#1265: Integrating Generative AI into Live Theatre Performance in WebXR with OnBoardXR

Brendan Bradley is an actor and storyteller who got into real-time animation systems and social VR during the pandemic, and then starting putting on live theatre shows in Virtual Reality both onsite, hybrid, and in-venue, and fully virtual. He co-founded OnBoardXR, which has been embracing accessible technology like WebXR and social VR via Mozilla Hubs, which has enabled his immersive shows to be available on mobile phones, tablets, PCs, and virtual reality headsets.

Since the beginning, OnBoardXR has featured projects that have integrated AI systems for generating scripts, and most recently Bradley put on a show called Degenerate VR featuring generative AI images that audience members within a social VR context were able to prompt. Bradley takes more of a skeptical take on AI deconstructing the current state of generative AI in relation to human labor and creativity as well as some of the potentials and perils of the technology. OnBoardXR has been on the forefront of integrating open web and immersive technologies for live performance, and is pushing forward on what’s possible in immersive and interactive theatre.

There is an experimental and avant-garde vibe to most of the shows I’ve attended, and AI has been thematically integrating into many of the recent segments. I had a chance to break it all down with Bradley at AWE, and we brainstorm a bit more on how generative AI could help facilitate group conversations and explorations on specific topics as long as there is a deliberate invitation or incisive question provided to the audience. There’s a lot of potential for how some of these AI technologies could facilitate novel social social dynamics and interactions (see Frankenstein AI at Sundance 2019 and their subsequent AI-facilitated group discussions at DocLab 2019).

This is a listener-supported podcast through the Voices of VR Patreon.

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. It's a podcast that looks at the future of spatial computing. You can support the podcast at patreon.com slash Voices of VR. So this is episode 13 of 17 of looking at the intersection between XR and artificial intelligence. And today's episode is with Brendan Bradley, who's an actor and storyteller who's been exploring both real-time animation systems and social VR and putting theater productions on within the context of virtual reality. So he has this whole series called onboard XR, which is done in the context of Mozilla hubs. And so it's using open web, web XR technology. And because of that, they're able to integrate with all sorts of other emerging and cutting edge technologies. So it ends up being a lot of cutting edge prototypes and experimentations. And even within the very first. on board XR they were having AI generated scripts and in one of their latest productions they were doing this whole musical where they were taking input from the audience to be able to put a prompt and then from that prompt there's lots of different generative AI images that were made up and then from there Brennan Brainley's commenting on how it's degrading the different aspects of our artistic expression and so It's a little bit of a critical take of looking at artificial intelligence and generative AI and commenting on that. And so we have a bit of a discussion on that and also thinking about emergent social behaviors when it comes to generative AI and how can that start to focus people's intentions and create unique social dynamics when it comes to these kind of group prompting experiences and focusing around a single intention. So that's what we're coming on today's episode of the voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Brendan happened on Friday, June 2nd, 2023 at the augmented world expo in Santa Clara, California. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:01:55.196] Brendan Bradley: I'm Brendan Bradley. I'm a self-proclaimed actor and scrappy storyteller. And I got into VR around 2017, very badly developing some Unity builds and deploying them to a Lenovo Mirage Solo. This morning, actually, on a panel, I heard described as VR for PR in 2017, which was some of my first jobs and entry points. But more and more, I got into real-time animation systems, real-time social VR, and basically putting live theater in virtual reality for a multi-user experience, both on-site, hybrid, in-venue, and fully virtual and remote from my living room.

[00:02:31.685] Kent Bye: Maybe you could give a bit more context as to your background and your journey into this space.

[00:02:36.009] Brendan Bradley: Sure. I'm an actor first and foremost, but as an elder millennial, always dabbled in whatever new technologies come around. I would not consider myself a programmer or a coder, but I can basically do the shitty version of everything. And so I kind of make my first bad pass at everything and then find good collaborations, good team members, good partnerships to kind of stabilize, optimize, and make more robust my machinations.

[00:02:58.867] Kent Bye: So maybe you could give a bit of the back story and the context for how Onboard XR came about from some of your explorations of the open web, WebXR, and the theater space that you had produced.

[00:03:09.210] Brendan Bradley: Sure, so I'd been working on an adaptation of Macbeth using Unity for real-time motion capture of actors in parallel with live cinema tracking and I was editing that right when the shutdown happened and basically wanted to use my 3D modeling knowledge as well as my programming knowledge to bring real-time theater to theater makers who were trapped at home. So I released a free Playhouse. At the time, I found this platform, Mozilla Hubs, that was a really compelling way to give free access, free server space to anybody who wanted to basically spin up a version or iteration of my template. and provided a virtual venue to several hundred artists and institutions trapped without a stage. The immediate question was, how the hell do we use this thing? And so along with David Cotchfield, Kevin Labeson, Alex Coulombe, and Roman Miletic, we put a one-act play called Jettison in Mozilla Hubs and basically injected JavaScript into the developer console of Google Chrome to be able to make bad versions of theatrical queuing happen in real time across the network devices. We wanted to take this a step further and invite basically anyone in the creative community to stage their first VR piece in web-based virtual reality. So we started OnboardXR, which is basically a think tank that does a one-act showcase seasonally whenever we can get around to it basically at least twice or three times a year. We just finished one in May where basically any artist in the world for free can come and basically asynchronously incubate for a month. We help them stabilize a three to five minute piece and then we do an evening anthology of all the short pieces that audiences can come to. They do a pay what you want ticket. They opt into their level of participation either very active and very engaged or passive and or sometimes invisible. We also live stream it out to YouTube for those that do not want any interaction whatsoever and then all the money goes to the artists to be able to give them some sort of subsidy for their first VR work.

[00:05:10.058] Kent Bye: And so I know that I've been to at least two or three of the onboard XRs. I think I missed a couple of them, but I see them as a collection of these experiments, these little narrative experiments with people in a lot of ways pushing the edge of whatever the technology can do, like to have a little bit more of cinematic approaches sometimes, or at least have scene changes. And so maybe talk about some of why the WebXR as a platform, because you work doing good stuff in Unity, but what was the catalyzing moment for you to go all in in this web platform?

[00:05:43.289] Brendan Bradley: For me, it's the accessibility, hands down. I think the fact that it's device agnostic, for the most part, it is kind of a low barrier to entry. There are existing models or templates. Mozilla Hubs originally had an integration with Sketchfab. At this point, we have a lot of access to different 3D models for like a base kit that people can use. And so I'd never want the technology to interfere with either the audience's onboarding experience or the artist's onboarding experience. And I'd rather people, to your point, really focus on the experimental academic nature of exploration and not get necessarily lost in the weeds of graphic fidelity, 3D modeling, programming. any of those limitations. And so for now, at least, kind of a cloud-based approach has been the most efficient way to bring in newcomers and new voices to the space, especially at the audience level. 5% of our audience still uses a mobile phone. which is not how I would ever suggest someone come to one of these experiences, but it is their level of access. And I want to make sure that we're not ruling out those participants. Jonathan Sims on a panel today was talking about how he's almost exclusively focusing his work on the Gen Z generation that is really glued to a mobile device or a phone. That is their interface into any new technology, any new storytelling, any new creatorship. And so I don't want to blockade that from anyone coming to the space.

[00:07:09.382] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I know that you've also personally been involved with a number of different productions on board XR. And the thing that's striking to me is just the amount of musical productions that you've been doing. And I guess there's a challenge there in terms of music and syncing music and singing. And so maybe you could talk about some of those core challenges with a social shared dynamic of music and how you've been able to work around some of those different sync issues that come up with the latency and having everything timed properly.

[00:07:38.133] Brendan Bradley: Sure. I mean, audio latency is the nightmare of anyone working in any medium, I think. But I think especially in this media, so much of me working through the pandemic, there was the obvious deficit of lack of good audio production. There was really not the ability for us to synchronously perform together. I remember even performing with other performers in the same venue where we would hear the slapback of each other just based off of Wi-Fi up-down signals. And so I think music can elevate storytelling so much, regardless of visual, regardless of medium, regardless of audience experience. And so I think that music has a tradition for liveness and for elevating story and elevating a moment. is important to me as a storyteller because in some ways it lets the audience relax and feel like they're in good hands even if everything is breaking around them. And so what we've really chose to focus on is synchronizing as many of the sources of audio. I play with live musicians and backing tracks and I'm singing and then I'm trying to loop the feedback of the audience through so I can actually hear them and respond to them in real time. And we're doing all of that at an external level through audio interfaces and then trying to pipe that in through a single avatar or a single audio input. And that's been our best method so far to be able to share a variety of audio sources in sync.

[00:09:02.822] Kent Bye: So what's the software stack that you have with those audio interfaces synchronized across space and time? That is taking a muxed down single feed and feeding it into the immersive experience, but how are you dealing with the multi-channel aspect of that, and how are you communicating with other people?

[00:09:18.553] Brendan Bradley: By breaking my computer a lot, we're using a lot of DAW and virtual cabling. I typically perform with a musician that comes to my apartment and plays usually three instruments live and switches between them. And then we feed those into an audio interface, much like what you're using right now. and we use logic and main stage to basically break out tracks and we can choose if I'm performing with a live musician, we can mute the tracks of the instruments that he or she is playing, and then if I'm not, I can just open up all the tracks and play those directly into the virtual cable, align that with my microphone and any sort of affecting that I want to do on my speech for the character, and then send that out as a single source as my microphone into the virtual world.

[00:10:05.820] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I had a chance to catch a video of one of your performances where you were in a stage, a live stage, performing in St. Louis in a theater. So people were in the audience watching you, but then there was also four people in a VR experience, and they were having a whole other experience. And so you had some projection of what was happening in these virtual spaces, but you were also singing live. to not only the people in the audiences, but also the people in VR. And it's all being live streamed. And so maybe talk a bit about this fusion of doing this hybrid performance with a live component versus what the people in a virtual experience were experiencing.

[00:10:40.957] Brendan Bradley: Sure. I think the biggest thing that I perceived during the early wave of live immersive theater in virtual reality was a bit of a whiplash from venue partners and from the real estate model of theater that we were like coming for theater. We were trying to take away this business model of in-person venue performance. And I think what's very compelling and important about these performances is that This is a secondary layer onto the tradition of in-person theater. I think that there is a passivity and an enjoyment to lean back entertainment, whether it's cinema, whether it's theater, whether it's music. Audiences will still enjoy that ritual and that tradition, and I love that ritual and tradition. I love being in the room and feeling that audience and that liveness. But then there is this secondary layer of a virtual audience that I think either A, in person, wearing a headset, on stage with me, can become the content, can actually truly interact and become part of the storytelling and part of the narrative, which I think not many audiences want to do. I actually think that the majority of audiences still want to remain rather passive. But there is a small percentage of audiences that do want to become truly integrated into the storytelling experience. And I think we should make space for them, and I think we should allow them to do that. But then there's an entire virtual, non-accessible, or global audience, or an audience that doesn't feel welcomed or invited into those shared spaces. that we should still be able to take these experiences toward and to. And so, in some ways, I'm hoping that the tour that I'm doing with Non-Player Character right now and with Degenerate, which you saw the first snippet of, at Onboard last month, I'm hoping that this invites venue partners, real estate partners, to understand that the ticketing model can still hold, you can still do an in-person event, and then we can have this secondary layer that really leverages what is best about the technology.

[00:12:34.488] Kent Bye: Yeah, going back to Venice of 2019, there was Love Seat with Kara Benzing, where she was producing a live production of a theater, but also the virtual production. And the thing that was really striking to me about that interview and talking to her about it was that she was saying that she actually had to double her production crew for people who are handling the virtual production versus people who are handling the physical production. So there are of making it more accessible, but it's also doubling your workload in a lot of ways. But there's a lot of ways of going beyond the constraints of the live performance of these physical spaces into the virtual context as well. So I feel like I'm seeing that as a trend from Dreams that was part of the future of audiences and UK with the Marshmallow Laser Feast and the Royal Shakespeare Company and these experiments of MetaMovie Project, Alien Rescue, where they have the heroes and the protagonists and the ones that are the kind of secondary iBots that are flying around to be able to have a little bit more of a ghostly presence. In terms of the narrative, they're there, but they're not participating the same level. So you have the skimmers, the dippers, and the divers. And so you have these different levels of people that really want to get engaged. And so, yeah, I'd love to hear some of those different experiments with agency and interactivity, because I feel like there's a lot of this deeper question of how do you integrate the actions of the audience into some outcome into how the story is being told. And I feel like you've done a number of different experiments within the context of Onboard XR that's exploring this question of how to engage the audience more directly into what is happening and create more of a improv interactive liveness of the live rather than something that's a pre-canned scripted but trying to feel like it's an organic thing that's unfolding in a participatory way. So yeah, I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on some of those experiments that you've been doing.

[00:14:17.182] Brendan Bradley: Sure, wow, that's a lot of questions, I feel like. I think that the short answer is that for every audience type or tier, you're basically producing an entire another show, like you were speaking to with Kira's early work. That is two shows, because those are two audiences. And I think every audience you add, whether it's Jason Moore's iBots or Alex Coulomb's Ghosts, you're slowly adding basically an entire new production consideration and really trying to think about what is In some ways we talk about in live traditional performance, a venue performance, like making sure that the show is good for every seat in the house. And I think similarly, if we treat each of these as different seating arrangements or options, making sure that the show still plays to them. And what does that audience member want? And I think what's great about something like Onboard is it's so fast and furious. It is so prototyping. We're able to get very quick feedback and data on really gut check experiments with the audience of, are you even going to like this? How do you respond to this? Do you want to play in this way? And what is that invitation and that call and response? And how do we replicate the ritual of onboarding those audiences, offboarding those audiences, and holding true, emotionally resonant space for them? So I don't know that I yet know the answers to any of it. What I know is that The truly active participants that are VR native, or VR curious, who want to play, who want to experiment, they are generally a more aggressive audience, for lack of a better word, in that they are very social, and they are very engaged, and sometimes they are wanting to almost see how much they can break the show. For them, that is the show. And then there's this passive audience that you're still wanting to preserve a fully, what feels to them like a scripted, planned evening of theater. They didn't come there and just see a shit show. They actually saw something that was thoughtfully, it's a gift you're making for the audience. They wanna know they're in good hands. And more and more, I'm thinking back to early Adam Carolla with early radio on the internet and podcasting. And when YouTube came around, more and more, What people were suggesting was that YouTube wasn't video, it was radio. And I think that talk radio as a model is really compelling in the sense that there's a host that's guiding, is going to catch everybody, is going to take care of the audience, and then callers can call in and become part of the show for a little bit. And that dance and that relationship of choosing when their story is serving the rest of the audience and when their story is monopolizing or sometimes harming the audience and having that switchboard control and code switching in and out of that I think is a really compelling space that I've been toying with in all the work that I'm doing.

[00:17:16.612] Kent Bye: Yeah, it's a really interesting metaphor. I haven't heard other people make that connection, but it makes total sense because you are a host, a facilitator. And I'm seeing more and more, I guess, group-facilitated discussions. I'm thinking of like Finding Pandora X with Kara Benzing, where you're going through a group experience, but there's a lot of this facilitating the dialogue amongst the people and keeping the conversation going, in a way. And so it is this managing of that conversation in a similar way as a radio talk show host would be doing. The thing that's come into mind is one of the more recent onboard XR, where there's actually these integrations with generative AI image generation. So giving people an opportunity to generate a prompt, and then creating this moment where you're featuring what people have created, what they've brought in. And so there is also this call and response dimension of, well, who brought into this? I think I brought in a cat who was a mobster. trying to see how photorealistic it was going to get. But yeah, I'd love to hear some of these early explorations of what you've been doing with generative AI and this intersection between AI and live performance.

[00:18:18.100] Brendan Bradley: Sure. I think that this piece is called Degenerate to kind of explore the degeneration of art. And I wanted to basically see, could I perform live? Could I be singing? And for those that are nerds out there, I open with what is very much an homage to Sunday at the Park with George. Very Sondheim with the twinkling. He is building the painting in front of us. And this idea that we are going to build this painting together. And Clemence de Beg coded a keyboard that the audience can actually type on and it talks to Dali and generates an image and then we use Remove AI to remove the background from that image so that it looks like a cardboard cutout inside the world and then we have a randomizer that basically Populates them like spawn cues at random points around me. So they basically build up a collage around me while I sing and then I wanted to investigate what everybody made, why they made that, what inspired that, and my hope was, in a more long format piece, is to get to a place that our first instinct is just to make a bunch of stuff. But there's really no thought or care or design put into that. And then I'd like us to have more of a dialogue about how we thoughtfully curate and let the actual crafting of the space together, that collaboration, be the art. That is ultimately, to me, artistry is always a dialogue first between the artist and the internal technician. operating some instrument, whether it's the body or a physical instrument or a technology. But then there is always the inherent dialogue between the artist and the audience. And to me, you cannot have art without that dialogue. That is ultimately what that liveness and that capture is, that synchronicity. We love participating in that ritual, and we have for thousands of years. And where I am personally concerned about the culture of AI, not the tool of AI. But the culture of AI seems to want to eradicate some of that humanity and some of that dialogue. And that's my greatest fear about the technology and my anxiety about the technology. So I wanted to put it into a musical number, sing about it and see how everybody else reacted.

[00:20:34.380] Kent Bye: Yeah, I found myself having this really interesting experience in that specific performance because I've played around with mid-journey, and after that show, I've played around a little bit more with stable diffusion. But there's this fundamental curiosity that I'll have where it's like, oh, I wonder what this would look like with this, or trying to understand the syntax and grammar of how these higher dimensional latent spaces and these archetypal potentials are suddenly being mashed together in this imaginative space, collapsing these two concepts in a way that creates this perfect synthesis of the integration of those two ideas or concepts. So there's an experience that I've had with what Ivo Hanning calls prompt craft. And so there's a bit of a magical spell that's included in there. But usually when I've done it, it's based upon a deeper context of my own personal curiosity or a larger context. And I found that it was a little difficult to, just absent for a deeper curiosity or deeper context, to just on the spot create something that's going to be in the social dynamic. So it was sort of like, oh, what's going to be something that I both think is interesting of what would be an interesting combination, but also what would be useful or interesting for the social dynamic that would be surprising or novel or interesting for the collective unfolding emergent moment that was happening in that performance. And I found that setting a context or a question that we're all like really focusing on and then seeing how people are using the specific prompt craft of whatever statement they have to then have a collective zeitgeist of interfacing with this larger conversation what sometimes feels like this collective unconscious of the culture you know you're tapping into like these insights like an oracle like you're asking a question to the oracle and you're getting back an answer and So I feel like that was sort of what I wanted to see is like, is there a way to kind of use that? And some of it's immediate literacy of just knowing what it even means to create a prompt and to see what's interesting. And mushroom houses was one that I thought was a really interesting fusion of like taking a mushroom and turning it into a house. And you got to see like taking something that's a very small scale, but putting on a human scale and making these interesting like fusion of those two concepts, you know, that's something that I feel is very interesting. Anyway, I guess the feedback I have is to have this collective experience where you feel like, as a group, you're actually exploring a collective intention of something and how to set that intention and then how to have this interface with the prompts. Otherwise, absent of that context, it feels like just almost totally random stuff and then trying to make sense of it, which I guess is part of your job as the narrator. is to tie it all together. But anyway, that's just some thoughts and reflections of that. Because I found my experience of that was feeling a little lost as to how to translate my intention in that moment and chase my curiosity and take in all those social dynamics.

[00:23:18.387] Brendan Bradley: Can I ask, does that mean that did you feel like you were unintentionally made to be performative in your prompting? And did you then feel influenced by the group or shied by the group?

[00:23:31.776] Kent Bye: It wasn't so much that. It was more of like, There were so many different types of prompts that they were totally random, and there wasn't any theme or coherence amongst them. So I guess playing with what does it mean to explore a common intention from a group or a question to be asked, and then to speak with this alien intelligence of the AI and get back information that we're all collectively reflecting in a deep way about how this answer is being answered by this sort of magical oracle that's responding to us. Otherwise, it just felt like people were just making random inquiries. So, I guess, I mean, the whole point is about degeneration of art. You know, that's the name of it. So, it felt like I want to see what kind of unique social dynamics can come from this collective exploration of this conversation with the AI that allows us to feel like there's a little bit more coherence than what felt like a more disjunctive or incoherent aggregation of all these different things. I mean, part of your role is to make it coherent, but I felt like being intentional for what was going to be interesting to see. Oh, here's how I interpreted this question or this answer, and I'd be curious to see how other people interpreted and having a conversation at how people were on the same page on something rather than something that was totally separate from everybody else.

[00:24:45.928] Brendan Bradley: I love all of that, and I guess what I want to ask you giddily is then, do you feel that currently the culture of generative AI has the intentionality and the collective that you're describing, or do you feel like it is kind of a randomized shit show right now? Because to me, that's what it feels like, and so I kind of wanted to capture some of that. And so I'm simultaneously like, that's a lovely thing to do in Act 2. But I'm also like, but that's exactly how I feel about it right now. And so in some ways, is that the commentary? And is that interesting?

[00:25:21.186] Kent Bye: Well, have you tried out mid-journey at all? So I feel like in mid-journey there's a discord and so there's actually channels and sub-channels where people are doing this collective prompt crafting and generation that way. So I think that there are these sub-threads of folks that are actually collaborating in that way. So I do feel like that it's not just a total shit show. Maybe that's part of my pushback because it did feel like a little nihilistic in a way. Like a deconstruction of something without seeing how there could be a unique social dynamic that was through the narration and through the intention and the shared collective intention that they could be less disjunctive and more of a organizing principle to join people together and feel like there's more of a unifying themes that there's a deeper reflection. So if it is a deconstructive criticism, then that was successful being able to have this more lack of meaning amongst those. But for me, that was not as satisfying as if there would have been like a profound synchronicity of a unity of some people being on the same page and finding that there was some sort of unexpected connection between That like asking people what's the most nostalgic thing from your childhood or something? you know like having people pull up things that were personally meaningful and then maybe there's a collective theme of Star Wars or Pokemon or whatever it ends up being but then You could have these emergent behaviors where it's actually feeling like it's more cohesive than disjunctive. So anyway, that's my experience of that particular piece. And perhaps your intentions of what you were trying to create with that deconstruction was successful in creating that lack of coherence. But I felt like there is an interesting other side, which is like, how do you bring people together in a way that, OK, now we did the random. You've broken the ice for what it means to even use this interface. Because it was like, oh, what's the interface? Part of it is, I've got this new interface, I've got a text box, I'm assuming that whatever I type in is going to generate it, and I don't know what to expect. And so it was a bit of a surprise to see this, oh, it actually generated, it's over there. And that's how this idea of what I had in my mind is, I was thinking of a photorealistic cat mobster, not like a cartoon cat mobster. So oftentimes in this process, there's an opportunity to iterate, and just this one opportunity to kind of like, shoot your shot, and then you have this collective art piece that then you either have to claim responsibility for or not. So you have this kind of like, all right, whose is this? Who brought this in? But I did find that using in a theatrical performance, it was interesting to do that as a collective, because it's obviously a part of the zeitgeist, but also provides the opportunity to see how can you use this technology to explore different dimensions of what's possible.

[00:27:46.036] Brendan Bradley: I love all of that. And I think you just wrote the second song. Because I love the idea of now approaching it with a theme or intentionality and actually then guiding us towards maybe we write a shared prompt together. And maybe through that, we actually write a song together. And maybe that's very interesting. I don't know. But that's very exciting. And this is honestly why I do this work, is that I get to have this dialogue. And that's such a cool freaking idea. And that's so cool that it came out of a strong reaction to the work.

[00:28:18.476] Kent Bye: Yeah, and I guess there was another part where you're having people say some combination of things, and then there was a texture that was put onto, like, these different pieces of food that were coming out, and there was this big Godzilla character that was at a restaurant, so maybe talk about that portion of that act.

[00:28:33.599] Brendan Bradley: Sure. So that was Michael Moran. That was his piece called Wendy's v. Godzilla. If you're unfamiliar, Wendy's did a collaboration with Horizon Worlds last year. That was very short-lived. It came down very quickly. It was very, very ill-received on the Internet. And it has been burned into Michael's mind ever since it happened. And he thought he dreamed it at one point because he could not find any reference of it online because they literally took it down. And so He created a piece where he is the one remaining worker at Meta that was part of that campaign, that is now responsible for everything, and he still can't let it go. He wants to make it work. And so he's created a Godzilla Wendy's experience where you go to a... He literally grabbed the original Horizon Wendy's. and brought it in, and he plays a Godzilla with red pigtails that you then have to order food from. And using a similar integration to Dali, it basically brings in a generated image that immediately textures onto a blank mesh object. So there's a burger, a fry, and a shake. And so we'd have people order very, very absurd textures to their food, like a Nicolas Cage burger that had Nicolas Cage's face on the top of it and was absolute nightmare fuel and was perfect. And it was a beautiful showcase. I think Michael is so incredibly talented. He now actually works for Mozilla Hubs. And he is someone that has really lifted up the hood and wanted to really push the full capability of theatrical cueing inside of WebXR. So in some ways, his piece is this very quirky Godzilla fast food experience. But in other ways, it is filled with, I think there's several hundred cues within it, of animation of objects, avatar manipulation, lighting effects. Like what he's doing within that piece, as lo-fi as it feels, is really remarkable and just is really a testament to what is possible when someone just puts in the time and the love to figure out what's under the hood of A-Frame and JavaScript.

[00:30:38.046] Kent Bye: Yeah, I wanted to talk about another one of the frequent contributors of Onboard XR, which is Clement Stavag, who has done the Unwired Dance Theater. A lot of really innovative social experiments that I've seen with people engaging with a mobile phone and interacting, but a lot of also motion capture integrations over the times, consistently over a number of different performances. And so, yeah, I'd love to have you unpack a little bit of what's happening with the Unwired Dance Theater.

[00:31:03.311] Brendan Bradley: Sure, I can't speak a lot for Unwired, but Colman Sabeg is a certified genius and she's touring all over the world doing different residencies and kind of integrating motion capture systems and dance into different virtual systems and integrations. She just recently worked with, I'm gonna butcher this and I feel terrible, Queerskins, that group is doing a fully volumetric film that she's the choreographer for. But Unwired Dance is kind of her baby, along with, I think it's a company called Danzou, based out of France and the UK. And they have always, ironically for Unwired Dance Company, have sought to really integrate technology into choreography and dance. And during the shutdown, she specifically, because she couldn't hire other dancers, returned to her dance practice using these systems. And I found her on Twitter, invited her to the first Onboard XR. She was doing a piece called Strings. You came to that piece where audience was basically like touching haptic bands that told her which limb to move. And that has slowly and steadily evolved into basically full motion tracking within a web browser, which is incredibly exciting. stunning. And we actually met for the first time at this festival last year at AWE in physical space after having produced several shows together. And then I went over to London with non-player character and she was doing her show Discordance in the same venue as part of Open Online Theatre Festival. So she's a force of nature. If you're interested in dance and new media and immersive technology, she is the person to talk to. And yeah, Unwired Dance Company is her company.

[00:32:40.066] Kent Bye: Yeah, I have an unpublished interview that I had a chance to do with her that I hope to get out at some point. But yeah, she's really been working with a lot of universities as well, the Goldsmiths College in UK. I know she's been working with some of the different projects that were there. And yeah, just a lot of really innovative, cutting-edge, different integrations of technology. So that's what I appreciate about what's happening at OnboardXR is that you have these really frontier technologies, bleeding-edge emergent experiments of integrating all these things together. So, are there any other highlights that you wanted to shout out in terms of things you think are technological mile markers or things that you just really enjoyed over all the different five or six different onboard XR shows that you've done?

[00:33:17.289] Brendan Bradley: God, you're going to put me on the spot. I want to name everybody. I think that now that AI and chat GPT is such a big thing, Isaac Keller was in the very first Onboard XR, and he, at the time, claimed that he had written the first full-length play using chat GP3. And so the idea that we flirted with this very early on in our existence and that now that creator has continued onward and that that technology has really grown and evolved so much, I remember us at the time really remarking on like, what parts of this is theater, and what parts of this is writing, and what does that collaboration look like, and fostering a space for that artist. I will always shout out people like Rebecca Evans, who is a frequent collaborator, who's part of the alt space exodus that recently happened, RIP. And I think that really showed the lesson of everything she's built with Onboard is hers. She has those assets. She has those stories. Everything she built inside of AltSpace is lost. And that's devastating and tragic. It's a reminder to me that, you know, I'm subsidizing server space for a bunch of independent artists and I need to be mindful of the fact that people have built their stories and their shows on this and making sure that I communicate with them and continue to maintain that space as best I can for them.

[00:34:31.326] Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess a consistent thing that I've seen within the shows is transitioning from one scene to the next so that there's a consistent moving through these different worlds. And so maybe you could just speak to how are you able to create a coherent from one world to the next? And are they actually going to different domains? Or is everything just preloaded in scenes? Or what's the mechanism to change the spatial editing in some ways of going from one scene to the next as a group?

[00:34:56.085] Brendan Bradley: Sure. So they are scenes, as you're calling them, which is basically just the templated worlds. So there's the templated world that is being loaded in at a room level. So we spin up a custom room that is basically the instance that the audience logs into. And then we are switching through the templated scene or the environment. And what's elegant about that is that the theater community and the dance community are very familiar with like a one-act festival. The idea that you're going to see an anthology of short work. It has nothing to do with each other. These are different artists from different areas and different practices. You're just kind of seeing a sliver of different storytelling experiences and different artistic styles. And so kind of building on that ritual and that tradition, we in some ways have all the advantage that people could come and see a diversity of work without being thrown by the fact that there isn't necessarily a consistent narrative thread. We then have emceeing and hosting like a cabaret that sometimes massages and tries to connect some dots to kind of move the audience through some of the clunkier portions of the space. But then ultimately what's happening is that our audience and our performers are loading in at a role extension to the URL. And at that role extension, they have their cues. So the specific needs of their specific experience and show and the features that they're going to need to have access to are pre-programmed according to that role. And then our audience obviously loads in at a diminished role that doesn't give them access to necessarily all the features. So there's a whole backstage. Having done work with Ferryman Collective, when I'm performing with them, they have little buttons around the world that I'm grabbing onto to be able to trigger certain mechanics in the world. This is basically at more of a UI button interface level that they can click up and point and click on those objects or have a stage manager do it for them to be able to trigger the events that they've planned for their performance.

[00:36:44.558] Kent Bye: Yeah, you mentioned the Fairman Collective, and I know that I've seen a number of their different productions over the last couple of years, and they've shown at different film festivals, and so maybe talk a bit about how you went from, you know, the normal acting that you've been doing, and maybe more mundane physical performances over the years, but then moving into more virtual performance, and then being cast into these virtual immersive theater plays where you can perform either from the comforts of your own home, or maybe even traveling to some of these different places to be on site to perform.

[00:37:10.545] Brendan Bradley: Sure. So, in many ways, it's just like theater acting in New York, which is so exciting in that, like, a lot of people have their small little theater company or improv company, and they start to get to know each other, and then you get invited to audition for other people's production companies. And so, Ferryman Collective, after Fifth Wall Forum and after Onboard XR, I had actually invited Deirdre and Steve to participate in the first Onboard XR, and they said, you know, we're working on something right now, It's going to be very special. It's all hands on deck. We're not going to be able to participate, but we'll be in touch. And I'd gone to Welcome to Respite and loved it. Thought it was a delight. And I'd been to Pera and Krampusnacht earlier when they did that, because they did that around the time we did Jettison. And was aware of their work, loved their work, wanted to work with them. But they held, like, equity open auditions. Like, I memorized the Michael dad monologue. They spun up a room and they saw what I did with it. It's like getting invited onto the Broadway set and being like, all right, do the scenes. Let's see what you got. And a group of us auditioned. And then I don't know how many of us got cast or didn't get cast. But what I love about their work is I come from one of my first jobs, professional jobs as an actor, was a standardized patient. for hospitals, where you take on the role of a sick person to rate doctors and grade them on patient care, and did they diagnose you correctly, did they treat you correctly. It's real fun as an actor. My family's very medically related teaching and policy, and so getting to rate doctors as an actor feels very empowering and great. I love the work, but specifically with standardized patient work, they take like 15 actors and train us all on the same diagnosis, the same character traits, the same emotional triggers. Like the idea might be to like suggest your girlfriend or boyfriend is cheating on you and that's how you got the STD and then you're supposed to react a certain way and they need to make sure that all the actors respond in a standardized universal fashion so that they're being rated on a consistent metric. And similarly, we're basically all rehearsing together so that we are presenting a pretty standardized show to multiple audiences when we spin up multiple iterations of the show. So normally there's like six different casts of a Ferryman Collective project. And my favorite part of it is I get to then get swapped around. So if there's someone else in the show, with Gumball Dreams, I'm just by myself being both of the characters. But what's fun is because you're kind of dovetailing each other. Someone else logs on when I'm finishing my show, and then I log on while someone else is finishing up their show. So I can always hear how someone ends their version of Gumball Dreams, and I'm like, oh, that's a really, I love that. That's a really good way to deliver that line, or that's a really good moment. So we're all borrowing from each other and learning from each other, which is so great. But with Welcome to Respite, I actually got to be partnered up with various moms, which for me was such a delight to really work off of these different phenomenal performers who I will maybe never meet because they're in different parts of the world. And I did all this from my living room, which is just a really remarkable way to get to become a theater actor again without actually having a stage.

[00:40:08.812] Kent Bye: Nice. So what's next for you and Onboard XR?

[00:40:12.342] Brendan Bradley: OnboardXR will do a fall season, we're committed to that, so we're always receiving applications. The Rider Strike is happening in Los Angeles right now, I'm on the picket lines, but also the SAG Strike is probably coming in July 1st, so I'll be out of work for a little while. So I think that pivoting back into this VR work, I'm very encouraged by, I moved to LA during the Rider Strike in 2017, or 2017, 2007, and At that time, digital media, new media, streaming video became a real interesting pathway for television and film writers to kind of adopt this new medium and start experimenting with storytelling. And I think there might be an opportunity in a moment to invite them to take this hiatus to really seize power and control and start iterating and workshopping their next projects using VR and XR during this period of uncertainty, which I would love to welcome anyone out there listening to do that.

[00:41:07.895] Kent Bye: Awesome. And finally, what do you think the ultimate potential of virtual reality and immersive storytelling might be, and what it might be able to enable?

[00:41:18.351] Brendan Bradley: Well, first and foremost, it enables connection. It enables using digital technology that I think has separated us in the last five to ten years and using it to actually reconnect us in some ways. I think the intimacy that it affords is really unparalleled even in our traditional venued theater film because we've kind of decided how we feel about that. We want to sit in the dark. We don't want to be messed with. And this really does invite people to reconsider their embodiment, their agency in space. I think all that's very exciting to really reconnect us with our storytelling tradition and with each other. Selfishly, I'll say, I'm getting to talk to you. I'm getting to talk to so many incredible people. I subscribed to your Patreon for the first two years of my VR journey. And to then get to actually have you come see my work and to talk about it with you is Absolutely mind-blowing and so I think that the potential right now of I remember the early YouTube days of getting to go to a bar called Busby's in Los Angeles where like the 50 youtubers would hang out and trade film equipment and ideas and scripts and help each other out on the weekends and right now the intimacy of this community and the support of this community is is something to really be nurtured, because I think that's where our real power is going to come, of really maintaining, as it grows into an industry, the creativity, the artistry, the dignity, the integrity. And if we can all really support and look out for each other, and keep reminding each other of where we all came from. Like, oh, I saw when you did the really bad first pass at Degenerate, and I gave you some ideas on that. That's really inspiring and incredible to me. ultimate potential of the medium is that I think that it simultaneously, nihilistically, it solves for global warming. Like, I don't want people to not go to New York and see theater, but perhaps there will be a world in which we can still see professional theatrical productions still maintain the economics of that and the industry of that despite its possible concerns for the planet and the foothold and travel and accessibility and resources. That's a very bleak way to look at it. But I think in the many ways that this technology has a potential to truly scale beyond what has been a very limited gatekept system. And if we choose to believe in the free and open Internet, then maybe it can make artistry more free and open, or it will be gatekept the way that all technology is. But I think that live immersive will emerge not necessarily as a replacement to theater, film, novels, music, but as some sort of complementary medium. I like to say that when you look at every television show right now, it says, stay afterwards for the podcast. And I think that we're going to say, go inside the world of the show. Like, I think that there's going to be some component to that. And the meet and greet element. I mean, can you imagine a kid's show where you actually, like, got to go inside the show and co-create it? And that became an episode. I think the opportunity is there for co-creation and collaboration. And I hope we accept that invitation.

[00:44:25.878] Kent Bye: Awesome. Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the broader immersive community?

[00:44:30.140] Brendan Bradley: I want to thank everybody listening to this podcast, literally. I believe that what you are doing, you call it the voices of VR, you give a voice to so much of the work, but also you really do keep us very informed. It is hard to stay on top of everything that's going on. And there's so much wonderful work that everybody is doing in this space. And I know as an independent creator that that is only possible by supporters, subscribers, partnership, fandom. I'm a massive fan of you. I'm nerding out incredibly right now. But so just genuinely thank you for what you do and thank you to everybody who supports you and thank you to everybody who supports me and supports this space because none of us would literally be sitting on these couches at this conference on this microphone right now without that ecosystem and that community.

[00:45:16.232] Kent Bye: Beautiful. Awesome. Well, really appreciate all the work and innovations that you're doing and also all of your deep reflections and visions for where this all can go. And yeah, there's a lot of tinkering that's happening right now that you're at the edges of discovering the potentials of what's possible. Yeah, this commitment to accessibility and really providing a space for innovation to happen in this context of theater and bringing all these different folks together. So, yeah, I really appreciate the series of Onboard XR and I really try to commit to coming and seeing it because I always think there's, you know, you never know what's going to be the next trend that's coming out of some of these things and keeping track of both the experience but also the makers and the creators who are also pushing at the edges of the platforms and trying to expand what's possible because there's always this challenge of taking what's already possible, but also creating new tools to kind of push the edges of what's possible. And I think that's a lot of what you've been able to help cultivate and curate in the community. And I think there's a lot of, at the end of the day, this open ecosystem is going to be a huge part of where this all goes. And making it accessible and not barriers to entry, I think, is a key part. And really appreciate that commitment to that accessibility. And also really appreciate being able to just sit down and kind of pick your mind and get a bit of your story and dreams of the future. So thanks a lot.

[00:46:26.930] Brendan Bradley: What do you want to see next? And also, what do you think the ultimate potential and realization of live immersive storytelling is?

[00:46:34.453] Kent Bye: Well, so today is June 2, 2023. Just this morning, I double-booked myself as I'm traveling to AWE. I had a two-hour keynote that I gave to Europe at 5 AM for the European Developers Lab. So somebody asked me that same question at the end of this. And what I said is that, VR and AI and all these things, at the end of the day, it helps us connect to ourselves, to connect to each other, connect to the world around us, and connect to all dimensions of reality. So I feel like that's the heart of it. And if you want more information, I have a whole talk that I gave at South by Southwest. It's a 50-minute lecture that I gave that dives into synthesizing all those different things into a presentation. And also, episode 1,000 is my three-hour answer to that question. But at the heart of it, I think, is the connection but also this philosophical shift is the thing that I've been thinking a lot about how there's a relational component that you really are embodying by your emphasizing the community and the support and all these relational dynamics is the heart of this shift that this is a part of what the medium is trying to teach us is to go from this object-oriented myth of separation mode of thinking about things Western metaphysics its substance metaphysics and to more of a process relational metaphysics that's all about saying that the ultimate nature of reality is relationship potential and processes and if you say that is the ultimate potential then you can see how the technologies can help us have a direct embodied experience of that relationality so that you can understand the ways that we are fundamentally interconnected and understand the deeper context of our world and maybe reveal some of those hidden connections and relationships that we're not aware of and take those things that are out of sight and out of mind and put them into our body in a way that we are giving embodiment to these idealized platonic forms that are subtly connecting us together in a way that once we become aware of it, then we're able to change our behaviors. So again, being connected to ourselves and being connected to each other, connected to the planet, and connected to all dimensions of reality. So that's sort of my answer to that.

[00:48:33.948] Brendan Bradley: I love that. Are you going to edit that? Good, good, because it's wonderful to watch your mind work. It's incredible. What is the next step in that process that you haven't seen from a storytelling experience?

[00:48:55.723] Kent Bye: So there's storytelling, but there's also the thing I'm personally looking at is I've got an archive of like 1,200 interviews and it's a rich repository of a lot of really complex evolution of thoughts and ideas and imaginations and dreams and perspectives and other ways that like what's the podcasting, what is the experience of a podcast archive that's hundreds or thousands of episodes long that allows you to have an ability to understand the relational dynamics that can connect you to those nodal points that'll connect your interest or question at the moment, almost like an oracle, to something that is connected to one thing that you said in this interview today about connectivity or community or the challenges of syncing music and theater or the innovations of generative AI and a theatrical context with a musical? All those things of like, what if there's other people have already talked about that? Is there a way to connect those nodes and to have people then come out of that saying, I want to listen to this interview, this interview, and this interview as you're washing the dishes or walking in the park or doing something else. But it's more of the using the spatial medium to discover those underlying relationships that then allows you to then dig in deeper. That's not necessarily a story, but it's also a discovery mechanism that is allowing you to explore concepts and ideas. How that turns into a story, I think, is another dimension that is maybe there is a guided tour through that that allows you to have an embodied experience through this maze of connections and relationalities and potentialities. And maybe it's a little bit of like an improv thing where you take questions from the audience and you say, OK, what do you want to learn about? What do you want to learn about? your journey is dictated through this emergent exploration of these concepts or ideas or gives you a through line or an input that allows you to then maybe experience that in the moment but then go back and to do that type of open world exploration. So that's what I'm personally thinking about. But it's less of a story and more of a how do I solve this other problem with all what's possible now.

[00:51:00.673] Brendan Bradley: I think that's so fascinating. I guess what I'm so fascinated by is, in some ways, I feel like a library, a physical structure that you move through to find data points or to find referential information that you might look up and collect and curate, is based in its physical permanence, is that we need books. And the idea of taking a digital archive and giving an embodiment for someone to move through their query is such a wonderful idea. Where is that rooted for you in the desire to make that an embodied experience?

[00:51:34.035] Kent Bye: Well, I've been recording probably well over 2,000 interviews that I've recorded and published over 1,200 since 2014, so nine years now. So being at this for nine years, there's an incredible repository of information and knowledge. And so as you were asking that question, the first thing that popped in my mind in that embodiment was, if it's a library, you need librarians. And it's that librarian who understands what's in that. And so maybe it's like the restoration of the librarian who's able to then show you where the information is and take you on a little tour. And it becomes more of like a docent in an art museum that takes you through a guided tour of some concept or idea and maybe tells you a story, but then allows you to go at your own pace, explore the art or the ideas. So to take it back to part of my own personal inspiration, it goes back to like 2002 at the beginning of the war in Iraq. I saw Scott Ritter speak August 24 or so, a few days before Dick Cheney had come out and said that we're going to war in Iraq. I saw in Baltimore, Scott Ritter say, we're going to war in Iraq. There's nothing that anyone can do. This is happening. They're going to say it's weapons of mass destruction, but there's no weapons of mass destruction. This was in August of 2022. Then Dick Cheney, August 26, 2022, Says that we're going to war in Iraq weapons mass destruction like everything that Scott Ritter had said started to happen So I started to record the media at the time and just like trace like I was like all these people are lying the media is not covering it and there was a sort of a Failure of the media to be critical of whatever the government was telling them and it ended up being based upon a lot of lies and Scott Ritter end up being a prophet and being totally correct on everything that was happening and And I ended up doing like 80 different interviews with all these different think tank scholars and media critics and journalists. And my whole goal was to take this archive of 80 interviews and to give people an experience that would be able to solve the challenges of the media. But then I was like, well, if this is going to be a 90 minute documentary, I have to then re-embody all the same problems that the media did at that moment. And so then at the time, podcasting was coming about, blogging was coming about, video blogging was coming about. I was an early part of the video blogging community on the Yahoo list. And so this was pre-YouTube, experimenting with doing early days of videos and video blogging and podcasting back in 2005, when I first started into all this. It's very early days. And so there was this challenge of, oh, I'm going to make this open source project where people can go in create their own version of what the story and narrative is. And so it was trying to get beyond the limitations of how a lot of the complexity of the nuances of stories is lost and finding a way to actually preserve that full contextual relationality that people can go and dig into and get a fuller breadth of picture. That's preserved through all of my work, where I haven't created that edited version, aside from episode 1000, which is the most edited version of the content that I've done, which is a three-hour retrospective of all the previous thousand episodes. But this idea of being able to actually get into the nuance and the complexity of these conversations in that data set. And at some point, I realized that podcasting was much easier because I didn't have to worry about the editing. I could just flood people with an overwhelm of information and allow them to dig through it. But there is this thing where I like to have a lot of conversations. And it's way more than any reasonable person can listen to. And so it's a part of this challenge of, in order to cover the complexity, it has to be at that pace. RSS feeds were not designed to go at the pace that I like to go and so it's actually like how can the spatial medium provide a new context so that people can actually not be overwhelmed with the constraints for how the majority of 99% of people do podcasts have like a feed that they do one podcast a week rather than 1,209 years that is on average like 2.5 a week for you know nine years so It's some of those things where it's like my need to explore these concepts and ideas. And oh, by the way, I have another 1,000 other interviews on other topics around artificial intelligence, and decentralization, and mathematics, and philosophy, and consciousness, and other esoteric topics. So they've got all this other content that is all interconnected. And I can see those connections. And so is there a way to promote these ideas of process relational thinking? through this experiential dimension of people listening to these one-on-one archives, but is there another way of getting access to moments of these conversations that will be meaningful for people without having them to expect to listen to a, you know, there may be one 30-second clip in this conversation that is an hour or more long. Is there a way to give people access to that and to help direct them to that in a way that allows them to get what they need and they get in and get out? So, I don't know, that's sort of the part of the motivation in history.

[00:56:23.827] Brendan Bradley: So do you think LLMs might be a tool that you could use to feed in transcripts and allow kind of a localized data set that could then be attributed or sorted or queried?

[00:56:37.718] Kent Bye: Well, so some of this is sort of like, what are the ethics around the consent of people that I've interviewed that would even want to be a part of an LLM like that? We've got conversations that I've done, but what is the data provenance and the implied copyright or shared ownership of things? And so there's that question of consent and data provenance. But there's also this question of the limitations of LLMs that tend to glom all things together in this violation of girdle and completeness, meaning there's a multitude of pluralistic perspectives. And what does it mean to put it into one model? can it preserve that perspectival situated knowledges of individual perspectives across you come from a theater background, someone else comes from a computer science background, we've got lots of people from a film background and people from a writing background. So there's an element of someone's context and perspective and their place and where they're from and so many different dimensions about what is going to be a part of those relational dynamics that are influencing what they're saying. So, to me, it's a little bit more interesting to preserve those relationalities rather than to collapse all those relationalities into a monolithic answer from what an LLM says. So, I'm more interested in the pluralistic perspective of how to maintain and, like, say, give me a debate between this type of person and this type of person. That's more interesting to me to see these different perspectives sort of battle it out rather than have one uniform. But there is this potential to say, I'm interested in hearing this, and maybe pointing you to the source material, rather than just sort of synthesize it into a summary.

[00:58:05.120] Brendan Bradley: No, to me that is the most effective potential of the tool that I can see as a creative, is even to the extent that I would want to feed in all of my creations, I don't know that I would necessarily want to generate new creations from that. I might want to collaborate with myself, whatever that means in some partnership with the tool, but really I see it as a query tool of my localized work without it being contaminated by non-consenting work from the outside.

[00:58:38.914] Kent Bye: Yeah. Yeah. And there's a bit of having problems to solve, which is people feel overwhelmed with the archive and maybe they're new to the industry and they don't want to listen to 1,000 episodes, 1,200 episodes. And so it's also like, yeah, I've been experimenting with automated transcripts and just even getting text search and other stuff like that. But yeah, I think there's a way in which that My whole mission is around promoting process relational thinking. And so can we take object-oriented way, like treating an entire podcast interview as a monolithic object, but to break down its component parts and to create these connections between them in a way that it's the connections between those moments of conversations that I think are perhaps really quite interesting, and is there a way to give people an experience of that relationality? So anyway, that's sort of what I'm thinking a lot about.

[00:59:29.985] Brendan Bradley: Cool. What is the story, I'll leave you with this, what is the story that you have not seen yet adapted to cinema, theater, video game, what have you, that you feel like might be best served in VR and is ready for its moment?

[00:59:45.215] Kent Bye: Well, I don't know if it's ready for its moment, but I think the ultimate story is a story of you, of the story of who you are, and being able to go in a story and understand who you are, the Jungian archetypal potentialities of your own character, and to come out of an experience understanding maybe a nuance of yourself that you take away. And I think that, to me, is sort of going inward and You know, like there's a Robin McKee quote that I quote all the time that is about stories about characters being put under pressure and making choices, and it's the more intense of the pressure, the more of the essential nature that's revealed of that character. So as people make choices, it's revealing of a character. And usually when you watch a film, it's watching other people and their character and what's happening. But when you're the protagonist in a piece, it's about your choices and actions and how does that reveal your character. Is there a way that people can go through these immersive stories and then walk away knowing something deeply meaningful and personal about who they are? And I've experienced that with the Collider. I feel like that there's a possibility for that to happen. And yeah, I think that to me is the types of stories that I'm really interested in. It's a sort of depth psychological digging into the archetypal potentialities of someone's character and providing them with situations and seeing how they react or seeing how it may be like with the Collider they invite you to recall a memory and so you're drawing upon your own memory and so everything that happens is cast through this lens of your memory and yourself and so are there ways for pieces to involve people's deep psyches into the process that then they can walk away with realizing a deep aspect of who they are.

[01:01:27.840] Brendan Bradley: That's beautiful. So do you watch content more empathically in the sense that that's something happening to someone else? Or do you put yourself into the character's situational environment and experience?

[01:01:43.382] Kent Bye: Well, I don't know if they ever necessarily separate some of these things. Like, when I watch Succession, I mean, I don't necessarily identify strongly. Well, they're terrible people. That's a bad choice. That's what I mean, is that even as horrible as each of those characters are, there are universal archetypal dynamics of power and family and relationship that are transcendent. So when good art does that, even though I don't personally identify with those characters, there are situations and contexts that are deeply meaningful and creates this, not always empathy, but maybe sympathy where I can understand similar situations or feelings that are evoked through these really dramatic power struggles. And so that's what I mean is that I don't know if it's necessarily that you can separate these things when art is really good, it is going to connect to your own personal experiences. It has to. Otherwise, it's not going to resonate. It's going to be completely devoid of any of your situation. And at that point, it's not universal. But it's the transcendent nature of these stories that does allow people, no matter what... I mean, I love Succession. By all accounts, people put it on their, like, top ten of all time TV shows that they've watched and it just ended here within the last week or so. So we have this experience of collective experience of catharsis as people have, like, gone through this tragedy in some sense of the story that really strong characters and amazing writing and how the personal connects to the collective. But I think at the end of the day, there's characters and situations and stories that have been able to be deeply resonant with people in a way that again, connects to people's own experiences, even if they wouldn't claim different aspects. Maybe that's part of the shadow that we have, that we don't want to admit that there's a little bit of Kendall Roy or Logan Roy or Roman or Shiv in each of us. So there's a bit of a denial of a shadow from that perspective, but maybe these really dark characters are allowing us to connect to these unconscious parts of ourselves that we want to deny, and we use our anger to project onto them, but there's maybe a part of ourselves that are being reflected into those characters. So that's what I mean is I think there is a fundamental relationality with art that really is good.

[01:03:47.330] Brendan Bradley: I agree wholeheartedly. I think what's interesting is you're describing this, could we have the story of And I wonder, in some ways, for me at least, dealing with past trauma, lived experience, sometimes when it's too close to home, I dissociate. I'm not ready to deal with that. Like, I don't want to watch that story. I'm going to turn it off. And we've had that even with things like Welcome to Respite, where people have taken off the headset and been like, oh, I didn't sign up for this. In some ways, the transference onto an exterior character that has some dissimilarities, right? There is a mirror, but it's a cracked mirror, or it's a dirty mirror, or it's at enough of an angle that I can actually get a good glimpse at it and therefore really connect and empathize and then, to your point, really learn something about myself or reflect on something about myself. I love this idea of being able to truly crawl inside your own skin. I guess I'm scared of it. I don't know if I could truly look square into the fully polished mirror and have that told to me as an entertainment experience.

[01:04:54.734] Kent Bye: Well, maybe part of the answer to that is that having really strong characters that allow you to have that objective, omniscient perspective, but yet it's resonant enough that's connected to your story that still is able to achieve that. But when you're in XR experience is you are the protagonist and you are making choices and taking action so it's all about to what degree can we simulate both the contextual dimensions but also the exchange of relational dynamics between the character of power struggles or whatever ends up being power and boundaries in the instance of the collider or power, wealth and greed and shadow trauma when it comes to the context of succession. So yeah, I think there's a good reason to not necessarily make it a psychodrama that's digging into people's traumas and they walk away like feeling like they need to have more therapy rather than being a therapeutic cathartic experience. But I think, you know, this going back to the theatrical roots of catharsis and that this aspect of catharting is a collective catharsis. There is this cathartic dimension of good storytelling that I think it's, yeah. Anyway, this is sort of like the potential, you asked, of like the type of experience.

[01:06:02.471] Brendan Bradley: I love it, I love it. I was just fascinated by it. I was like, God, I wonder if I would even enjoy that because it sounds fantastic. It makes me think of the Gottman Institute with the marriage research and they have all these exercises you're supposed to do and about like healing past trauma with your new co-caregiver partner. My partner and I looked at that and we're like, Absolutely not doing that. I do not need my mom thing or my dad thing on you. But it makes me think, is that a safe space in XR to be able to live through a version of trauma or a parallel experience that might then allow you? We look at this with phobia therapy, where they are able to put people through, whether it's a PTSD experience or a true phobia experience. there might be a there there of really confronting maybe not necessarily identity but a singular core of your identity or core belief and challenging that core belief through a narrative context. I don't know. It's all very fascinating. I'm sorry. I could talk about this forever.

[01:07:00.399] Kent Bye: Well, I was just sitting here on this couch earlier today with Eva Hanning, and she said that the latest season of Picard, the holodeck experience, is a therapy experience where fathers and sons go in and have a therapy session. So the idea that the future of the holodeck and these immersive XR experiences would be therapeutic in some ways. It's a safe space, so maybe that's a good place to end. Going to see how that's being explored in fiction and sci-fi, and folks are already imagining what that future might look like. Anyway, thanks again for joining me and riffing and all this stuff. And yeah, just a real pleasure to be able to sit down and unpack it all.

[01:07:32.114] Brendan Bradley: Thank you, and have a safe trip back home.

[01:07:34.156] Kent Bye: So that was Brendan Bradley. He's an actor and storyteller experimenting with real-time animation systems and social VR, putting live theater and virtual reality on both on-site, hybrid, in-venue, and fully virtual experiences. And he's also the co-founder of OnboardXR. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that, first of all, Well, it's really great to be able to catch up with Brendan as I've been watching a number of the different onboard XR performances over the last number of years. And it's been really quite innovative with trying to experiment with what's possible with Mozilla hubs and WebXR. And so bringing in lots of different open web technologies, experiment and prototype these different types of interactions. And so because of that, I think the web-friendly nature of WebXR has allowed them to integrate with some of these things like generative AI tools and to be able to have more API calls and just a little bit more experimental and prototyping some of these different interfaces between the frontiers of generative AI, chatbots and conversational interfaces and chat2BT driven scripts in a narrative context. And yeah, I think the existing implementation has quite a critical take. and just very skeptical on the utility of some of these different generative AI systems and how generally I think Brendan's take is that they're kind of more degrading the level of artistic expression, especially when we start to see what's happening with the writer strike as well as the Screen Actors Guild strike. There's a lot of different provisions around artificial intelligence where the producers are just wanting to kind of overstep their bounds with either displacing workers using some of these different AI models or generally disregarding some of the labor aspects when it comes to creatives of either actors or writers. And so it's from that orientation, I think that Brennan's taking a little bit more of a skeptical take, but it's interesting because usually I'm on the other side of trying to push back and think about some of the different ethical implications of the technologies. And I found myself in this conversation a little bit of just trying to advocate for some of the benefits of some of these different technologies. And so the tables were turned a little bit here, but I do think that there is an interesting intersection here of What does it mean to be in a group situation and start to integrate different aspects of a prompt? And I think it really requires like an intentional question or direction to be able to have everybody on the same page. Otherwise it just felt a little bit more fragmented where you just kind of had a bunch of random stuff and it didn't really. Cohere into any type of group collective experience or a narrative thread that felt like it was worth Pulling on and packing a little bit. I think there's a lot of possibilities there for not only exploring these ideas of group intentions and the different synchronistic aspects of when you enter in a different text prompt and see what kind of Result that you get and then when you get everybody on a bit of the same page then how can you have these more emergent social dynamics that are coming from that because I There is a bit of like tapping into the collective zeitgeist with these large language models. It's a bit of like a synthesis of the cultural heritage of all of humanity in some sense, but it's very limited and there's a lot of things that you can do to critique it or to find its limitations. Usually when you're prompting, you have this iterative process and this is a little bit more of a one-shot deal where you're able to send one prompt and then you get a response, but there's no way for you to curate your results, which is a bit of the process that you usually go through when you're working with generative AI. Very rarely will you get a result that's exactly what you're imagining. It takes a little bit of variations and experimentation. And so, you know, there's a different experience when you're doing that on your own directly working with the system, but translating into an immersive experience, I think creates this other immersive social dynamic where then all of a sudden now you're seeing what other people are pulling in and Yeah, I just think there's a lot that you can start to experiment with, you know, these different types of emerging dynamics. You already start to see that within the context of these discords, like mid-journey is an example where you have these people are sharing different things and there's more of that group conversation, but having it live and immersive, I think there's a live theatrical performance aspect to it as well. So. I think there's a lot there that could be explored. And yeah, just really enjoyed being able to unpack both the journey and history of Brendan. And yeah, at the end, we do a little bit of tables turned and explore some of my other thoughts of where the technology is at, where it's going, and the type of stuff that I'd like to see. So yeah, it's always fun to have these little time capsules, because my thoughts and all this stuff is constantly changing and evolving. And so it's always interesting to take a little snapshot and have the opportunity to share some of my other thoughts on that as well. 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 enjoyed 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 voicesofvr. Thanks for listening.

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