Mozart’s Masterpiece, The Magic Flute, will be given a 21st Century manifestation when the University of Kansas’ University Theatre presents it with the aid of virtual reality technology.  In a new production, opened in April of 2003, scenic elements were computer  generated in real-time and operated by backstage technicians.

This production marks the 7th experimental work, and the first venture into opera, by KU’s University Theatre and the Institute for the Exploration of Virtual Realities (i.e.VR), pioneers in the field of computer graphics and live performance.  Starting with the 1994 production of Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine, these productions have featured live virtual scenic environments which were not pre-animated, but navigated in real-time during performances.

Virtual reality or VR is the practice of using computer generated models that can be manipulated in real-time. Unlike video or computer animations it is not prerecorded and so is unique to every performance.  This technology allows artists to communicate to a modern, media-savvy audience and retain important characteristics that make live performance special and distinctive.  Furthermore new staging techniques have provided a great deal of freedom and flexibility compared to conventional scenery.  Changes of scene are instantaneous, virtual locales are not constrained to budgets of money or manpower.  They are not limited to the physical confines of the theatre or even to the laws of physics.    VR scenery is ultimately portable, entire productions being created with a computer and a video projector. Fantastic special effects can be achieved with no extra cost, special equipment or danger to the performers.  But the real power of VR scenery may be in its malleable nature.  VR scenic environments can move, grow or otherwise change in order to reflect the development of the drama.

Director Delbert Unruh comments on the dramatic potential of the new technology:

“The world of Mozart’s Magic Flute is one of fantasy and mystery.  It is almost its own universe, and our job is to stage Mozart’s imaginative world in a fluid and seamless fashion.  The VR technology will allow the stage pictures to move almost as fast as the music.”

For more sketches look HERE!

This production will build upon KU’s earlier experiments with computer-generated scenography by placing an increased emphasis on the use of CGI enhanced characters.  During the 2001 children’s theatre production of Dinosaurus basic tests were performed combining computer-generated dinosaurs and live performers to create hybrid characters that had the shape and scale of an actual dinosaur yet retained the emotional and vocal versatility of the human performer.  In The Magic Flute, designers will strive to perfect this technique while creating the wonderful dragons, amazons, sorcerers and other fantastic characters that inhabit the story.  A singer may be given the body of a extraordinary beast, perform in front of a giant representation of their character, or be made to appear to float through imaginary landscapes, all with the aid of digital projection.

This new Magic Flute also required advances in the technology of digital production.  According the designer/technologist Mark Reaney:

“In order to stretch the technology to create hybrid performer/creatures, we will need to experiment with new techniques of projection.  In each of our previous experimental productions our main objective was to create virtual settings and therefore we relied on a fairly standard arrangement of rectangular rear-projection screens.  To create The Magic Flute’s characters, we will need projection surfaces that can move with the performers and be manipulated by them.  Digital images will be projected onto special designed costumes, props and masks.  In turn, the digital projectors will need to be mobile rather than fixed.  Special positions to accommodate projectors may have to be designed for the stage house of the Crafton-Preyer Theatre.”  

In the realized design, the scenic elements comprised two large screens at center rear.  On these screens were projected interlocked VR images from two data projectors.  The net effect was a single image 36 feet wide and 13 feet tall.   A 22' tall screen on either side of the stage served to fill out the visual field. In order to bring virtual elements out into the playing space to interact with the singers, 6 different mobile screens were pushed pulled, wheeled or carried by our buhnenarabiter (stagehands, aka "the scenic ninjas").  One follow-spot style data projector was located in the orchestra pit for front-projection, and another was placed upstage for rear-projection on the mains creens.

The Magic flute was produced in cooperation with the opera program of KU’s Department of Music and Dance and opened on April 26th 2003


Directed by Del Unruh
Music Direction by Steven McDonald
VR Technology and Scenic Design by Mark Reaney
Costume Design by Ione Unruh
Lighting Design by Stephen Hudson-Mairet
Make-Up Design by Aaron Dyszelski
Choreography by Leslie Bennett
Dramaturgy by Lance Gharavi
Computer Modelers: Aaron Dyszelski, Nathan Hughes, Avraham Mor
Stage Manager: Jennifer Stimple
Overture Video by Matt Jacobson


Tamino - Joshua Mochel or Brandon Snook
1st Lady - Kristin Johnson
2nd lady - Kelli Berry
3rd Lady - Andrea M. Cleman
3 Spirits - Melissa Hambelton, Katie Niesen, Laura Willms
Papegeno - David Lara
Queen of the Night - Yoojin Jeon or Ashley Elizabeth Winters
Monostatos - Andrew J. Graves
1st Slave Kelly Bryce Davies
2nd Slave Kellen Cruden
Pamina - Greer davis or Soyoun Lim
Speaker - Even C. Grosshans
Sorastro - Benjamin Winters
1st Priest - Brian Heinen
2nd Priest - Darren Maloney
1st Armed Man - Dustin Peterson
2nd Armed Man - Evan C. Grossman
Papagena - Akiko Imakawa
Buhnenarabiter - Katrina Alford, Thomas Davis
           James F. Horton, Anne Schmader
           Joshua Vignery, Andrew York








For more information contact:
Director, Delbert Unruh, 785-864-2696 ,
Designer/Technologist, Mark Reaney, 785-864-2690,

Click on the pictures above for larger images!

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