the Rainbow by Craig Quintero. So this is a second part of a trilogy. The first part was called All That Remains, which was a 360 video that showed at Venice Immersive 2022. And this is a piece that I really quite enjoyed. It felt like walking into a dream state and walking out, not quite knowing what just happened. Craig is a big fan of Marilyn Artsum, who is a theater creator who is also trying to explore this type of avant-garde experimental type of theater that is trying to not only transcend your expectations, but also give you a whole embodied experience. And so Craig was actually quite inspired by a piece that he saw by Marilyn Artsum when he was 18. And he mentioned it in my last interview with him talking about All That Remains and I wanted to have him dive deeper into that story because it seemed like such a touchstone. And I think just by him explaining his experience of this piece by Marilyn Awesome gives you a sense and a vibe for how he's trying to continue forth how he thinks about the philosophy of storytelling when it comes to both these one-on-one immersive theater pieces that he's putting on, as well as his explorations of what's possible in the medium of 360 videos within the context of virtual reality. So we're covering all that and more on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Craig happened on Monday, June 12th, 2023 at Tribeca Immersive in New York City, New York. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:54.885] Craig Quintero: My name is Craig Quintero. And first Kent, great to see you again. It's fantastic after last year in Venice. So Craig Quintero, I'm the Artistic Director of Riverbed Theatre. We're a Taipei-based performance group who has also done work with sculpture and painting. And we started with VR last year with All That Remains, and this is our second virtual reality experience. And I also teach at Grinnell College, a small liberal arts college in Iowa. And our theater company is based in Taipei. So every year I spend about six to seven months in Iowa and Then the other five months in Taiwan, which is pretty fantastic Awesome. And yeah, maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into the space yeah, so I initially was interested in theater in high school and I I was able to perform in The Glass Menagerie and these really traditional plays. And I was like, OK, well, I like storytelling. I like this idea of embodying these different voices. But after doing a few plays and suddenly you're going like, well, are these the stories I want to tell? And is this the way I want to tell them? And so in my junior year of high school, I started to experiment. If I were to tell it in a different way, what would that be? And so I wrote my own performance. which also was not good, and I found myself recreating some of the models that I didn't like, and in the end there was a hero and a villain, and it was also sort of ineffective. But I was starting to try to find my own voice, and when I went to college at Tufts University as a first-year student, I saw this piece by this artist, Marilyn Arsum, And in her work, it was really seen as a performance art piece and like these intense images and non-narrative, but just creating these series of flowing images. And I felt like I was watching like a moving painting or a living sculpture. And I was really struck by this beauty and possibility of performance and that creative space for the audience. So I think that thinking as an artist then so sometimes people are very didactic and polemic and this is we're Addressing this and this is a message and you get it. Do you get it? Do you got it? You're like, yes. Yes. Yes I got it a while ago and how do we sort of avoid that impulse to teach or to tell and Provide a space for people to respond and so I saw that in Marilyn's work which is now 35 years ago and to the day I'm still sort of trying to be able to create similar encounters for the audience where they enter into the world and maybe they're busy with work or troubled with relationships or coming from everyday life and they enter in this space and whether it's a 10-minute experience like Over the Rainbow or it's an hour-long show like we just did last month in Taiwan, but you enter and you exit in a different state, and that process of transformation. So we enter the world and we leave different. And in terms of the scale of the work, as I just mentioned, the show we did in Taiwan last month, we collaborated with Circus company and it was in the Taiwan National Theater. So it's a 1500 seat theater And so we're experimenting with you know, obviously a radically different scale and size and VR the intimacy of this experience But you start playing with this canvas, which is the stage floor, which is 45 feet wide and 38 feet deep and And how do you also help curate the viewer's experience? How do you work with the specific medium of live performance? And that interaction, we have people who are on the main audience seating floor. There's a second and a third and a fourth balcony. So you're dealing with four different perspectives on the same work. And people up on the top, you can't ignore them, right? They bought a ticket, it might be cheaper, but what is the experience that they're seeing? How do you also create the work so it can function on four different perspectives at the same time? With VR, obviously, we have one perspective, and even though we're in 360, you can sort of shift and turn. Again, with that specific medium, how do you help curate the viewer's encounter? And so a lot of our work is really helping this idea of perspective. How do you help the audience see or point to things for them to see? And how do you create an experience where it helps them disarm themselves so they can experience the work?

[00:05:57.008] Kent Bye: Yeah, so I remember going and seeing all the remains in Venice and really put into this altered state of consciousness. And the conversation that I had with you helped to clarify both your process and your intentions. And this is the second chapter of that series. But I guess before we dive into these two pieces, I know that here at Tribeca Immersive 2023, you had an opportunity to give a broader talk to the immersive community. There's an event sponsored by Taika. So I'd love to hear some of the different messages that you were trying to convey with some of your explorations from what you've done with both this avant-garde one-on-one immersive theater and other theatrical explorations you've been doing in Taiwan and how that has been informing you in how you create these different immersive storytelling and VR pieces. So yeah, I'd love to start off with what were some of the big messages that you were trying to convey in that talk.

[00:06:46.388] Craig Quintero: Yes, I started off with telling the story about seeing Marilyn's performance because I think, as an artist, it's important to credit her inspirations and who helped guide us on this path and maybe point people towards her work as well. And then I also started talking about, in terms of artistically, the work of René Magritte, the Surrealist painter, who's had a huge impact on me, and the way that he works with a similar idea of this process of defamiliarizing the familiar. So if you look at his famous painting where there's a man in the bowler hat, who has a green apple floating in front of his face. And I showed that image and I talked about if you look at this image, if you remove the apple, it's just a man in a bowler hat. And technically, Magritte, he's not an amazing painter. He's much better than me. But like, technically, he's not a beautiful painting. But if you just have the man in the bowler hat, it doesn't work. Or if you remove the man and you just have the apple, it doesn't work. But by putting that apple in front of his face, then you have this moment where you're like, what is it I'm seeing? And it's sort of asking you these questions that then, as an audience member, we have to resolve. Why is it there? What does it symbolize? It's this question mark, and each of us can fill in our own blank. And so I love that image, and I think Magritte, what's kind of remarkable is over the course of his 30 or 40-year career, I mean, it's basically that same idea of taking an image and slightly shift it. So he has the image of the mermaid, but he's inverted, so the top half is a fish head, and the bottom half is a woman's legs instead of, you know, a mermaid. And again, you look at it, and it's like, it's shocking or disturbing or unsettling. And I think what's remarkable is that one simple thing of inverting the mermaid becomes something radically new. And so in terms of our artistic work, this idea of how do we subvert expectations? How do we take this something that's simple or known in every day and make it unknown? And then also, how do you leave the audience with these questions? I also sort of went through the evolution of some of our work, working in our pieces with color, line, shape, visual composition, so more like in a painter's aesthetic. And I also sort of highlighted that in all this conversation about the work, I very infrequently do I talk about theme or meaning or plot, because I'm really not thinking in those terms. I'm really thinking about form. And then in form, you can, insert content or meaning. In the talk I also sort of addressed this series of performances we've been doing for the past 10 years, the Just For You performance series, where we're doing these elaborate, immersive performances for an audience of one. And some of these we've done in hotels, we did some in an alley in Tainan in southern Taiwan. in museums and galleries and really this desire to create an encounter for the audience where they're fully immersed in a work and sometimes we'll have like seven or eight or nine or ten performers performing just for you. And so in the course of these works we did this one piece where there's like the audience was seated in a room in a chair facing a performer And then suddenly their chair started to pull backwards. And so as the audience was seated maybe a foot and a half, two foot from a performer, and then suddenly their chair started to pull back. And so it went from an extreme close-up cinematically to like a medium shot into a long shot. They're pulled through a tunnel. And so then the tunnel started to frame the performer in the distance. and they're pulled back into another room and in that room there were seven performers who all turned and looked at you as you entered on this chair as you're sliding through the room and then they were singing this song and walking towards you and suddenly you went from this intimate encounter into this like musical world like you're in the space and then the seven people looking you in the eye and singing to you and it was this beautiful moment of Yeah, just subverting expectations, but just the joy or the surprise of having this concert or this moment of music just for you. And we staged it 48 times for 48 people. And the specialness of these encounters. And so it's often as interesting with this performance series, you know, people would ask, well, can I bring my friend? You know, because it's so hard to get a ticket. Like, oh, can the two of us? It's like you're like, well, I understand, but we can't. Because as soon as there's two people, then the performers, they'll look at person A and then look at B and A and B, and so they're splitting that attention. And so with this Just For You performance series, it really is essential that it is just for you, that all of the performers, all of the energy is being given directly to one person. And through this process of doing these Just For You performances, that's what led us to this idea of shifting to virtual reality, like as you mentioned, with All That Remains that premiered last year, and then this being the second work in that trilogy.

[00:11:28.470] Kent Bye: Yeah, in both our previous conversation and this conversation, this performance that you saw when you're 18 by Marilyn Arsum, I'm wondering if you could take me back to this moment and maybe elaborate a little bit more because it does seem like such a turning point in both your career and how that's been so inspiring for you. You told a bit of the story last time that we chatted, but just take me back to when you're 18 years old and seeing this performance and maybe describe the performance and what was it about that really struck you?

[00:11:52.193] Craig Quintero: Yes, so when I went and saw the piece, I was an 18-year-old, just went off to college, first-year student, and I wanted to write for the school newspaper, I wanted to write reviews, and so I approached them, and I was like, oh, cool, here's a list of 40 theaters or 40 shows you can go see. And so I randomly selected this piece by Marilyn Arsum at Mobius. And when I went to the theater, it was like a small black box in downtown Boston, and it was like my first trip into the city to see theater. And so I arrived, you know, like I was racing around trying to get there. I took a seat in the back of it, and the theater space must have been maybe only 40 or 50 seats, like a small black box space. On stage, there was like a rocking chair with a basket beside it, a table covered with a white tablecloth, a small stove beside that, and then a bed. and some other small things. And I just remember sitting in the back and like, OK, well, it seemed very minimalist and the lights faded to black. And when the lights came up, you saw this woman wearing a black cloak, sort of like Little Red Riding Hood, but all black that went from covering her head down to above her feet. And as you saw this woman, she started to slowly walk towards us and she started to sing. The song she was singing was The fish is in the water, the water's in me. So the fish is in the water, the water's in me. Let's repeat it again. The fish is in the water, the water's in me. And as she was singing this song and walking very slowly towards the audience, she began to slowly remove what looked like a fish head from in her cloak. And so we're seeing the head of this fish. And she continued to remove this from inside her cloak. It was like a whole fish. And it was like large, maybe like eight or nine or 10 pounds. And then it was like freshly from the market. And so his eyes were bulging. And it was almost dripping still water. And she continued singing. Fish is in the water, the water's in me. And as she had the fish, she started to slowly approach the audience and towards the first person in the front row. And the fish got closer to their face, and she was like, fish is in the water. At that point, it's like, oh, thank God, I'm in the back row. And it's like, because you could smell it, and it was like intense. And you could see the person, just like this intense moment of just, you know, what is this sensation and like her eye contact with the audience and her connection with us. And then she paused and she went back on stage and she put the fish on her lap. And as she sat in the rocking chair and then she started to rock back and forth and sang this other song. I'm in water and you're in air. You're in air and I'm in water. And so it's like shifting back and forth between who's in water and who's in air. And she's singing this again, looking at the audience. She removed a needle and thread from the basket, like the wing of a dead bird and like a real dead bird. And she began to slowly sew the wing onto the side of the fish as she continued singing her. I'm in water and you're... And so she was singing as she sewed on a one wing, flipped it over, another wing that she sewed on the other side. Then she removed two chicken feet, which she sewed onto the belly of the fish. And so in the end there was like this fish, bird, chicken, anyway, this weird amalgamation hybrid of these animals that were tied together and then this harness lowered from the ceiling she put the fish bird chicken into that and then it raised up and so over the rest of the performance this thing was hanging over the stage looking out at the audience and then she went over to the table and she started to make bread and like flour and water and the excess of flour so she was pounding or working the bread this puff of the flour and puff and puff and when it was about done and so the smoke and almost sort of made it like this misty fairy world and so anyway this puff and puff And when she's almost done, she took out some scissors and she had long black hair and she cut off the tip of her hair and began to work it into the bread. And then after that, she put it in a pan, opened up the oven and then put it in and then started to bake it. So over the course of the rest of the performance, we were smelling the scent of baked bread, which was delicious. But then as she cooked it longer, then the hair started to singe and burn. And if you smelled burnt hair, then you know it's like that is not pleasant and you're sort of encountering that. And then she cleared off the table, put four plates, covered them with what looked like dirt and then she did some other activities and she eventually walked over to the stage left side where there was the bed. She pulled back the comforter and underneath it was a layer of pig bones and they were like a real large pig. All the meat had been dried off and so there's like this stark white and sort of the sharpness of these bones. She removed her cloak, laid on top of the bones so they're pricking into the side of her body. You can sort of see them indenting into her. pulled up the blanket, and at that moment, as she was lying there on the bed, this little girl crawled out from under the white tablecloth, and she looked up at the audience, and she had this little mischievous smile, and also this sense of, like, fear of, like, who are all these old people looking at me? And with this smile, there became this drone in the background, this... Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr And after she was eating from the fourth plate, she looked out at the audience and again, there's this smile of just whimsy and wonder and doubt. And she was smiling at us. The light slowly started to fade to black, fade to black, fade to black. And when the lights came back on, there's like this smattering of applause. And some people are like, what the fuck was that? And sort of racing to get out. And my condition was I was supposed to write a review of the show and I was like, oh shit, like, how do I write about this? And again, like I had taken theater classes in high school and I'd written reviews of plays and I've written reviews of performances, but all of those underpinnings, like I said before, about plot and character and narrative and climax and all of the structures, like the three acts, I mean, it wasn't there. And so I was like, oh shit, how do I write this review? And so I approached Marilyn afterwards, and I was like, beautiful images, beautiful work, I love this, but I didn't understand, what does it mean? And she was like, oh no, no, no, you know what it means. No, what does it mean? No, no, no, you know. And so we went back and forth, what does it mean, what does it mean, what does it mean? And she asked me, no, you know what it means. What did it mean? And then I started to suddenly tell the story about the year before my grandfather had a stroke. And so the experience of flying to Montana and going to the hospital, and the experience of walking down the hallways, of entering into the hospital room. and seeing someone I loved immensely who had played an important part in my life lying there attached to all these machines and the colors of the walls and the sounds of the hospital and the smells and seeing someone I loved and being unable to help and the sound of the respirator the sound of the and seeing him unable to do the most basic function of what being a human is, to breathe, and being unable to do that on his own. seeing someone you know preparing to die, and yeah, for the first time facing that. And so I talked about that, and then suddenly I started talking about when I was a kid, I used to go to the local public library, and there was like these books, you know, historical books, but like picture books, like time-life books of the Holocaust. And so I was like talking about going down there and seeing these and flipping through them as a kid, like, you know, these pictures of like, you know, piles of bodies or these emaciated people like coming out of the concentration camps. And it was just like these horrific images that no one should have to see. And particularly not a seven or eight year old child to sort of be flipping through. But these images that I had seen and that were still inside my head. And so I was talking like maybe for five or seven or ten minutes. And I finally looked up at Maryland. And she was just nodding at me. I was like, yes, I was right. You did know what the performance was about. And as I told you last year, I mean, it was like in that moment of like her affirmation of that's what the performance was about, was suddenly like, oh, because her performance wasn't about Romeo or Juliet. Her performance wasn't about this particular political or social or cultural issue. It wasn't telling me something. It was providing a space that through this work I could see myself. And so even though right now I just went through all these details of the performance, when I left the show I wasn't really thinking like, what a Marilyn, she's such a great performer, or what a fantastic costume designer, what a great script. I was thinking about my grandfather. And, you know, thinking about you know, life and death and all these things which are, you know, so fundamentally human but very infrequently do we address. That like so much of our lives we fill with entertainment and, you know, like busy and this and this and this and like don't, don't stop to think. And what Marilyn was doing was saying like, stop. Slow down. Here is the series of images. Let go of meaning. Let go of rational thought. experience and so I think that that aesthetic of not acting but doing I think this aesthetic of creating these series of images which are replete with possibilities and that each one is sort of like this little prick that can sort of prick into your mind or prick into your heart or prick into your memories or to you And if we can create these gateways into ourselves, what an amazing gift. Because I think so often with entertainment or with films or movies or TV shows, it means we're trying to fill something that isn't there. And the reality is, is that all of the stuff is already present. All of these feelings and emotions and desires and longings, I mean, it's all there. And so much of it is unaddressed. And so for me, that initial encounter became, again, sort of like I was saying before, like this lifelong journey of trying to create these encounters where people can let go, unmask themselves, and experience.

[00:23:40.552] Kent Bye: Beautiful. Well, thanks for taking the time to tell that story again, because, you know, as I was listening to our conversation that we had back last year in Venice, I was hearing that story, and I think there was a little moment where you said that all your work is trying to go back and chase that moment that you had, an 18-year-old, that Marilyn Artsom had. I think as you were describing that piece in great detail, I was like, ah, now I can see the spiritual inspiration of All That Remains and also Over the Rainbow, but there's this you know in this symbolic archetypal expression of these series of images and the expectations that we have and you talked in our last conversation about this idea of pulling out the rug underneath people as to what they're going to expect and Just to focus on the process of creating this last time we spoke you talked about all it remains where you do a lot of rehearsals and workshop what this moment of the expectations and and Lots of rehearsals before you start actually shoot it now that you're into the second Part of this trilogy and you have this arc of these three things and it sounds like this very emergent improv esque dimension of Discovering what each of these episodes are I'm wondering if you did a similar process with the second episode You know building upon what you did in the first if they're connected or yeah I'm just curious what your process was of moving into the second episode of this series of over the rainbow and

[00:25:01.339] Craig Quintero: It was actually really interesting because we knew we were going to be working on the second piece and I didn't have a script. We were already sort of like meeting with the production company. I was like, oh, so we need to see the script so we can start. And I was like, huh, yeah, I better write it. And so I had like a number of ideas, but none of them I could never get any traction. I was like, I'd come up with something and I would sort of like, eh. And so it actually went last summer. There was a gallery at the local university Taipei National University of the Arts. It was like a exhibition for like the graduating seniors and there was these two paintings on the wall there and it was of a couple. They're seated at a table and they both have plates in front of them and the man has like this yellow drink. And what struck me about this is sort of both figures are in profile so they're looking at each other And it looks like the same table, but it's as if the table was cut in half, and then the two halves were slightly moved away. So the gap between those two paintings is about 10 to 15 centimeters. And what really struck me about it, because I thought like if the artist would have painted them with just the table in one painting, and the two people are seated at the same table in the same work of art, it probably would not have hit me. But because they made this choice to sort of have this couple seated as if they cut the painting in half and then move that gap between them, that space to me sort of really resonated. It was like you're looking at these people and it's that gap between them. It's a gap between all of us. And so even if you've been married to someone for 50 years or if you're just like somebody you've just fallen in love with, but no matter how close you get, there's always that space between us. And I think that space really sort of resonated with me and I think sort of like thinking about the title of the piece, Over the Rainbow, it's that gap between us of like that desire for something more or something beyond or something different. And so the whole, this, you know, over the rainbow, this 10, 11 minute experience began with a trip to, you know, just check out some artwork and that vehicle to thinking about the line between us, that separation, proximity that we're, no matter how close, there's always this distance. So started from that initial idea, it's like, oh, okay, well this, and so let's just put them in a gallery. So it was really sort of, that initial first image in Over the Rainbow come pretty much directly from that moment or that encounter and then sort of figuring out how to stage that and then work with that. And then once we did that, then it's like, okay, well, thinking about then frame or that sort of dimension translates into the second section where there's this frame which sort of helps curate the audience's engagement with the second image. And then from there to the third, we're just sort of, again, thinking about how we can play with scale or audience performer relationship. And again, I think what's easy to do and difficult to avoid is to like, One, to repeat yourself. Two, to sort of create like one language and to start making it make sense. I think once we start putting on the blinders of like, oh, you know, A has to be followed by B, which has to be followed by C. Once we start doing that, then it really becomes, the audience gets ahead of the work. And so in this piece, like you mentioned, I'd said before about this idea of pulling the rug out from under the audience's feet. It's like, how do we destabilize that? How do we stay one or two or three steps ahead of the audience? And the same like when you play chess, you're not playing for the next move, you're playing for three moves down the line. And so again, with like how quick the audience and you're sort of like, you know, with how much information we're constantly digesting. how do we avoid falling into that trap? And so I think it's, you know, there's a lot of the VR experiences I've seen, which are some really amazing work, but oftentimes it's sort of like you get the main idea, like two or three minutes into it, and then there's another 15 or 20 minutes of regetting the same idea, right? And again, you can say that gives it more depth and it's sort of this deepening of that, but I think it's sort of, you know, as an audience member, then I find myself sort of distracted and I start playing like, oh, well, if I move my hand to this wall, what happens? Oh, what's on the other side? And I'm not watching the experience because I'm already past it. And so I think that, you know, this idea of like shifting into the second piece, it's having already made one, made some discoveries about performer audience relationship, you know, how in the second piece can we continue that exploration and play with like maybe scale or shape and to sort of continue to expand the vocabulary that we're developing in this medium.

[00:29:33.904] Kent Bye: Yeah, and there was also some moments where looking at the artist's face and there's this blend of like when we talked about all that remains you had given the direction of something like holding your face like grief and infinite possibilities or some of these abstract directions you're giving to the actors. I'm wondering if you had any similar directions that you were giving to your actors in this piece of trying to evoke these polar opposite feelings or embodied experiences while they're doing these performances?

[00:30:05.089] Craig Quintero: Yeah, so for this piece, there was not really sort of in terms of like faces and that sort of direction. Like in the second sequence, and again, it's difficult to describe for folks who haven't seen it. The audience is in like maybe a four and a half foot by four and a half foot cell, like vertical space that has a roof or ceiling and a floor. And you're looking through this 30 centimeter by 30 centimeter frame. And you have these two tubes on either side of your ears that are sort of gradually pushing towards you. And your eye light, your sight line is there's like a floor in front of you. So you're sort of your eyes are at ground level. And the first image of that and the experience is like a someone's you see from the distance, someone's feet are walking towards you. And so you have boom. Boom. Boom. And they're getting closer to the camera, getting closer to your eyes. They stop, and the person starts to lie down. And he's already placed like a plate of spaghetti, like from the first image in the painting. And then he places this glass with yellow fluid, like in the image from the painting. And then he's lying there on the floor with his eyes connecting with the camera, with the audience. And that's where we end and then sort of the image continues to evolve. And the initial iteration, you know, I had like, you know, there's going to be a head there or there's going to be people sort of like dropping in and out. There's going to be, so we, like in the rehearsal process for this was like, we built the stage really early. So like three days into the rehearsal process, like we built that. And so I would be like, OK, now somebody go, OK, now try something cool. And so that's a very general direction. And so they try something. I was like, well, that was cool. But yeah, try something different. And so I had no idea. I mean, it's like you create a space, and there's infinite possibilities. And I think we talked about this last time, about this idea of a site-specific work. But the site isn't going out to a harbor here in New York, or it's not going to a field in Taipei. It's like you're going to the space which has this 30 by 30 frame, and the floor is at eye level, and you're in the cell. Go! Right? And it's sort of like, what does that idea inspire or evoke for the performers? And so it's really important in that process, in terms of my work with the actors, is to not just have them be the performers, but then they'll also come in, they'll be the audience, and what they just tried, I'll do, so they can see how that works or doesn't work. And so a lot of the work is really about, like, trying it. And so I find, like, the idea of, so, the storyboarding process for me was creating the spatial design. So there's the gallery, there was this space where we had, you know, the cell with this 30 by 30 square that you're sort of looking at with the floor level, and then, like, the third space as well, sort of starting off with that design, and then figuring out what happens in relationship to that. And I think by removing it from an idea or a literary script, it becomes much more organic and engaged with the environment. And I think that because we're doing 360 VR, I mean, the environment becomes such an important character. It's not just a static thing behind us. It's the actor who oftentimes changes or shifts the direction or the trajectory of the piece. So in the same way, like in the second sequence where the set starts to move or slide across the screen, so we're seeing something and someone's there, but suddenly the world starts to shift. and we're transported to somewhere else. Or in the third section, where the audience is viewing, looking at something in front of them, and then suddenly they're shifted into a different space, which opens up into a completely different world. And I think that that ability for the space to drive the action, or this idea that Samuel Beckett talked about, like the world is feeding, that the world is alive, that the world is active. And again, when we look at environmentally what's happening with global warming and water rising, or with drought, or with fires, You know, with the tsunamis, I mean, like, that the world is alive, right? And I think that it's shifting the environment in our theater productions, as well as in our VR pieces, into maybe not the protagonist, but one of the lead actors.

[00:34:06.817] Kent Bye: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense and reminds me of a conversation I did with Andrea Ayon Katakaru in episode 1200 where she's been doing a lot of architectural design in these virtual spaces and creating it into an improv act where it's a performance by using the process of architectural design as a process of modulating space around people. So I guess in some ways you're doing this in a more analog way of creating these sets that are dynamically transforming and folding. We don't quite know what the firmness of the architecture is because it's changing and dynamic and it's undergoing a process. And so it's this process relational approach that you're invoking in this piece as well. The third section, you had mentioned earlier that you were doing some Just For You performances where you were drawing people backwards in a chair and there was like a bunch of dancers and singers. Was that third section directly inspired from some of those previous performances of Just For You?

[00:35:01.399] Craig Quintero: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think that in the third section, in this experience, so you're very close to a woman who has a small house and is engaging with a small house. And then suddenly the stage that she's standing on starts to pull and fade away. So she's initially from a close up, she starts to fade back into a medium, into a long shot. And as she's fading back, she like looks over the camera. And so if you follow her gaze and you turn behind you, there's this large house which is heading towards you. And the door is closed as the door is on the model of the house in front of you. And then as it approaches you, and we built this 14-foot-tall house that we had on casters that was literally rolling towards the camera. And then the door opens, and you're thrust into a hallway. And then in the hallway, you're down this long corridor. And when you're halfway through the corridor, the corridor opens. And then the woman with the house has disappeared, and you're in this other world. And so it was entirely this idea of going from a close-up to a long shot. It was also with this idea as you're pulled backwards, you're brought into a different world. And so I like this idea that we think that we know the world, or we think that we understand the rules of logic, or that we want things to make sense. And I think that so often in life, they don't. And so recently in the States here, there's been so many shootings. And I was really struck by one. It was at a shopping mall. And you see the image of a car pulling into a parking lot. And the guy just stops right in front of the stores, gets out of the car, and just starts shooting at people. And like all the people who were just there, it was like I think a Sunday afternoon, they were just there to go pick up something, you know, whatever it was. Or on an errand, or they're meeting their friends, or they're going on a date, or they're there to pick up their child. And suddenly all of these lives are interrupted forever. And so for as much as we want to plan, and I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do this, and I'm going to do this, and that's great, but it's also so much as unknowable, and unplannable, and unpredictable. And so our work is so even though, you know, it's sort of not linear narrative, or it's not realism, But I think it is. Because in my life, I've never been pulled backward in a chair and suddenly had a house looming behind me and then been in a corridor and then revealed into this advance musical theater piece. That's never really happened to me. But these other things have. And I think that where's most realistic theater or narratives gives you the impression that there is an order, that there is a path, that there are these things that happen, that A leads to B, which leads to C. I think that the more that we disrupt that, I think it's truer to life. And so in terms of stylistically, I think this moment of pulling back here in this scene was inspired by what we did in that earlier Just For You performance, but translated into a completely different medium and encounter. And I like that. I think that sometimes as an artist, you did an experiment, and then you do a different experiment, a variation, to see what other conclusions you can arrive at. And so I think that as artistically developing our vocabulary, to rework something, to re-experiment, to re-contextualize it, and in the different encounter, where else can it take us?

[00:38:24.117] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to do this piece twice and the first time when I did it there were some of the annoying controls that were popping up and it seems like you were able to turn that off because when I came back it wasn't coming up there so I was surprised about how deeply that was breaking immersion in some sense but I'm glad that I went back to see it because you know the experience I have in seeing a piece like this is that It does feel like this fever dream of an experience where I almost like walk out and it's like, okay, what just happened? I find sometimes when you wake up from a dream and you're like, okay, what was the dream? And maybe you could like remember the last part of it, but not always remember all the beats. And so I wanted to go back and watch it from the beginning and knowing the full arc and just kind of understand the different beats and moments. you know because there are all these moments of perverting my expectations as to what was happening and You know like in the first all that remains there's different objects like a key that's pulled out and in this piece There's a ticket there's a wand there's magic dust and so there's things that are being revealed throughout the course of a scene that maybe you don't notice or not shown but are indicating a segue into the next moment where there's this overall experience of like I said the fever dream or the surrealistic lucid dream aspect but also sometimes when you have a dream you're trying to decode the meaning for what does this dream mean for me and sometimes you can make those connection because it's usually based upon contexts that you can identify how they're connected to me but the challenge with the piece like this is that even the contexts are so perverted in a way that isn't necessarily penned down to existing contextual domains of my experience that are clearly identifiable so you're in some ways like forging into this more experimental art context or dream-like context that are these liminal spaces and so it creates more of a liminal experience that flips me out of my normal state of knowing what to expect or knowing how to even remember it or categorize it in my mind. So I feel like that's sort of like after hearing the description of Marilyn Arsum's piece that there's a similar quality that she was able to cultivate that you're also going after but Love to hear any reflections about anything that I just said there.

[00:40:32.510] Craig Quintero: Yeah, so I mean I think that sort of dream state or fever state and it's just a sort of I mean like so we're here and it's like a really noisy space and there's a lot of people and you're sort of racing around to try to go see stuff and you have like a meeting afterwards or lunch after and it's like how do you take the audience and sort of immediately transition them into this world and so those technical difficulties I mean I'm just sort of it was killing me because we had like a lot of issues with technology and it's like for the love of God is just play in the image. And once we got those resolved, because again, it's like if you're looking at a painting and you had, you know, some object moving in front of your eyes between you and the painting, it'd be really distracting. Or in painting, then someone, like there's an egg on it. And you're like, why did someone throw an egg on my painting? So anyway, it's just like so distracting. So to get over that technical stuff and to really, because each element is so intentional, the pacing is so intentional, the progression of images and sounds, and to have those disruptions, I mean it really, yeah, it makes it hard to watch. One thing we haven't talked about is the performers, so it's the same cast as in All That Remains, like for the two leads, and I think it's fun too because we've gotten to know them in the first piece a little bit, or sort of these encounters that they've had before. And so for the first sequence and all that remains, you know, the actress is approaching the camera and she looks you directly in the eye. For this piece, you're sort of looking over her shoulder, and so the camera's positioned behind her. I wanted to sort of think, like, well, how we can change our spatial relationship with her, where we're seeing, like, almost like a voyeur behind her, sort of over her, seeing what she's doing. And then when she turns and sees us again, and she's like, oh, it's you again, and we're drawn back into the connection. she's with us again. And I think that sort of playing with these actors, these characters, who we have known or we've engaged with before and giving them another life. And so the same way I was talking about with the chair pulling backwards being an element I played with before and now with the actors, because they're not playing a role, it's like when Amber or Ollie look at us in both pieces, it's still them. And it's just sort of like they're seeing us and their bodies are in a different location and their bodies are in a different context. But it's still Oli like in the second scene of Over the Rainbow when he lies down and looks at the camera. And we know that we've seen those eyes before and we know that we've seen him kneel down in front of us, you know, naked and all that remains and that something different was happening then and something different is happening now. but there's still this connection between us. And so I think it's fun to do like this trilogy and to revisit these actors' bodies and these eyes and these moments of encounter. So as we start working on the third part of the trilogy, we're really sort of exploring like, what is the final chapter of this journey? And again, so, you know, it's like, narratively, it'll be interesting, but it's kind of fun. I already have a roughed out version of the first scene and it's gonna be a different experience. It'll be fun.

[00:43:29.614] Kent Bye: Yeah, well the final scene, there's this thought as I watch that, it's like, okay, what are the safety precautions that are happening here? Is this safe? So I'm curious if there were any additional safety things or if this was actually all in camera.

[00:43:41.783] Craig Quintero: So it was all in camera. We worked with the performer and they worked out and sort of been prepared physically to do this and we had tested stuff before. And again, we did not have any magical net or any harness attached. But we're trusting the strength of the performer.

[00:43:59.261] Kent Bye: Usually in these productions, there are some of these different safety precautions. But in the absence of that, there's another magic trick quality of awe and surprise and wonder that you managed to also pull off that was having me hold my breath. But I feel like the overall experience is very similar to All That Remains. Although I have to say that after seeing All That Remains there was something about I had a little bit of expectations for what to expect with Over the Rainbow where it wasn't that complete altered state of consciousness because it was expecting to have my expectations undermined was an expectation within itself. So there still is this like luminal quality to it that there's something weird that happens with my memory where it's difficult to trace because There's not a lot of stuff to hook on to and so, you know There's different phrases and different things that are being said even the beginning that I even now I can't even remember but there's these deliberate moments of dialogue sprinkled out and just as a question.

[00:44:50.573] Craig Quintero: Is there any Dialogue and all that remains because there was a little bit more spoken stuff in this piece where the lines about going from the first sequence into the second about and the little girl looked up at her father and she said with a big smile One day I'll be you. And the father looked down and smiled at her and said, you already are. And that was the one line. And then there's like this rolling cut action. And so it was like sort of like a cinematic and then like directions of like sort of transitions. Okay. Three, two, one go. So there was sort of a counting transition moments and there was some texts between it. And so the text also sort of comes. like in post-production we're like okay so how do we tie these scenes together and so for the first one like that text of like the father and the daughter I was just watching the footage and those words sort of came to mind. I directed the show The Pillow Man before by Martin McDonagh and in that scene it's a lot about storytelling and so there's like this story of the pillow man and in our production we had like And the pillow man was this big, gloopy man. And every day... I'm sort of playing with this voice, and so then I transition into sort of like that storyteller voice. And so it's just sort of playing with sound. And I think in this piece, when it's dealing with this idea of reconciliation, and what are the keys to reconciliation, and as simple as one, two, three. And so obviously it's not that simple, but it's like, well, how do we reconcile between people or these moments of reconciliation between people or ourselves or history? But thinking about that became the transition line.

[00:46:32.544] Kent Bye: And what was the line that opens up in the Over the Rainbow?

[00:46:36.788] Craig Quintero: The key to reconciliation is to let go. pause, take a deep breath, and it's as easy as one, two, three. And then it doesn't become that easy. But, uh.

[00:46:52.877] Kent Bye: Okay. Okay. Yeah. But yeah, I'd love to hear what you think is the ultimate potential of immersive storytelling and this combination of one-on-one immersive theater and all these other theatrical practices and what that might be able to enable.

[00:47:06.464] Craig Quintero: Yeah. So I'm really excited. So I went and saw the Center 5's production of The Infinite. and then the piece that they were producing of Carne y Arena. I thought that those both were like really fantastic pieces. I'm now interested in exploring the potential between like live performance and VR and XR and anyway just like what are the possibilities of if you have live performers how can you combine this technology in a way that's meaningful and that can really elevate the situation and so I'm saying that as we're sort of entering into a workshopping period to test some ideas. And I have a lot of questions and not many answers on how we're going to actually do it. But I'm super excited to be able to have the immediacy of the human connection, but then also the potential for time travel and space travel through VR and these other technologies. If we can find a smart way to combine those two things, where we get the best of sense and smell and taste and touch and human contact with the potential for the things that are superpowers or superhuman things through VR and these augmented technologies, I'm really excited to see what's possible there.

[00:48:15.433] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader Immersive community?

[00:48:19.365] Craig Quintero: Yeah, just like we just finished at the Center Phi, there was the exhibition, Chaos and Memories, and it was highlighting the work that was coming out of Taiwan. And I think last year, when you look at The Man Who Couldn't Leave, which won the Grand Prize, Redfish, and Our Peace, All That Remains, like three out of the ten works that were in competition were created there. And I think it's really kind of remarkable. And so when we had this exhibition, Chaos and Memories, at the Center Phi, that was celebrating Taiwanese artists. And someone in the audience was like, well, how is it possible? How is Taiwan doing this? And it really is kind of remarkable. And I think that as other countries are sort of looking at and embracing this technology, the government support through TAICA, through the Taiwan Ministry of Culture, and then also having a company like Funic, who technologically is doing these amazing works. And so I think that hopefully this model that Taiwan has been through this funding and support that other countries will adopt that same model because there's a lot of talented artists and it's not necessarily just filmmakers, you know, it's like theater artists and visual artists and poets and musicians and finding the space where there's this collaborative process that excels beyond any single medium that we were working with before and it's this VR experience becomes like a meeting ground for this creative process and so hopefully other folks can explore Taiwan as this model for ways to generate work and support the artistic community.

[00:49:42.227] Kent Bye: Awesome. Well, Craig, always a pleasure to see your latest work and all your explorations of the medium and pushing it forward into this liminal genre. I'm trying to pervert your expectations. And yeah, just really appreciate you taking the time and help to unpack your piece and your process. So thank you.

[00:49:57.373] Craig Quintero: Great. Thanks. It's always a pleasure seeing you and I see you here and like on your first day, you've already seen all the pieces. Like, yes, you're like your energy and support are fantastic. So thank you.

[00:50:06.508] Kent Bye: So that was Craig Contero. He's the artistic director of Riverbed Theater, which is a Taipei based performance group that explores both sculpture, painting, and doing different immersive experiences within the context of 360 video and virtual reality. And he also is a professor at Grinnell College in Iowa. So I've a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, Craig's work is trying to explore the medium of virtual reality in a way that is trying to lean more heavily into, I guess, the medic form of storytelling, which is the show rather than the tell. So there's not a lot of narrative or meaning or exposition or explanation, even it's trying to be really present in the moment and see what's happening in the moment. And you have all of your different associative links that are happening. So with these different representations that they're pouring forth, you may have direct associations, or they may be so surreal, you don't have any existing context that you're connecting with, or maybe you do, but more at an unconscious level, because I think the pieces like this are exploring this realm of surrealism and associative links within the context of your memory, where he's trying to use these symbolic and archetypal images to subtly shift your experience by taking you to places that you don't quite expect, but also to perhaps create deeper relationships. But at the end of the day, trying to explore the potentials of this new grammar of mimesis and embodied storytelling within the context of virtual reality. There's a comment that Craig said that you know a lot of his work is trying to chase after the feeling that he got after watching this Marilyn Arsene piece back when he was 18 years old and just super grateful to be able to capture a little bit more context for that moment because I think it in a lot of ways captures the spirit of what Craig's trying to do in his work and a similar feeling that I have after seeing both all the remains as well as over the rainbow We talked, again, about this one-on-one immersive theater, so theater made for one person, and the scale of these explorations, and how it is really trying to tap into this awe and wonder, because very rarely do we have so many people that are paying attention to very finely crafting a specific experience, juxtaposing one thing after the next, which, at the end of the day, is trying to ultimately be novel, or surprising, or unexpected, so trying to explore these things where you don't expect whatever's gonna happen. Yeah, I feel like he's able to hit that same tone although I think that all that remains was such a out of nowhere that Once you start to pull out the rug from somebody and then you kind of expect to have that rug pulled out underneath you and so there's a little bit less of that surprise when you see the second part of the series, but moving beyond the questions of meaning and Having something specific to say and also just trying to get people to be super present in the moment what's happening but also to pay attention to what's happening around them and and to be a little bit more inner-reflexive, to see what kind of associative links happen when you see a piece like this, to see what emotions or feelings or thoughts or intentions that may be coming up for people after they see a piece like this. 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 listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon donations from people like yourself in order to continue to bring you this coverage. so you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash VoicesVR. Thanks for listening.

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