Everyone working in Warwickshire’s dynamic creative and digital sector is looking forward to the launch of the Government’s next Industrial Challenge Strategy Fund: ‘Audiences of the Future’.
The ask is to “bring creative businesses, researchers and technologists together to create striking new experiences that are accessible to the general public” (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/industrial-strategy-challenge-fund-joint-research-and-innovation#audiences-of-the-future).
That’s a theme that we in Warwickshire have been pushing for some time, of course, and further success has recently come to the region in the form of the £80 million National Battery Technology Centre; but “Audiences of the Future” is another opportunity we should grasp with both hands.
Warwickshire is the home of Shakespeare and performance innovation and the great man would be busy experimenting with virtual, augmented, and mixed reality if he were alive today: Telling his stories in new ways and through new media.
True to this legacy, the RSC placed the first digital avatar on stage in 2016’s The Tempest. As the Founder of an IT company, I get very excited by the 20,000 data packets transferred in every performance.
Beyond the RSC, there is Motionhouse bringing the power of digital into their dance performances. The digital imagery is part of the set, the story, the action. Warwick Arts Centre also recently screened a series of theatrical performances watched by an audience through virtual reality headsets.
Add to this the growing reputation of ‘Silicon Spa’ as a cluster of high value high export games development studios and it seems clear that we are the natural home to explore who exactly are “The Audiences of the Future” and what they want to see.
What do VR, AR and mixed reality bring that we cannot already achieve through existing media of performance? I think of Shakespeare’s mass popularity and his ability to reflect, on stage, all the socio-economic groups in his audience. I think of John Osborne bringing the harsh reality of a one-room flat in the English Midlands to the Royal Court Theatre. It is widely acknowledged that virtual reality, in particular, brings a greater level of empathy.
We are part of the scene unfolding before us rather than merely observers. Technology will allow us not just to watch someone else’s reality but to actually experience life in someone else’s shoes.
If we look to the future, where and how will this new experience bring us greatest benefit? Will it help us to understand anti-social behaviour? Will it help us to address unconscious bias? Will it help us to create a more diverse, more socially inclusive society?
If we can experience the reality of others, we can feel how they feel. This will influence the way we behave. The decisions we make. The leaders we choose.
And that is the most powerful gift we can give to the future.