New theatre initiative with learning disabled and autistic artists

A new immersive theatre experience that uses virtual reality (VR) technology is being presented at Brighton Dome by leading site-responsive practitioners dreamthinkspeak and Access All Areas, a company of learning disabled and autistic artists.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 6:35 am
unReal City in rehearsal 1, An Access All Areas Performance Company co-production with dreamthinkspeak credit Stephen Allright
unReal City in rehearsal 1, An Access All Areas Performance Company co-production with dreamthinkspeak credit Stephen Allright

Using mixed reality together with live acting, unReal City explores what personal connection means in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.

In a 40-minute performance, an audience of two people at a time are given Oculus headsets which take their avatar characters on a journey to a fictional city.

Guided through a series of scenes in their virtual world, including a block of apartments, cinema and cafe, the guests can meet and interact with other residents and each other. At key moments, audiences will come back into the real world to find themselves re-located in an unexpected twist of circumstances.

unReal City is a work in progress. Brighton-based dreamthinkspeak are renowned for bringing interactive performances to a range of buildings and locations, including disused shops and factories, while Access All Areas are leading the way in supporting the artistic development of learning disabled creatives and performers to champion their inclusion in the sector. Their immersive events create intimate moments of interaction between performers and audiences in public spaces.

Tristan Sharps, artistic director, dreamthinkspeak, said: “As an associate artistic company of Brighton Dome, we’re thrilled to be bringing unReal City to this iconic venue and to be collaborating with Access All Areas and their incredible performers. As we stand on the verge of a new Metaverse, we wanted to ask vital questions about how we relate to each other in our increasingly virtual world and how digital connectivity is radically changing our sense of reality. Now that the current pandemic has continued to drive us towards online platforms to communicate from the comfort of our own home, these questions feel more urgent and relevant than ever.”

Nick Llewellyn, of Access All Areas, said: “We are thrilled to bring unReal City back after we all moved to a life online halfway through the first run. The eight Access All Areas artists have each created their own unique response to the themes around creating safe and truly inclusive virtual communities in which to meet new friends. We can’t wait to bring it to Brighton and invite new audiences to experience the show.

Associate artist Kirsty said she is so glad to be doing it again after so long: “We’ve added a few new elements now we’ve all had the experience of being confined to our homes accessing the world only through virtual means.”

Following its premiere at Battersea Arts Centre in 2020 and its run at Brighton Dome, both companies will continue the project further as they test out new uses for the technology developed with Brighton-based technology designers Piotr Nierobisz of Munchingsquare and Andy Baker of Ixxy, with sound design by Gareth Fry.

unReal City is on from January 21 to February 5 2022 at Brighton Dome Founders Room with performances running throughout the day and evening.

Book tickets via brightondome.org or Brighton Dome ticket office.

Nick added: “Access All Areas makes disruptive performance by learning disabled and autistic artists.

“Our immersive performance events create intimate moments of interaction between performers and public, occupying unexpected spaces in venues, on the streets, and in public buildings.

“Through our performance company, we support the artistic development of some of the world’s leading learning disabled creatives. Our award-winning Performance Making Diploma, a collaboration with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, is breaking new ground in training for emerging learning disabled performance makers.

“We also run consultancy with arts organisations on inclusive practice, creating space within our industry for learning disabled artists and audiences to flourish.”