The University Theatre of the University of Kansas


The show poster for The Adding Machine



April 18-30 1995

Live Theatre Meets Virtual Reality

On April 18, 1995 the University Theatre of the University of Kansas brought live theatre to cyberspace through the use of "virtual reality" in a fully mounted theatrical production.

Audiences were invited to join live and computer generated actors in technologically produced three-dimensional environments within which the drama unfolded. The paths taken within these "virtual worlds" were not pre-recorded, but improvised on the spot through the actions of the crew! Virtual worlds were created through the combination of real-time computer graphics and theatre quality projection equipment, which the audience interfaced through wearing polarized glasses. This exciting new technology allowed for the realization of fantastic locals and special effects never before possible in a live theatre milieu.

1.4M QT of Adding MachineThe script chosen for this audacious experimental production was Elmer Rice's THE ADDING MACHINE. Ironically, this classic American expressionist play focuses on the plight of one Mr. Zero as he tries to find happiness in a dehumanized and mechanized society. First produced in 1923, before the dawn of electronic computers, the play contains uncanny and dire predictions of the current information age. However, by using these foretold computers not as a dehumanizing force, but as an artistic medium, the production company sought to simultaneously illuminate Rice's story even while it embraced another, more sympathetic, view of technology.

Under the guidance of designer-technologist Mark Reaney and the show's director Ronald A. Willis, this production of THE ADDING MACHINE attempted to demonstrate ways in which virtual reality technology can be used to illuminate an existing dramatic text. Used not merely as spectacle for its own sake, but as a new and exciting scenographic medium in the service of the script, virtual reality becomes another component of the collaborative theatre art.

Scene 2, Zero confronts the boss.Scene 2, in which Zero is fired by his boss. In this scene, the live actor (Zero) interacts with another actor (Boss), who performs off-stage in front of a video camera. This technique made it possible for the Boss to grow larger as he becomes more of a threat to Zero. In the end, the Boss's laughing face fills the entire screen.

THE ADDING MACHINE ran April 18-30 1995, in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas. The response of the public and the media has been terrific. You can find coverage of the production in:

TCI (Theatre Crafts International), March 1996
TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology), Winter, 1996
Syllabus Magazine, January 1996
Theater & Educatie, Num 3 (Netherlands)
Real Time Graphics, September 1995
American Theatre, July/August 1995
Computer Graphics World, July 1995
VR World, May/June 1995
These additional pages contain more specific information about the production:
Production Notes and Photos,
Technical Information,

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