On the I’m guessing 1% chance that someone who was involved in the show reads this, you’re fantastic.
The trend lives on! That right folks, I found another interesting immersive art experience to share with you all, and this one was AMAZING. It’s called Virtue if Reality and I can’t really tell you to go check it out cause…well…it only ran for three days at CU Boulder. But wow, in my book it was on the same level as the more commonly known Meow Wolf and seriously they should just set up a permanent installation someplace. Where Meow Wolf is a wild and wonderful explosion of art, devoid of actors, Virtue of Reality was populated with a whole cast of characters. A big part of the Meow Wolf, to be clear I’m talking about the one in New Mexico(House of Eternal Returns), experience is the mystery hidden within both the mundane and fantastical landscapes. The visitor can choose to look for clues to uncover a plot or simply enjoy the art. While Virtue of Reality employs the same “choose your own adventure” method, the storytelling is harder to avoid. By interacting with the actors you inevitably uncover parts of it, though I’m sure there’s still more than I got. As I write this I am on the bus back from the event, (yeah, talk about instant inspiration), but I can’t wait to compare plot notes with my friends who went earlier. But I’m gonna shut up about Meow Wolf, I have a whole post about that already, today we discuss Virtue of Reality.
I am a performer and a theatre tech(props). Experiencing theatre as a theatre person is wonderful. For me at least.
Tangent time: When I studied theatre it was made clear to us, and in fact part of our curriculum, that we must learn all elements of theatre. Actors had to know how to build sets and techs had to know how to perform a monologue. We had to learn each other’s trades so that we could have a better understanding and appreciation of the whole process. (Not that it stopped certain actors from throwing my props around, but it sure stopped me from doing it when I was the one onstage.) Tangent over.
So yeah, Experiencing theatre as a theatre person is a whole other level of enjoyment because you know the craft, so you really appreciate what’s happening on that stage. Sure, it may make you a little hypercritical, but it’s worth it. So as an actor it was really fun to be basically put in the show as a character while I walked through this sort of extreme improv exercise crossed with live action video game crossed with not traditionally scary haunted house sort of thing. I mean it wasn’t my show to perform, but it was really fun to be so closely involved (and be able to get a closer look at the fantastic set dressing. Honestly, you guys, that stuff was great. I mean everything contributed to the world building. That apothecary shop in The Nest, FANTASTIC. Okay I realize I’m directly addressing the creators of the show now, gotta stop that.)
I mentioned it felt kind of like a live action video game, and it totally did. I mean I was presented with characters and locations, chose my own path through the world, and learned the plot through interactions with characters in their respective locations. I even had to essentially complete certain tasks. In order to get into the bar I spent most of my time in I kind of had to talk my way in (with only limited success, but they did let me, thanks.) I had deliver some messages. And cheer with extreme excitement for a singer with a complex and tragic backstory on pain of being yelled at and potentially kicked out of the bar. And kind of do a guided meditation? Honestly, it was probably one of the coolest theatrical experiences I’ve had, and I really want to see more things like this, shows that let me live in the story.
So the plot. I’m an English major, I can’t get through this without trying to give you some kind of simple plot summary. I think I have an okay idea of it actually. I lost track of time and I was in there well over my time limit, but no one came to get me and honestly I didn’t know how to get out…so….. Anyway, that’s why I got more of the story. I spent most of my time in The Nest and The Electric Bar (I’m like 99% sure those were the names…), and they were polar opposites. Nature vs. Technology. I met some cool characters though, but plot first. So, basically there’s this company called Verarev and they’re the “We’re good, we promise our design for the future isn’t going to make the world a dystopian nightmare seriously, we swear, buy our stuff, we’re watching you…I mean we’re helping you!” You, the audience member, sign in as I believe one of their donors. The sign in sheet has lot’s of interesting questions like “where are you from” (I wrote “Earth”), “What did the sky look like on your way here?” (“Autumnal”), and “Did you lie on any of the questions?”(“You’d love to know”). You’re show a promotional video, which is hacked by a resistance group who explain the premise. Basically, seamlessly blended preshow before you enter the portal into 2060. And 2060 is…a lot. So on one end you’ve got The Nest, naturey people who are living in harmony with the earth in an attempt to not destroy it any more than it already has been. On the other end of the performance space you’ve got Binary Hills (or possibly Heights, memories have faded, I blame Verarev.) In between there are various depressing districts and people with stories to tell. The show had so much to say about technology, the environment, and what kind of path certain actions could lead us down.
So, as previously mentioned I spent most of my time in the extremes, with was honestly a very me thing to do. “Okay Olivia, let’s just head straight to the flashy flashy lights behind the mystery curtain but also let’s go look at some flowers.” So, as a writer and an actor, I was obviously well aware that these were characters, but I found myself having conversations with them like they were really people. I do the same thing with my own characters as I write them, so I suppose this makes sense. I had a conversation with a woman in The Nest about herbs and flowers, I was genuinely concerned about the singer Belladonna when I learned her backstory-a story even she didn’t know, and I found myself having a surprisingly deep conversation about the brain, impermanence, death, being human, and memory with a guy in the electric bar. Surprisingly, not the first time I have had a surprisingly deep conversation with a stranger in a futuristic bar. The bar was probably where I spent most of my time in the whole experience, because the storylines there absolutely fascinated me. There was a singer who’s memories had been basically completely replaced. Her I guess boyfriend was the one who’d replaced them. It was a terrible relationship and she didn’t even know, she thought she was happy and every time she remembered a piece of her old life she forgot herself again and woke up smiling.
Okay so this is the part where all my friends who are never going to read this say “Yes, Olivia WE KNOW, you literally never shut up about it!”, but I think a lot about artificial intelligence. In countless sci-fi movies, novels, shows, etc. the villain is an AI. And I mean, how is that fair? Like sure, sometimes, whatever. Just like sometimes villains are humans or sharks or aliens or magical creatures. There are many tropes and they have their places. But we need more artificial intelligence characters that are just living normal lives. Where are the chill AI people? There’s Vision and like THAT’S IT. Okay no that’s not it, I need to consume some more sci-fi, but you get me.
People get so hung up on the “artificial” part, but these hypothetical beings are just nonorganic people. Just humans made of different materials. That’s how I understand the concept anyway. “Olivia why are you getting so annoyed in the name of creatures that don’t even exist yet.” First of all, hush and let me have my emotions. Second, I mean it’s a reflection of the human need to fear and by extension hate what we consider different. We see our prejudices reflected in our fiction, villains resembling, or just outright being, of a certain culture. We use fiction to paint reality, and it can be very telling.
An interesting piece I discussed with the character in the bar, who was an AI, I believe the in-world terminology was “fully improved”. People with a certain percentage of nonorganic parts being x percent improved. (I definitely had to lie and say that I was partially improved to get into the bar. Literally nobody believed me. Guess something about me just screams organic human.) I’d love to talk about how interesting that terminology is but I didn’t take notes and I’m not %100 sure it’s correct…so we’re gonna move one. Anyway, one interesting thing we discussed was the nature of electricity in the organic and nonorganic brain. A nonorganic brain is, in most stories, run on electricity. But, so is the human brain. We humans are a bunch of electrical impulses firing in a weird lump of flesh. So that’s something to consider. I think about my dependency on my brain very often. I have multiple mood disorders, and I have epilepsy, so clearly something is out of balance if I have to take nine pills everyday to make it stop malfunctioning. Really, what’s the difference? No matter what your brain is made of, isn’t it the same net that carries you? We’re all vessels for electricity, appearance and ingredients are irrelevant.
So many of the characters had some relationship to the idea of immortality. I met a man in one of the districts who dreamed of becoming fully improved so he could achieve immortality. But, the fully improved (yet again this might be the wrong term, take notes you fool) man I spoke to in the bar truly feared death. Immortality of the consciousness is a flawed concept, we are impermanent, whatever we are made of. This is not the blog post where I casually discuss my feelings on the nature of death, maybe later, but this show really made me think. I’ve been writing a story for a long time now closely involved with many of the same themes this show addressed, and I have been lacking inspiration, so thanks Virtue of Reality. And thank you from all my long suffering, neglected characters as well.