Hummingbird: Live Theater Adventure Empowering Collaboration in Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality + live theater performances pushing the boundaries of active engagement and collaborative interaction to transform active storytelling.

HUMMINGBIRD is a multiuser theatrical performance merging live theater and virtual reality into an immersive experience that smashes together storytelling, gaming and virtual reality. It pushes the boundaries of active engagement by immersing the audience in the performance, giving them agency and control over their actions. 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."

Hummingbird is an ongong collaborative research effort between faculty and students in computer science and design at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) and Chicago theater directors, actors and producers. The performances were presented at Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival, Chicago Children’s Theater and SIGGRAPH 2022 in Vancouver, Canada. Hummingbird provides a model for immersive, interactive live+VR theater with the emphasis on collaborative engagement that has the potential to transform active participation in storytelling, deepening the involvement in live performance and theater. Hummingbird demonstrates how VR can revolutionize theatrical storytelling by expanding the concept of traditional theater and making virtual reality art more accessible to a broader audience.

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.

Hummingbird website

Hummingbird public performance premiered in the Goodman Theatre New Stages 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 .