Review: Loveseat Gives Us a Innovative Look at Theatre in Virtual Reality

This morning I got the following email with detailed instructions from the producers of Loveseat, Double Eye Productions:

Dear Lovely Humans (and your respective digital avatars),

We look forward to seeing you today for the live show from the Venice Biennale. Our schedule has been shifted, so most importantly, the show will start at 4:30 p.m. CET. Today will be a live dress rehearsal for press and industry in the room, and VIPs like yourselves online. We will whitelist (give you access) to the event domain in High Fidelity around 30 minutes beforehand so you can get settled. The domain name to connect to (using the GOTO button) is: loveseat.

If you are unfamiliar with High Fidelity, you will receive a follow up email with detailed instructions on how to access the show easily. If you have any questions, please respond to this email, and we will do our best to help you out as fast as possible!

Excited to see you and your avatars soon,

The Loveseat Team

So, armed with all this useful information, I was able to join the Loveseat domain and take my seat while the actors got set up:

A picture of the Loveseat stage as the company sets up (the screen behind the stage shows you the audience watching the event at the Venice International Film Festival)

I noticed that for some reason, I couldn’t switch my microphone away from my Oculus Rift headset to my USB headphones (I decided to attend via desktop rather than in VR), so I just decided to leave myself muted. As it turns out, this was a deliberate decision by the producers to have the audience muted (which makes perfect sense). So I settled for using the emotes in my emote app to wave and clap!

The three actors started off with a dance performance in real life, which we could see on the screen at the back of the stage. Then they put on their VR headsets to start the show! The emcee, named Bartholomew Best, kept a running commentary to engage the audience and introduce them to the game show, called (of course!) Loveseat:

We are then introduced to our two game show contestants, Abby the beekeeper and Bruce the hedge trimmer, where the sets rose up smoothly from the stage floor:

After that, I decided to focus on the play, rather than try to capture pictures or report on the proceedings. I won’t give away any more of the plot, in case you want to see the show yourself! The actors made clever use of the tools available to them in High Fidelity to enhance the performance, things you could never hope to see on a real-life stage!

The show was enjoyable, and I can recommend it, especially if you are the kind of person who is interested in what makes relationships work. The actors had their lines down, and obviously had spent a lot of time learning how best to animate their avatars for this performance. Overall, the production was really well done! If you want a taste of what VR theatre looks and sounds like, Loveseat is the perfect introduction.

If you are interested in catching this show, you must first buy a (free) ticket via EventBrite, giving your High Fidelity user name (so if you haven’t created a HiFi account before, you will have to do that before you try to buy a ticket. Loveseat runs daily until Sept, 7th, 2019.

Loveseat in High Fidelity: Leaving Ticket Buyers to Fend for Themselves?

I’ve received a report that people who bought tickets to go see Loveseat, the theatrical comedy VR event taking place this week and next in High Fidelity and simultaneously at the Venice International Film Festival, are not being given sufficient information they need to access the event. One person told me:

Do you know where to go see the Loveseat [event] in High Fidelity going on today? Signed up yesterday for today’s event….but cannot seem to find where they are holding it. The ticket does not give specifics. Any ideas?

I asked about this on the High Fidelity user forums, and Emily, the community manager for HiFi, replied:

Although Loveseat is happening in High Fidelity, we are not organizing this event. Please contact the organizer through Eventbrite for more information. The domain should be hifi://Loveseat, but I would check with the organizer to be sure (also check on timing). Thank you!

And I’m thinking to myself: Why is High Fidelity deliberately distancing themselves from a high-profile event that shows off their platform to a brand new audience? This hands-off attitude strikes me as very odd. I guess High Fidelity really wasn’t kidding when they said they wouldn’t be involved with any more events since their pivot away from the consumer market in April 2019.

Can you imagine another social VR platform responding with “Sorry, but it’s not our event” in a similar situation? Any other company would be falling all over themselves to help out, both with the event organizer and with the customers, to make the event the very best it can be and to show off the platform to its best potential. This is free advertising for the platform, people! It’s almost as if HiFi sees this marquee event as a nuisance, something they just have to put up with until it’s over, so they can go back to focusing on enterprise users again.

And why the hell can’t the organizers provide enough information (such as the name of the High Fidelity domain, a key piece of information) to the people who have bought tickets for this event through EventBrite? We shouldn’t have to go hunting around to find this information. Bill Mar said on the Federated Hifi Users Group Discord:

Nothing from Double Eye Studios via Eventbrite about the HiFi domain as expected. My contacts at the festival aren’t able to get onto the Island yet. I’m hoping they sort out their technical difficulties in subsequent showtimes and [I] asked people in my meetup group to get tickets for other dates just in case they are successful. It’s very impressive they are doing it on an island at this scale. My team was only able to do it with under a dozen people so far.

Shouldn’t all this have been worked out weeks ahead of time? For such a marquee event, this is pretty inexcusable. Yes, I am in a cranky mood tonight, and yes, I have been criticizing High Fidelity a lot lately on this blog. Perhaps all the blame for this current mess should be laid at the feet of Double Eye Studios, the producer of the show.

But I have been watching High Fidelity ever since their abrupt pivot to the enterprise market last April, and I am not liking what I see happening.

Yes, I am feeling cranky. But I think I have reason to be cranky. I see a company that has all but abandoned its original user community, the raving fans who helped build the platform into what it was. How much would it have hurt High Fidelity to keep things like regular community meetings? The users who put so much time and toil into High Fidelity over the past six years deserve to be treated better than this. As I have said before, this is a textbook classic case of alienating your best customers.

UPDATE Aug. 28th: I have received yet another message from yet another content creator who is leaving High Fidelity (I am keeping this person’s name anonymous):

It seems High Fidelity is a lost cause for now, as they have moved on and ghosting us. We’ve decided today to abandon our HiFi work and migrate to better suited platforms.

Seriously, how long is it going to be until the last person left turns off the lights? And what’s even worse, all of this could have been so easily avoided! This pivot could have been handled much, much better.

Loveseat: A Theatrical Comedy VR Experience Taking Place in High Fidelity and at the Venice International Film Festival

Loveseat, a theatrical comedy VR experience, will be taking place on the social VR platform High Fidelity, with performances running from Aug. 27th to Sept. 7th, 2019. According to Eventbrite description:

Join the virtual audience in a ground-breaking theatrical VR experience.

Loveseat is a virtual reality comedy making its World Premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival and will be the first ever live play performed simultaneously to virtual and real world audiences.

The story: Two lonely, ordinary people are drawn into a reality show competition to win the love of a Perfect Partner (who looks an awful lot like an empty chair).

Part-story, part-interaction between virtual and real worlds, the actors perform simultaneously in front of a live audience in Venice and a virtual audience from around the world, connected thanks to the social VR platform, High Fidelity.

We hope you’ll join us for an hour of interactive, immersive VR theater starting August 27th.

Well, it is nice to know that High Fidelity has not completely abandoned its events programming! Mind you, this was probably all set up well in advance of the company’s abrupt pivot away from the consumer market and the shut-down of almost all of its event programming in April 2019. So this might be the last such event of its type in High Fidelity for quite some time. Although there is still an events calendar on their official website, it’s noticeably lacking the big-ticket events which the pre-pivot HiFi was known for, such as the FUTVRE LANDS Festival last November.

Loveseat is a production of Double Eye Studios of New York. This show grew out of Alive in Plasticland‘s one and a half years of experimentation with live actors in VR and involves their largest team of professional improv artists yet. Agile Lens, a New York VR/AR/XR creative studio, designed the theater, props, and lighting for Loveseat, according to a tweet about this production by Alex Coulombe, who is the creative director and co-founder of Agile Lens.

See you there! You can book tickets via Eventbrite, using your High Fidelity username.