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Collaborative virtual reality show Hummingbird staged at Chicago Children’s Theater

In March, the interactive play Hummingbird, written by Chicago-based theater producer Jo Cattell and developed by Daria Tsoupikova, Sai Priya Jyothula, Andrew Johnson, Arthur Nishimoto, and Lance Long from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) was staged at Chicago Children’s Theater.

The storyline revolves around” a gutsy teen who has to outsmart her mother’s narcissistic boss, and survive dangerous new technology.”

The experience merges collaborative Virtual Reality (VR) and live theater. Hummingbird performances provide the opportunity for people to experience the show in two different ways: as a VR participant wearing a head-mounted display and interacting with the environment, or as an observer watching participants perform. Children who signed up for the play were chosen via lottery to become active participants, led by a few professional actors.

The play was developed with funds from a 2019 grant, “Transforming Storytelling: Multi-User Virtual Reality Theater for Collaborative Tele-Immersive Exploration.” and the National Endowment for the Arts award. It was first staged in 2021, with workshop performances at EVL, the fall premier at the Goodman Theater and successful international performances at SIGGRAPH 2022 in Vancouver, Canada.

Tsoupikova, a professor of media design and research faculty member of EVL, and the founder + design chair, of UIC’s Computer Science + Design program (CS+DES), hopes to stage the play in other cities, and other countries in the future.