HP Innovation Issue 18: Summer 2021 | Page 64

they drift at sea and the earth rumbles through the city emerging below their feet .
It ’ s like nothing the 75-year-old opera company has ever staged before .
“ I was really interested in creating a project that allowed the audience to step into an opera not as a tourist , but embedded in the operatic experience ,” says Annette Mees , who joined the Royal Opera House in 2018 to launch Audience Labs , a division for experimental digital performances . She initiated Current , Rising in 2019 with Figment , a digital production company that also specializes in designing virtual roller coasters , then secured funding from Story- Futures , the UK government program that invests in immersive digital storytelling . As a result , Mees expects the multimedia , multisensory experience to attract a diverse audience .
“ There will be people doing VR for the first time who are there because they ’ re excited about new forms of opera ,” she says , as well as “ people who know VR very well but maybe don ’ t know opera .”
a 2020 study by Statista , consumers worldwide own 26 million VR headsets , with about 6 million new units expected to be sold in 2021 . By 2025 , the number of new units a year is expected to grow to 43.5 million . Audience Labs and StoryFutures , along with other cultural institutions in Spain , the United States , and beyond , seek to get ahead of this trend by exploring how VR can transform the stage , attract larger audiences , and build deeper connections with existing audiences .
“ It ’ s really about exploring how we make great art on these new stages that technology offers ,” Mees says .
Breaking barriers to access For the Royal Opera House , one major perk of virtual technology is its mobility . “ It breaks open that traditional idea of the stage as the place where the work gets encountered ,” Mees says . With that mobility comes the potential for bringing classical music to audiences unable to travel to the opera because of cost , distance , or the pandemic that has kept most people at home for months on end .