CORRECTION [6/13/2020]: The Under Presents: Tempest is available exclusively on Oculus headsets, and not on PC VR as previously stated.
40 minutes of captivating theatrics brought to life by jaw-dropping visuals and interactive storytelling.
I’m standing at the center of a grand banquet table surrounded by a wide assortment of delicious foods and fine drink. Alongside me are a handful of other masked players, each of which partaking heavily in the bountiful feast provided to us by a mysterious omnipotent being. Just then, a towering figure appears in the sky above us and commands that each of us act as if we’ve lost our minds. The craziest performance would earn said player a mysterious prize.
I began to frantically wave my arms about the air as if possessed by the underworld’s clumsiest ghost. Hopping onto the table I began tossing food throughout the dining area and even at the god himself. Pleased with my unstable behavior, my generous overlord dubbed the most unstable of the group, at which point I was awarded by hard-earned treasure.
The scene detailed above describes just several minutes of my time with The Under Presents: Tempest, a 40-minute interactive theater experience currently being performed live in VR via Oculus Rift and Oculus Quest headsets. Hosted on Tender Claws’ immersive theater platform, The Under Presents, the interactive VR experience takes audiences through a one-of-a-kind live performance of William Shakespeare’s classic play, The Tempest, completely reimagined for the VR format. Unlike conventional stage plays, The Under Presents: Tempest relies heavily upon audience participation; the players serve as everyone from the actors to the stage hands, resulting in an immersive theatrical experience unlike anything you’ll find running on Broadway.
During a press event this past week, I had the opportunity to take the virtual stage alongside a handful of other theater-goers tuning in remotely from the comfort of their homes. Lead by a professional actor also turning in via VR, our group was transported from whimsical location to whimsical location as we acted our way through a uniquely-crafted rendition of the classic play.
At certain points it almost felt like performing a grade school play with some shockingly adult content matter. Taking the shape of several different characters throughout the course of the show, our host/director guided us through each seen, using a series of god-like powers to cycle through locations, trigger certain atmospheric effects, swap costumes, and perform a variety of other neat tricks to help better immerse users in the experience. This professional performer also serves as an acting coach, assigning characters and providing the motivations behind each action. Seeing as this is The Under Presents, however, players are unable to speak to one another’ therefore quite a bit of body acting is involved.
During one portion of the show I auditioned for and was cast as Miranda, daughter of sorcerer Prospero, and was tasked with acting out the role of a beautiful maiden wandering throughout a serene forest. Naturally, I nailed my performance, acting out a series of seductive movements designed to attract the attention of the ultra-hunky Ferdinand, who was being played by another member of our group. While our director, Deirdre—shout out to Deirdre, she was absolutely amazing—guided us through the scene, the other two members of the group took on the role of the wind and performed a series of hypnotic gestures as we flirted awkwardly in VR.
Throughout the 40-minute performance, each of us played a major role in the story, offering just enough time in the spotlight to feel like a star. While I struggled to understand the appeal of The Under Presents upon its initial release back in 2019, this live theatrical performance shows just how powerful a tool VR can be in regards to storytelling. By combining the immersive capabilities of VR technology with conventional stage acting, Tender Claws is able to offer an interactive narrative experience impossible to recreate in a real-world venue.
Individual ticket prices feel a bit high at $15 per showing, but its important to remember that this is so much more than a passive viewing experience. Each session features a performance by a professionally-trained stage actor as they guide you through a fully interactive social/narrative experience. We’re looking at the birth of a brand new genre of VR storytelling; one that makes you the star.
Whether you’re a long-time theater geek or simply a fan of excellent storytelling, The Under Presents: Tempest is 100% worth the price of admission.
Showings run now through the end of September. Individual shows will take place from 4pm – 8pm PT on weekdays and 11am – 3pm PT on weekends. While The Under Presents itself is free (30 minutes of single-player gameplay included), players interested in catching a showing of Tempest will need to purchase a ticket for $14.99 via The Under Presents on Oculus Rift/Rift S, Oculus Quest, and SteamVR. Tickets also grant access to an exclusive multiplayer space.
Image Credit: Tender Claws