A new performance piece which melds live theatre and virtual reality to tell the story of an Iraq War veteran returning to civilian life is launching at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on Friday 10 August.
The 45-minute show called ‘Familiar Stranger’, is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow School of Computing Science and Glasgow-based artist and coder collective RealRealReal, and performed at Army @ The Fringe.
Hosted in the Army Reserve Centre on Edinburgh’s East Claremont Street, ‘Familiar Stranger’ offers a 16-person audience an insight into the experiences of Army veterans’ re-integration into everyday life.
Beginning with a monologue performed by the actual career soldier Sergeant Major Garry Worrall, audience members will be introduced to Oculus Go VR headsets and enter into a virtual space in which they will experience the first-person interpretation of the inner life of a returning veteran.
From the soldier’s private home to memories of deployment, the audience of virtual travelers will encounter the familiar and the strange, before being welcomed back to reality by VR Officer Sergeant Major Worrall. His live performance makes use of his ability to improvise, as he will not work from a script, but instead engage with the audience and share his own experiences in and out of the Army, as well as candidly discuss the Virtual Soldier’s journey as presented in ‘Familiar Stranger’.
This will open up the space between the artists’ assumptions about Army life and the reality of it as presented through an actual member of the armed forces.
Dr Julie Willamson, Lecturer in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science, developed the technical setup behind ‘Familiar Stranger’ and collaborated on the script.
Dr Williamson said: “Virtual reality is often viewed as a solitary activity, but I’m interested in exploring how we can use virtual spaces to enhance and expand shared experiences.
“Working with Dennis Reinmuller and Debbie Moody from RealRealReal and Army @ The Fringe has given us a great opportunity to explore how theatre can be melded with VR to create an experience that just can’t be delivered in any other way.
“I’m excited to see how audiences will respond to the show, and I’m looking forward to using their feedback to build more social VR experiences like this in the future.”
‘Familiar Stranger’ features the voice of Louise Oliver as The Magazine Soldier, guiding the viewer through the fictional soldier’s memory, and music made by Sarah J Stanley of HQFU.
Together with RealRealReal, all artists are based in Glasgow.
‘Familiar Stranger’ is supported by the University of Glasgow’s Dean’s Fund.
‘Familiar Stranger’ runs from August 10 to August 24, with performances at 1pm, 3:30pm and 6:30pm each day. For more information or to book tickets, visit festival18.summerhall.co.uk/venue/army-the-fringe/