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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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Pocket Theatre VR pushes the boundaries of theatre

Pocket Theatre VR pushes the boundaries of theatre

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down the country, one of the many questions that arose was as to how live theatre can survive. In the case of Broadway, most shows shut down — some permanently — until it was considered safe to open once again. Some companies, including Knox’s own theatre department, temporarily transitioned into pre-recorded and livestreamed performances on Zoom. 

In 2020, Pocket Theatre VR (PTVR) was founded by Joel Willison (‘20) and Erin Yu (‘20) after COVID-19 shutdowns first began. 

“COVID-19 made my senior Honors Project impossible for in-person theatre,” founder Willison wrote via email, “the idea of Pocket Theatre VR was created as a solution for how to have everyone watch theatre from any location in the world.” 

They use a central 360° camera to create a virtual reality based medium for their productions and upload these recordings to their official channel on YouTube. These performances can be watched and rewatched at any time, from any place.

Producing theatre for virtual reality is vastly different from typical live theatre. Marion Frank (’22), who serves as the company’s literary manager, is currently directing Epinicion, a play written by junior Cianja Bone

“Directing in VR is a unique experience,” Frank wrote via email. “I’ve been standing in the center where the camera will be and directing from there — but even then it’s hard to know what it will be like when viewing.” Virtual reality allows the potential audience to tailor their experience in such a way that no two viewings are the same.

The students helming the theatre company recognize the systemic racism throughout the world of theatre, and, as stated on their website, have dedicated themselves to focusing on “the future of theatre — internally and as an industry, to provide diversity and inclusion.” Willison cited his work with Tianna Cervantez and the Multi-Cultural Student Advisory Board with helping him understand the impact theatre companies can have. 

“We’re starting a program at PTVR,” Willison wrote, “specifically because of experience from Day of Dialogue and with Tianna.”

While Pocket Theatre VR works with many people outside of the Knox sphere, in many ways the college has helped build up this company. 

“Knox has emboldened and empowered me to pursue challenging things,” wrote Frank, and such a transformative theatre project is certainly considered challenging! 

Over a year has passed since the founding of Pocket Theatre VR, and since then, they have produced four plays. On October 15th, they will be releasing Cianja Bone’s Epinicion to the public. 

“Seeing my script start to get realized as a full production, rather than a stage reading,” Bone wrote via email, “has been really powerful and exciting and has pushed me to see myself more meaningfully as a playwright.”

Announced via the Pocket Theatre VR YouTube channel—following Epincion there are four more confirmed productions for the 2021-2022 season.

“I don’t think the process of creating Pocket Theatre VR is done,” Willison wrote when asked about the future of the company. “PTVR was created during the pandemic for a very pandemic-related problem. I think an important part of our company will be understanding how we stay creative and present as live Theatre comes back.”

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