Boca del Lupo’s VR Salon reflects on what it means to be human

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      Two Venice Film Festival award-winning films will be shown at Boca del Lupo’s VR Salon at the Fishbowl on Granville Island from May 24 to 28. 

      Boca del Lupo is a Vancouver-based theatre company that hosts performances in unconventional spaces, which co-founder and artistic director Sherry J Yoon describes to the Straight as being “part of the creation of the work.”

      Yoon has co-created over 35 productions with Boca del Lupo in the 26 years it’s been operating. She was also a finalist for the 2022 Siminovitch Prize, Canada’s largest theatre award. 

      “I really feel that I’m a reflection of the city that has supported me,” Yoon says. “It’s a great opportunity to be an artist in the city… working with different artists, different theatre makers, dance makers, filmmakers, animators, scuba divers, rock climbers and just a real cross-section of disciplines.”

      Boca del Lupo hosted a variety of smaller and larger performances up until the pandemic hit and everything shut down. Yoon continued her work, wanting to find a way to keep asking questions of what the presentation series could be, and how immersive technologies could help insert a live element and what makes us human into performances. “This is the central thought that anchors all the work, and everything that gets presented,” she adds.

      The VR salon is a result of this, with Yoon deciding on two films to screen in a 3D 360 immersive experience: Goliath and The Man Who Couldn’t Leave. Audience members will watch these films through VR goggles.

      Goliath is an animated virtual reality experience about schizophrenia and finding connection in gaming communities, narrated by Tilda Swinton. The Man Who Couldn’t Leave, meanwhile, has a more narrative focus and tells the story of imprisoned Taiwanese political dissidents on Green Island during the White Terror of the 1950s—including the story of A-Ching, the eponymous man who couldn’t leave.

      “I think it's so enticing in VR 360 to really use all these different things to add to something,” Yoon says. The technology is used very differently in the two pieces, she notes, but in both cases, it’s used to further the story. “For The Man Who Couldn’t Leave, these arresting images, that are quite theatrical in moments, I don't think distract or take away from the purpose of the story—and I think that's what's interesting to me about both those works.”

      When curating works to include in the series, Yoon was also mindful that many people haven’t worn 3D goggles before. She found that a lot of works were disorienting—one of the many challenges of VR in film.

      When asked about VR’s role in theatre and film, Yoon pauses. “That’s a good question,” she replies, after a moment, “because I don’t know. I think that it’s such a curiosity and sometimes I think artists find it a threat to theatre.” 

      Yoon, however, personally finds it to be an opportunity for more connectivity. 

      “I think it’s healthy to have questions around the work, [but] I don’t fear that live work will ever disappear.”

      She admits that it can be challenging to blend theatre and VR, but some theatre makers are quite interested in exploring the new space. “It’s very different, rhythmically, for the actors to be in there,” she says, adding that VR is more like theatre than film in one respect, because viewers have the freedom to look wherever they want, rather than the camera’s vantage point.

      “There's something in that immersive quality that changes us, in a way that I think is really fascinating,” Yoon says. “[Research shows] that our mind doesn't differentiate what we see in VR with memories. So, I think that when you are creating a story and narrative that have a purpose—and for people to go through and experience and come out the other side thinking and feeling, and perhaps perspectives changed—for me is the most exciting thing about this work.”

      Boca del Lupo’s VR Salon screenings of Goliath and The Man Who Couldn’t Leave will be at the Fishbowl (1398 Cartwright Street) from May 24 to 28. Tickets cost $25 and are available here.