Hummingbird: Collaborative Virtual Reality for Tele-Immersive Interactive Theater

Virtual Reality performances being developed in collaboration with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre that merge real and virtual worlds for tele-immersive interaction.

HUMMINGBIRD is a multiuser theatrical performance merging live theater and virtual reality into an immersive experience that smashes together storytelling, gaming and virtual reality. Audiences go beyond observing the performance on a physical stage by meeting on a virtual stage inside the play itself, interacting with each other, the story, and the performers. A gutsy teen, Aya, must outsmart her mother’s narcissistic boss Gerard and survive dangerous new technology, which transfer’s a person’s soul between bodies. However, there is a glitch in the technology. In order to survive, the audience must work as a team to figure out a solution and overcome all obstacles in the program.

The audience enters the venue while engaged in a live performance but quickly travels deeper into the narrative as they use an Oculus Quest headset to transition into virtual reality. They become avatars in the shared virtual environment and embark on a collaborative journey to overcome challenges, such as finding hidden drawers, planting seeds and using pickaxes to chip away rock. The untethered VR headsets enable participants to explore the space without the hindrance of being attached to a computer. The aesthetics of Hummingbird is inspired by Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings from the 19th century, known as "pictures of the floating world," which prioritized outlined forms and gradient colors. This tele-immersive, interactive experience examines the potential to reimagine theatrical storytelling by bridging art, science and live theater. It is a collaborative research effort between faculty and students in computer science and design at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). The project is being presented by Chicago’s Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre during the New Stages 2021 festival, showcasing experimental and ground-breaking theater works. Hummingbird demonstrates how virtual reality can be an artistic, storytelling medium integrated into live performance, expanding on what traditional live theater can be.

Created by Daria Tsoupikova, Jo Cattell, Andrew Johnson, Arthur Nishimoto, Lance Long, Sai Priya Jyothula Hummingbird performances are made possible with the support from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), the National Endowment for the Arts grant for art projects, Illinois Arts Council and the University of Illinois Presidential Initiative to Celebrate the Impact of the Arts.

Project website

Hummingbird public performance premiered in the Goodman Theatre New Stages 2021 Festival.
Project video trailer
Orchard Underworld
Initial sketches of the Underworld, Orchard and Giant Statue virtual environments.

VR Theater performance Hummingbird is suported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts .