Best known for his VR performance in several plays (including JETTISON, NON-PLAYER CHARACTER, THE SEVERANCE THEORY: WELCOME TO RESPITE), Brendan Bradley also developed OnBoardXR, a virtual platform for short, multi-disciplinary artistic performances (theatre, comedy, dance…). We discussed with Brendan as he just organised ”Port Of Registry”, OnBoardXR’s 4th Season with a selection of new artists, at MozFest in March 2022, while playing in the new show GUMBALL DREAMS presented at SXSW (and awarded at the Austin event!).
How did you get started hosting live performances in a virtual space?
Brendan Bradley – Brendan Bradley – I am primarily an actor, but I’ve always been fascinated by the impact of new technologies to reach new audiences. I started with streaming video and then 360 video, motion capture… early DepthKit… etc… I had a 6DOF experience with a physical installation, SONA (2017), at the San Diego Comic Con. This led me to wonder about the possibility of virtual production rather than physical environments.
B. B. – I was playing with real-time animation in Unity when Covid-19 came along, and I quickly saw potential to use 3D systems to go live, online. I delighted in exploring every social VR platform I could find, but was attracted to Mozilla Hub’s accessibility on almost any device and its integrated world-building tool, Spoke.
B. B. – So I released a free 3D playhouse called The Future Stages and Alex Coulombe, David Gochfeld, Kevin Laibson and Roman Miletitch and I staged my play, Jettison, with actors from three different cities seated in the same virtual life boat. After being Finalist for The Producer Guild of America’s Innovation Award, we wanted to scale this prototype for any artists to bring their creative practice into XR and created OnBoardXR, a kind of virtual cabaret, which allows you to world hop between multiple artists in a single evening and web browser – and quickly it interested puppeteers, mimes, dancers, singers, and more… In the last year, we have hosted over 20 world premieres, and helped almost 50 artists monetize their first prototype in the metaverse. Five of our creators have gone on to find funding and / or production while our technologists were able to commercialise technologies they had developed for OnBoardXR. And others have managed to find employment thanks to this! Our 4th Season just wrapped at the beginning of March during MozFest 2022, where we presented 6 world premiere prototypes.
What attracted you to use WebXR for live performance events?
B. B. – For me, web-based vr is the best way to reach new audiences. 30% of our viewers reported OnBoardXR was their first experience in virtual reality (live or not)! It’s exciting to think this avant garde fringe theatre troupe is people’s first encounter with virtual reality! The show is accessible by most browsers, especially via Oculus’ built in immersive web browser. 50% of our audience is using their computer and 5% are on tablets or phones!
B. B. – With unlimited content offerings and a golden era of 2D streaming, the COVID-19 shutdown became an opportunity to ask ourselves how we occupy our time. What content do we want to see? Are we limited to Netflix and Zoom? Virtual reality is a real opportunity to access a live, responsive experience…to be present and share space and intimacy with other humans across the world. Our secret ingredient is the connection between the artist and the viewer. Live storytelling is hundreds of years old because you can’t replace that authentic encounter with the audience.
How do you bring new artists and acts ‘On Board’ and why not pre-record the shows?
B. B. – It wouldn’t have the same magic if it were pre-recorded. OnBoardXR, is an hour-long show modeled after formats like a short film block or one-act play festival. We want to include as many artists as possible in a single event. Each creator has total control of their virtual world, theatrical cues, design, embodiment… We transition from one performance to another within the same url to make it as frictionless as possible for the audience.
B. B. – We’ve had actors or dancers who are just starting out in VR, and with our guidance, they stand up shows using web cameras, 360 video, keyboards, vr-headsets, motion capture suits, animation tables, even volumetric video – it’s absolutely incredible! Many of our creators return for future showcases, resulting in an evolving community pushing boundaries together, like Ari Tarr and Clemence Debaig who have each had five prototypes supported by OnBoardXR!
B. B. – There is a huge potential for a new creative economy for creators by creators based on appointment-driven, emotionally resonating storytelling experiences. We sell pay-what-you-want tickets in three different tiers of participation and audiences currently average $13USD per ticket! So, that’s a paying audience for some low-poly, experimental theatre with no marketing or celebrities!
B. B. – All anyone needs is a good wifi connection and their curiosity to explore. Every creator has different devices on the technical side. For some it might be a simple web camera to use, others use volumetric streaming or haptic suits, etc. Many are on Quest 1 or 2 head mounted displays because of the low cost, but we keep improving and expanding the interoperability for our artists and audiences each season. Recently, we began developing some of our OnBoardXR prototypes into longer format projects such as NON-PLAYER CHARACTER, UNWANTED WATERS and MINDLAND, while also partnering and presenting with festivals, like FIVARS, PXR and Mozilla Festival. This model is similar to the work I’ve done with Ferryman Collective on projects like WELCOME TO RESPITE or GUMBALL DREAMS.
Does XR performance seem like an underground scene and where do you see it growing?
B. B. – The most inspiring part about this emerging medium is the incredible community. OnBoardXR prioritises knowledge-sharing, collaboration and championing others. For example, on the OnBoardXR website you can find information about our shows, artists, and even tutorials on working with our toolkit. This year I’m also experimenting with curating a section I call “Lobbies” to be portals to support other productions happening in the live performance in the extended reality industry (MetaMovie, Ferryman, Heavenue, etc).
There is a lot of inspiration to take from the independent video game culture and how it leverages the Let’s Play live-streaming to build an entire ecosystem of audiences and creators that rely on each other… maybe those streamers would like to see other content, like what we offer.
When I talk to other creators in North America, there is a concern of monetization. We don’t have the type of public funding overseas artists have access to, we oscillate between a powerhouse commercial model and more intimate, underground works. The arrival of digital technology, starting with Youtube, has allowed us to find ways to expand visibility and access for who gets to tell and see stories. I see no reason the 3D web won’t follow the same trends and lessons of the 2D web. Money didn’t enter the space until a passionate creator community developed and defined the culture. The audience is coming. We’re just going to have to win them one at a time.
OnBoardXR – Updated shows
OPEN ONLINE THEATRE (NOV 2022)
- Discordance – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE
- Non-Player Character – BRENDAN BRADLEY, MICAHEL MORRANSHOWCASE 5: CHARTING THE STARS (AUG 2022)
SEASON 5: Charting the Stars (August, 2022)
- Mindland – NAOMI SMYTHE
- Magid – ARI TARR, TYLER GRAHAM
- Windward Winding Leeward Port – KORYN WICKS
- Spaceholder – MANDY CARNALES, BRADEN ROY
- Mrs. Nemo – DAVID GOCHFELD
- Unwanted Waters – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE
- NPC Listening Room – BRENDAN BRADLEY, MICHAEL MORRAN
SEASON 4: Port Of Registry (link) with MozFest 2022
- Unwanted Waters – Rite of Passage – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE
- Dean Green Kraken Machine – TOMOKA TAKAHASHI, JASON WANG, DANIELA GOYTIZOLO, DYLIN TAYLOR
- Jazz Organ – ARI TARR, DASHA KITTREDGE, AVIN SHAH
- Below the Barracks and Above the Sea – MANDY CANALES
- Here and There – NELLY LEWIS
- NPC: Enough – BRENDAN BRADLEY
THE POLY’S WEBXR AWARDS LIVE HALFTIME SHOW (February, 2022)
- Unwanted Waters – Rite of Passage – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE
- Non-Player Character – BRENDAN BRADLEY, MICHAEL MORRAN
MINDLAND (January, 2022)
- FIVARS 2022
SEASON 3: Mythos and Monsters (link) with FIVARS
- Pier To Peer – BRADEN ROY, ARI TARR, DASHA KITTREDGE & TYLER GRAHAM
- The Aquaians – REBECCA EVANS
- Water Horse – KORYN WICKS
- Living Tables – ROMAN MILETITCH & REGIS LEMBERTHE
- NPC: Let’s Get To The Bottom – BRENDAN BRADLEY
- Deeps & Shallows – NAOMI SMYTH
- Mrs. Nemo – UNIVERSITY OF YORK DC LABS, DAVID GOCHFELD
- Unwanted Waters – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE CLEMENCE DEBAIG
SEASON 2 Below Deck (JUL 2021)
- Painting Pirates – ZACHERY CAPALBO, BRADEN ROY
- Strings: Prisoner – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE, CLEMENCE DEBAIG
- Smart Home – MICHAEL MORRAN
- Houron Desert – ARI TARR, TYLER GRAHAM, DASHA KITTREDGE
- Who Am I? Where Am I? – NAOMI SMYTH
- Aurora Awakening – REBECCA EVANS
SEASON 1 Cruise (MAR 2021)
- Strings: Underwater – UNWIRED DANCE THEATRE CLEMENCE DEBAIG
- Jettison – BRENDAN BRADLEY, NICAN ROBINSON, ASHLEY CLEMENTS, NICK CARILLO, DAVID GOCHFELD, ALEX COULOMBE, KEVIN LAIBSON, ROMAN MILETITCH
- The Play That Is Going To Change Everything – ISAK KELLER
- This land is I land – ARI TARR, DASHA KITTREDGE