VR vs Julie Taymor

Perhaps the most surreal part of watching the Lion King 360 experience was that just a couple months earlier, I had listened to the phenomenal theatre and film director Julie Taymor belittling the power of virtual reality during her talk at The Nantucket Project.

The Nantucket Project is an organization best known for their annual gathering on Nantucket Island. For one long weekend in September, visionaries and leaders gather to share their thoughts and insights on world issues. TNP’s goal is to exchange ideas, primarily through storytelling, and connect people to build a better tomorrow. It’s like a TEDtalk, but the people in the audience are in a position to actually take these ideas and do something tangible and meaningful with them.
Virtual reality was the highlight of the TNP conference that year (full disclosure, I direct the VR piece that was showcased at the conference).  And that got me wondering why Julie Taymor was so against VR.

The creative arts have always built on each other. In 2013, Julie Taymor filmed her live theater production of “A Midsummer Nights Dream” at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, New York. While Taymor herself said that much of her “theatre work is very cinematic”, the project became embroiled in legal issues and the word was that she didn’t feel it properly captured the live production.

I don’t doubt that there were problems with translating one medium into another. Take a look at the theatre performances filmed for posterity. While studying directing at Carnegie Mellon I used to stay up late watching and re-watching filmed theatre pieces. They were good to study for technique but they rarely captured the intensity of being in the audience at a live theatre audience.

One of the few filmed theatre experiences that did translate well for me was the filming of the live performance of “Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway” You can watch it here.

It worked because it didn’t try to put a theatre piece on film. It used the best film techniques to capture an experience and to tell a story. Look at the rhtym of the cuts, the movement of the camera, when they used close-ups, when they used wide shots. This is film through and through. It just happens to be of a theatre performance.

Perhaps Taymor got burned by the experience of trying to take a project intended for one medium and capturing it for another. But in the same way that film is not theatre, virtual reality is not film. As creators of content in this new medium, we need to build on the ideas that inspire us, and take them to whole new level of storytelling.


(Photo Credit: Marco Grob / The Star)

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