Disney to Try VR for Broadway

Virtual reality (VR). In most cases, the words “virtual reality” strongly correlate with in-depth video game engagement or real world simulations for medicine, science, or war. But what if VR could change the face of live theater? Disney Theatrical Productions is aiming to experiment with just that concept – they have announced a VR short for “The Lion King’s” elaborate “Circle of Life” opening.

The Broadway show’s opening is known for its full-scale, 360 degree experience in which the kingdom’s animals appear from the left, right, top, bottom, and back or the theater, all making their way towards the center stage. Disney’s push for a VR experience will be the first in major Broadway production history.

The industry has typically been averse to blending live performance with pre-recorded content; however, 2014 has shown some exciting possibilities in the VR industry. The goal of incorporating VR into the “Circle of Life” opening is to provide viewers with complex vantage points, enhancing the overall experience.

Total Cinema 360, the experience company behind production, shot nearly six takes in a theater filled with 1,000 viewers.The Los Angeles-based startup, VR Playhouse, aided post-production, acknowledging the difficulties of creating VR material from live a Broadway show. Total Cinema 360’s co-founder, Craig Gilbert stated in an LA Times article, “It’s not easy to do live Broadway… I think the biggest challenge is coordinating with the show — you’re not just filming something but dealing with rehearsals and changing choreography and different lighting.”

Even in the wake of such difficulties, VR production companies are pitching ways to incorporate VR content with marketing media. Furthermore, a more in-depth experience could potentially allow for longer, more rewarding shows.

Broadway has historically honored the intrinsic value of live theater and has been slow to adapt to virtual technology for fear that theatergoers would opt out of attending live shows. Yet, if VR does catch on, not only may it produce a new revenue stream, but also allow friends and family in different cities to experience the same show together.

Many challenges face the live theater industry should VR be adopted. If shows become readily available outside of the venue, ticket prices may plummet, causing problems for Unionized Broadway workers. It also remains unclear how favorable Broadway actors may feel about VR tapings. Regardless, Disney’s “Circle of Life” trial will surely set a precedent.

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