My PXR Experience Part Two: The Best VR has to Offer
Think of a world where anything is possible; where imagination comes to life. Welcome to Virtual Reality. Single Thread and Electric Company Theatre’s PXR Conference is full of exceptional talks and presentations about Virtual Reality (VR) and exploring the power of VR for immersive and interactive experiences. In my previous article, I discussed my findings attending these presentations and now will touch on some of the PXR experience events I attended. PXR experiences are events that cost extra on top of the conference pass but are actual immersive VR shows that highlight the capability of this incredible technology as entertainment mediums.
There are three different PXR experiences throughout the course of the conference, each performing twice. Unfortunately, I was not able to catch Find WiiLii by Ferryman Collective, but I did attend Off Rail and The Unknown Showcase.
On the night of Wednesday, November 15th I had the opportunity to see Off Rail by Ari Tarr, Kirsten Rasmussen, and Kris Siddiqi in collaboration with RaptorXR. Upon entering Off Rail, viewers are teleported to the entrance of a building. After receiving a small introduction, folks head on inside and are offered virtual drinks before the show begins. Tarr, Ramussen, and Siddiqi start the experience with a party as they begin dancing and encourage the audience to join in. The performance commences, consisting of some fairly poor improv until a curveball changes the fate of the show. The experience centres around the idea of AI taking over the world while audience members try to defeat it.
Off Rail involves four different settings. First is the building where the improv occurs. It is very well-designed and looks like a typical comedy club with a stage and a bar in the back. The next location is in a train, which I found surprisingly exciting given we were enclosed in only one train car. But the splendid audience interaction by Ramussen and Siddiqi, and the fantastic sound design on the train kept me entertained while travelling to the penultimate destination. The second-to-last is a Western-themed theme park. Here, the participants are given the freedom to roam the grounds. I loved it as we were given tasks to complete but were also given plenty of time to explore the immersive environment, which looked and felt like I was in a spaghetti Western. The final destination is a modern rooftop for a party and last speeches by performers.
Off Rail is an incredibly enjoyable experience. It showcases the best that VR has to offer. There are some drawbacks like a few bugs I found throughout the performance. For example, as participants were waiting for the show to commence in the VR environment, I decided to jump on top of a phone booth. This teleported me to a random point far away from the group. Because of this, I had to click the respawn button to teleport me back to the group. With this being said, the technology is very new and can only improve from here. The experience’s creative open world section and interactive nature marks a promising foundation for the future of VR immersive experiences.
On Saturday, November 10th I attended The Unknown Showcase by The Unknown Comedy Club. When joining the Virtual comedy club, participants teleport to a bar where they are greeted by the staff and are told to enter the theatre. The design of the comedy club is spectacular. It has a dark tone with hints of red velvet throughout the theatre and a huge luminous “Unknown Showcase” sign.
The show is hosted by Rodney Ramsey and Daniel Woodrow. They are fantastic in their roles, getting the show started with a comedy act and keeping a vibrant flow throughout the night. They had me laughing out loud on countless occasions as they are not only extremely funny, but they use the VR environment to their advantage, which I enjoyed. Before attending this show I never thought of ways a comedian could use VR to enhance their performance, but Ramsey and Woodrow are masters at it. They use the ability to switch characters in hilarious ways when talking about topics such as race. In one instance, they change into “privileged White people” which is hilarious in the context of the joke but also unexpected. They also utilize the unique movement in VR to their advantage by employing the ability to float which generates one of the funniest moments of the show.
The performance also consists of two other comedians, Tamara Shevon and Laura Leibow.
I have seen many bad comedians in my life, but these two are nowhere near bad. Each is tremendously funny with professional sets that had me laughing throughout and they seem very comfortable being up on the virtual stage. Without using the VR environment to their advantage the same way Ramsey and Woodrow do, I was still thoroughly entertained through sets equally as hilarious.
Ramsey and Woodrow’s antics aren’t the only smart thing about using VR technology to host something like a comedy night. As stated before, it’s possible to change avatars which can lead to countless laughs if used in a creative and funny way. Another surprise for me was whenever something went wrong with the technology, it was always followed by laughs. There was an instance where one of the hosts asked me a question and I could not respond because my microphone wasn’t working. Instead of this being an awkward moment, they said something about crowd work and it received a laugh.
Off Rail and The Unknown Showcase are experiences like no other. I was transported to other worlds where anything was possible. I was immersed in both realities and appreciated the hard work that I could only imagine was put into these experiences. I had a fantastic time and look forward to the future of what this technology has to offer in the realm of immersive entertainment.
The PXR Conference 2023 ran from November 10th to November 19th, 2023. More information can be found here.
This article was edited on December 1st, 2023 to update formatting.