It’s a normal evening at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Los Angeles, well almost. The lights are bright – perhaps brighter than usual, and audience members are chatting quietly among themselves. Music begins to play over the speaker system and the audience falls silent as Whitmer Thomas walks on stage and explain that this show will be unlike any they have seen before – because it will be shot for virtual reality.
“We’re getting all angles here. We’re gonna put it online. You can put your head in a box and you can turn your head. Just keep in mind you’re being recorded right now… some person can put a thing on their head, and if they want they can just turn and look at you the whole time.” For those of you at home who don’t know what box he is referring to, it would be Google Cardboard.
Unlike most stand-up comedy shows, the audience is completely lit. A six camera go-pro rig sits in the center of the first row with its horizon set as if it were a person sitting in the audience. The line-up for the evening includes big name comedians Todd Glass, Sara Schaefer, Joe DeRosa, Whitmer Thomas, and Johnny Pemberton, all directed by Scott Moran.
Initially, I was incredibly skeptical of stand-up being compelling in virtual reality; however, as the show went on watching the talent interact with the audience and the camera became a rather remarkable experience. Todd Glass, for example, was sitting in the audience and talking across the room as if he were an audience member with Thomas, who was on stage introducing him. Exchanges like this and engaging other members of the audience allow for the experience to make sense in 360 because audience members watching through their cardboards are now motivated to look around.
PAVR co-founders Alex Plapinger and Michael Ashton have backgrounds working in comedy and are well known for their comedic VR piece TELEPORTALED. Given their backgrounds and experience working with comedians, Plapinger notes that doing a virtual reality comedy show together with director Scott Moran “is kind of a no-brainer.” However, Plapinger and Ashton’s inspiration for the comedy show actually stems from their desire to use an immersive medium to share experiences. Plapinger said, “It’s something that we wanted to make and share with people who don’t live in LA and see world class comics perform.”
Plapinger and Ashton plan on doing more comedy shows, but that’s not the only thing that they are up to. As PAVR chases ‘popcorn VR,’ which Plapinger describes as “fun, bite-sized, sharable virtual reality experiences,” they’re also exploring what types of experiences will stand the test of time as the novelty of VR wears off. That being said, they’re working on a short VR series with writers and actors from VEEP, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer, and Bojack Horseman. They also have some other projects down their pipeline including a documentary series and some animation projects.
As VR hits the consumer market, the phrase “content is king” continues to ring throughout conversations among industry professionals and enthusiast. PAVR is helping lead the dialogue of what storytelling looks like in live action VR as they continue to pump out the kind of compelling content the industry so desperately needs.