Today’s virtual reality, or “VR,” is the stuff of yesterday’s science fiction; it’s become an amazing, immersive world filled with hyper-realistic dance clubs, parties, museums, cityscapes, expansive natural worlds, many inhabited by thousands of avatars, real people who mingle freely, hidden behind computer-animated identities.
It was in this world that we met “Shu Shu,” who is working on an ambitious theatrical presentation entitled Nymphs, which is to be presented at VRium, Shu Shu’s own VR performing arts center. Shu Shu graduated from the department of Drama Directing in the National Academy of Theatre PWST in Poland and Andrzej Wajda Film School, worked as an art-director and creative director in large artistic projects, as a theatre director, stage designer, graphic designer, 3D animation script writer, and as an opera stage technician and manager in his earliest years — back then, every night after La Boheme, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, he would grab a brush, sweep the stage and imagine that someday he would create his own theatre.
We caught up with ShuShu recently to talk about his vision.
AUDERE: What made you decide to mount a play in VR?
SHUSHU: Theatre is the thing for which I have dedicated all my life, my greatest love in life, the only thing worth living for, as an old famous actor whom I admire once said.
I gained a significant experience in several fields of art. In each of those fields I have achieved a high level of art, a deep connection to my inner core, where you feel the essence of the art you are doing.
And now, I immerse myself in VR. My imagination and my soul are literally flying in VR. I can now do the only thing I was always dreaming of — theatre. In VR, all the fields of art I covered in the course of my artistic life assemble together in harmony.
Why your shift to VR?
A great polish theatre creator, Tadeusz Kantor, wrote once : “A theatre artist must explore and control all the fields of arts, if he wishes to understand the very essence of the theatre.” It feels like everything I have done in my life was meant to be accomplished in VR. I chose to focus all my efforts in the most powerful medium in art, an extremely metaphysical space, where your mind and soul can experience spiritual and mental elevation in its highest and deepest manner — the theatre.
I first heard of you through an earlier project of yours, a really elaborate nightclub that I believe you created.
LOVEHOTEL. This was my first VR creation ever. I created it not a long while ago, in January 2021, about 8 months ago.
This venue is a sensual space for live avatars concerts and VR love raves. This was the moment, where I first grabbed the world builder tolls and started placing basic objects piece by piece, using my VR headsets — not in PC, not using any 3D software, but simply flying in the air with a few screens with world building tolls in front of me. This was a truly joyful adventure. I recall some friends were calling me on phone inviting me to go out, while I was building LoveHotel — I said: “No! No, no way! Listen, I am flying here, do you have something better to offer me? Forget about it!”
What was the reaction to LoveHotel?
LoveHotel became famous, it opened people’s hearts. I even met some couples who fell in love there. They performed their first “avatar kiss” in this venue.
What is your vision for VR?
I knew exactly what I am looking for in VR. I had no doubts about it. I knew, I am going to immerse myself for years in VR in order to create art. But before I begin to invest so much work and time in VR, I felt there is one thing I must prove to myself — that is, whether I am able to bring the metaphysical aspect of the “real” theatre into VR. And I believe we succeeded – myself and the creative team working together with me – in NYMPHS, the first VR performance which we are currently developing. This is more than just another VR world. It is an emotional, and I would even say that it is a transcendental experience, with its own space narrative.
Tell us about NYMPHS.
I have been working on this piece for over 6 years already. So far, mainly on the concept, and now it is actually happening, in VR. It is definitely not a usual script, which you could have imagined on a real stage. In fact, it is a VR score, with detailed audio-visual instructions, more similar to a movie script.
What makes it different than a usual play for the stage?
There is one crucial thing I have learned in VR : you no longer need the stage. In a “real” theatre the stage was created to define an autonomic space with its own reality. In VR you create an immersive world and “all the world’s a stage”, as William Shakespeare’s once wrote. Just imagine, what can be done in theatre in VR — this is the ultimate medium that could bring the magic back into theatre. Yet, the story you wish to tell should have a different structure, which reminds of a myth structure, rather than a linear realistic narrative, something that uses symbols and visual counterpoints, dissonances and by this creates a whole new meaning. NYMPHS has a dramaturgical structure of a myth.
So “where” will the play be mounted?
NYMPHS is to be the first project in our theatre, which we call “VRium.” It is meant to be a futuristic “acropolis” of art in the cyber world, an international VR performing arts centre which offers a new quality of VR art-works : theatre & dance performances, opera shows, VR fairy tales, VR art exhibitions and online concerts. This space is created to deliver you an emotional experience — to brings into VR the very essence of a theatrical artwork.
The exterior is inspired by Newton’s Cenotaph — a futuristic tomb, designed by the French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée in 1784. The project was never realized before (in reality) — and here we will bring it to life, with a very specific usage. The design-concept of the interior is based on the Theatrum Anatomicum (the anatomical theatre). The anatomical theatre was one of the most bizarre phenomena in the history of theatre. It used to be an amphitheatrical space, dedicated for autopsy and anatomical lectures. A truly macabre “theatre” of death. And so, our VR theatre is meant to be a sacral space.
Tell me more about the show itself.
NYMPHS is a requiem, an ode to those of the female persuasion, whose mind is forever poisoned by toxic love. Here they become Nymphs in an amorous yet lethal underwater dream.
The performance is a post-mortem study for the “stage.” It examines the anatomy of the female psyche, the beauty and insanity of love, using a collage of canonical literature (ancient and modern plays for theatre, myths and legends) as well as medical, psychiatric and pathological essays, cases of mental disturbances and true-life contemporary reports of female death by love. In this play, an extreme desire reveals itself to be destructive; the destructive side, on the other hand, is rendered as a pictorial fantasy.
All characters in this theatrical art-work had died by drowning — just like Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or water creatures from myths and legends. That is why those characters are called “Nymphs” — because here they are submerged in the depth of the ocean instead of rising up to heaven.
In this performance we flow through two dimensions: the dramatic “reality”, where motives are set up in an autopsy space that resembles an anatomical theater and a mental hospital, while imaginary characters from ancient myths and legends take us into a scenic dream, “far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, as clear as crystal….”
How long will NYMPHS be?
This is an ambitious vision and it requires a huge amount of work in collaboration with several artists. I assume, that together with my creative team we will be developing this project continuously. It all depends on whether we will manage to bring some investors, sponsors and donors on board. At the moment we are doing what we can investing a huge amount of time and work. And also money. It might take some two years to create a complete animated performance. NYMPHS is planned to be 30 minutes long and composed of several short episodes. Each episode is an independent art-work, and each will be performed in a different language.
The dolls used in NYMPHS are huge, a really breathtaking image. How did you arrive at this vision?
There’s a famous theatre manifest written back in 1907 by Edward Gordon Craig, called “The Actor and the Uber-Marionette.” This was a revolutionary call for all theatre artists to resign once and for all from using actors on stage, since they are “no longer considered to be a good material for a pure artwork.” Instead, Craig offers to replace them with a superior automated doll. Today we would call it an “actroid.” There is a Japanese genius, a scientist, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, who is currently developing animatronic “humanoids” and “geminoids”, human robots. I was inspired by Craig’s vision and by Mr. Ishiguro’s robots for quite a while already and I wish to realize Craig’s vision for the first time — in VR. Our theatre will be performed by automated monumental art-dolls.
There is a great potential in monumental dolls which lays in the essence of my VR theatre — in one of the scenes in NYMPHS, called A Requiem for a Nymph, you will see a giant necro-doll submerged in the depth of the ocean, like an ancient goddess. When she dives and falls apart in the deep waters with her long hair swirling and waving through the water with the Love Dolls choir around her singing “Ave Maria” by Giulio Caccini — you can feel the power of the VR theatre.
This is another thing I have learned about VR — in VR everything has to be monumental.
Will actors perform it live each day?
No. The VR actors in NYMPHS are ACTROIDS, Fine Art Dolls, designed by the Popovy Sisters. However, when it comes to voice, this is where we need the actor. In VR, the voice is the soul of the character, so it is very crucial it is played by good actors. The moves and gestures of the dolls are planned to be achieved by using motion capture technology with an original choreography performed by dancers. The doll will then imitate the same choreography performed by the dancer.
Tell me a little bit about your team.
I am lucky to have the privilege to collaborate with a very talented creative team. Among them the brilliant Andy Wood, Jose Ferrer, Daniele Colombo, Carlos Austin — a VR Director of Photography with a unique vision for VR filming — and Niko Lang, who in my opinion created a VR masterpiece called “Niko’s Solar System.” Lately, we were blessed in having new talents on board, among them the Popovy Sisters, who create extraordinary art-dolls. Some of these dolls are about to perform in NYMPHS.
What VR worlds do you work in?
We have a theatre space and a VR art gallery called ArtSpaceVR, where we invite unique artists from around the world to present their art. The plan is to get investors and sponsors and elevate the project up to a range that it becomes an independent platform. At the moment, we are developing our project in AltspaceVR, which, despite all its limitations, is a wonderful tool with an inspiring community.
Lately we have presented our project in the BRCvr — the Virtual Burning Man Festival, which took place in AltspaceVR in September this year.
Explain your avatar name.
My avatar’s name is ShuShu. My mother and my beloved aunt both used to call me this nickname when I was a little child. I feel that in VR I earned back the child that is in me. I enjoy my creativity just like little ShuShu used to enjoy creating his “inventions.”
How did you decide how you wanted to present yourself in the virtual world as an avatar?
My appearance is just the best I could come up with, taking into consideration the limitations of the avatars in the app I am currently using. If I could, I might have had a different avatar — for example, a unicorn, or one of the dolls used in my theatre.
Do you prefer virtual reality to “real” reality?
There’s one thing I missed a lot in the “real” theatre and opera — it is the feeling that you belong to a family of artists, of people who breath theatre and “live” on the stage. And I found it in VR. I have managed to “infect” some artists with my VR theatre vision and I am blessed to have the opportunity to work and create with wonderful people. I came into VR just a few months ago and I was completely unknown. It took less than a half a year till my creations were exposed to thousands of people from all around the world.
Do you have friends you know only in VR?
I’ve met great personalities, whom I wouldn’t have the chance to meet in the “physical” world. I feel as we were all the pioneers of the VR technology.
What do you think the future is for VR?
The future? I think we are the future for VR — the first people, who understand the potential of this new universe and invest all their efforts in VR with a great joy. For most of our friends from the “other” world, we seem “weird” and “disconnected from reality.” I think that my friends from the “physical world”, those who are not yet familiar with VR and are not interested in VR, have no clue of what I am experiencing, and I cannot even find a way to describe them, how it feels to fly in my theater and dive in the depth of the ocean with monumental “actroids” surrounding me.
All illustrations courtesty of ShuShu. VR Worlds photography by Niko Lang. Special thanks to Chiara Feriani.
VRium | NYMPHS Creative Team : ShuShu, Niko Lang, Andy Wood, Jose Ferrer, Timo, Daniele Colombo, Carlos Austin, Luminosity, Igor Korzhov, the Popovy Sisters.
Platform : AltspaceVR.
Sponsor: TU Holdings, USA, Florida.
Main donors: VenusSX / Ph.D. Thomas B. Nickel
Contact ShuShu at : email@example.com