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Cirque du Soleil is using VR to put you on stage in its latest production

VR is expanding in numerous ways. From sporting events to video games to medical use, virtual reality is shaping up to, potentially, be the next big revolution in tech. Even theater companies are looking to embrace it. Based in Montreal, Cirque de Soleil is the largest theatrical production company in the world, employing over 4,000 people globally, and it’s pioneering VR like you’ve never seen it before.

During his time at the Web Summit conference in Dublin, Ireland, Jacques Méthé, president of Cirque du Soleil spoke with Popular Science while showing off a Samsung Gear VR demo of the tech put to use.

Entertainment reporter Katie Linendoll documented the experience. “Thanks to virtual reality,” she writes, “I was actually a part of that show.  I saw acrobats dancing around me. A little lady sat on the ground nearby, uttering things in a munchkin-like voice. I turned around to see a magician creeping up behind, too close for comfort. It was by far the most immersive—and intimate—technology I’ve ever been a part of.”

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“Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities,” the show demonstrated at the summit, actually presents the viewer as a sort of prop in the virtual performance. The plot centers around an inventor’s curio cabinet, comprised of “curiosities,” including the viewer themself. Strangely enough, perhaps expected from fans of Cirque de Soleil’s’ work, the viewer is actually treated as one of the curiosities, surrounded by some curious, albeit peculiar, observers.

“You are one of these curiosities and you join this bunch of really curious people,” Méthé explains.

As a precautionary measure, Méthé noted that Cirque Du Soleil didn’t shell out copious amounts of capital at once for VR. Rather, the production company partnered with Samsung, hence the Gear VR mentioning, as well as Montreal’s Felix & Paul Studios, the creator of the camera used to record the performance.

Cirque du Soleil VR
André Lauzon

And that camera was key to creating Kurios as it’s seen today, as it’s capable of recording 360-degree video as well as immersive 3D audio. “Why would you show things only in front of you when the device can show you all around you, and on top of you and almost below you?” Méthé inquires.

This allows for a clear-cut filming process, but a cumbersome post-production one, Méthé says. “The hardest part here is post production, because you need to put all of these images together into something that is completely seamless and stereoscopic,” he explains. “Why would you show things only in front of you when the device can show you all around you?”

Presently, this Cirque du Soleil experience can be yours if you already have a Gear VR or Google Cardboard in-hand, though Popular Science notes it’s available on other affordable VR headsets as well.

However, the technological advancements don’t stop at VR for Cirque du Soleil. In fact, Méthé notes that the company is ramping up its digital technology use in its shows. This includes “Toruk the First Flight,” featuring heavy influences from James Cameron’s Avatar, as well as programs more geared towards children.

“We’re just at the beginning of exploring new ways to tell our stories,” proclaims Méthé.