António Baía Reis, Mark Ashmore “When the Theatre Meets the Metaverse: A Conceptual Framework for Live Theatre and Performance in Virtual Reality”


With the advent of the world crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, theatres and performance venues were forced to shut down, and theatre and performing artists were required to find creative and safe solutions which would enable them to continue in their work. Online video conference tools and virtual reality platforms seemed like good opportunities to explore new ways of connecting their art with their audiences, delivering the theatre and performance straight into people’s houses, and even involving the audiences, in more or less interactive ways, within the performances. In this emerging ecosystem, there has evolved a specific interest in experimenting with virtual reality platforms, given that its inherent technologies enable profoundly interactive, first-person, affective experiences. The theatre and other creative projects like the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Under Presents, Double Eye Productions, or La Cuarta Pared VR have been producing cutting-edge live theatre experiences in virtual reality that question the very essence of what live performance is. Prompted by the need to understand what is conceptually and artistically involved in these new live theatre and performance experiences, we designed a lecture in which, through the combination of ethnographic fieldwork – both on virtual reality platforms like VRChat and as audience members and/or performers of live performances in virtual reality – with key studies on the theatre, performance, immersive media and other related fields, we were able to obtain an innovative and in-depth understanding of what defines live theatre and performance in virtual reality. The goal of this lecture was to present a conceptual framework that had resulted from this understanding and that consisted of a series of foundational features and practical guidelines that defined live theatre and performances in virtual reality. Ultimately, the lecture could be seen as a systematically organized and innovative theoretical gateway to future research and creative work in this field.

Authors’ CV

António Baía Reis’s bio

António Baía Reis is a researcher, educator, and artist born in the charming city of Porto, Portugal. With an interdisciplinary education, ranging from International Relations, Media and Communication to the Arts, he has a BA in International Relations (University of Minho) with a focus on cultural diplomacy, an MA in Communication Sciences with a focus on arts and cultural communication (University of Porto), and a Ph.D. in Digital Media with a focus on immersive media, social change, and creativity (University of Porto and Stanford University). His research, teaching, and creative activities are largely interdisciplinary, combining areas such as digital and emergent media, communication and performing arts, and with a strong focus on immersive media (VR, AR, MR), film, participatory and collaborative practices, practice and arts-based research, creativity studies, innovation in education, and social impact. He is currently a researcher and assistant professor at the University of Passau (Germany), developing work at the crossroads of media and communication, arts, new technologies, and innovation in education. At the same university, he has founded the Future Media CoLab, a collaboratory focused on immersive media and related technologies. He is also an invited researcher and digital media artist at the Experimental Laboratory of Intermedia Art of the University of Madeira (Portugal) and Agency_VR – Medialab en Matadero (Spain). Moreover, he is the co-founder of the XR theatre collective La Cuarta Pared VR [The Fourth Wall VR], as well as the director and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Cinema & Territory and a member of the editorial board of the journal Media Practice and Education. Outside academia, he has relevant professional experience in the field of corporate and cultural communication in diverse areas within the creative and cultural industries, and regularly acts as a senior consultant, instructor, and keynote speaker in areas such as immersive media and all things “metaversical”, digital and performing arts, and innovation in science communication. Within the arts, he is an experienced actor and pianist, with professional experience in theatre plays, film, voice acting, and live music performances, but also a digital media and performance artist, with a strong focus on theatre and performance in virtual reality, 360-degree filmmaking, experimental media and performance installations, participatory art projects, and artivism. 

Mark Ashmore FRSA bio

Mark has a first class honours degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Sussex, and is currently in his final year as a Postgraduate Researcher attempting to achieve a PhD in Immersive Arts and Computer Science at Liverpool John Moores University looking at how Generation Z, Virtual Reality and the Metaverse is going to impact performing arts. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Mark has directed and produced two feature films, produced a critically acclaimed one woman show at the Edinburgh Festival in 2021 during a pandemic, with a full London tour and produced over 200 arts led events over the past twelve years, built two theatres, and the Future Artists Studio’s space which is in Bristol.

Watch the lecture