Filmed Live Musicals

Virtual & Augmented Reality with Lena Wolfe

August 31, 2020 Luisa Lyons Season 1 Episode 4
Filmed Live Musicals
Virtual & Augmented Reality with Lena Wolfe
Chapters
Filmed Live Musicals
Virtual & Augmented Reality with Lena Wolfe
Aug 31, 2020 Season 1 Episode 4
Luisa Lyons

Host Luisa Lyons chats with dancer and performer, and former optical engineer, Lena Wolfe about virtual and augmented reality and how it can be used in theatre today. 

Lena Adele Wolfe is originally from Tucson, AZ and currently lives in NYC. She stayed in the sunny southwest city to graduate from The University of Arizona with a B.F.A in Dance and a B.S. in Optical Sciences and Engineering. Her performance credits include The Great American Dance Tour through eastern China with Art.If.Act Dance project, a yearly bout in Verlaine & McCann’s Through The Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice and Wonderland, one performance wonder kicking off the holiday season with Saks Fifth Avenue: Theatre of Dreams and eye-high kicking Christmas in the Air at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS. Before taking the plunge as a full time performing artist, Lena was an Optical Engineer on the display team for the original Microsoft HoloLens, the first consumer grade augmented reality device. She is currently investigating interactive media and digital performance spaces. Follow Lena on Instagram.

For info on Lena's favorite VR experience check out Dear Angelica

Visit Filmed Live Musicals at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon.  

Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Show Notes Transcript

Host Luisa Lyons chats with dancer and performer, and former optical engineer, Lena Wolfe about virtual and augmented reality and how it can be used in theatre today. 

Lena Adele Wolfe is originally from Tucson, AZ and currently lives in NYC. She stayed in the sunny southwest city to graduate from The University of Arizona with a B.F.A in Dance and a B.S. in Optical Sciences and Engineering. Her performance credits include The Great American Dance Tour through eastern China with Art.If.Act Dance project, a yearly bout in Verlaine & McCann’s Through The Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice and Wonderland, one performance wonder kicking off the holiday season with Saks Fifth Avenue: Theatre of Dreams and eye-high kicking Christmas in the Air at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS. Before taking the plunge as a full time performing artist, Lena was an Optical Engineer on the display team for the original Microsoft HoloLens, the first consumer grade augmented reality device. She is currently investigating interactive media and digital performance spaces. Follow Lena on Instagram.

For info on Lena's favorite VR experience check out Dear Angelica

Visit Filmed Live Musicals at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support the site at Patreon.  

Host Luisa Lyons is an Australian actor, writer, and musician. She holds a Masters in Music Theatre from London's Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and now lives, works, and plays in New York. Learn more at www.luisalyons.com or follow on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Luisa Lyons  0:04  
Welcome to the Filmed Live Musicals podcast, a podcast about stage musicals that have been legally filmed and publicly distributed. The Filmed Live Musicals website contains information on nearly 200 musicals that have been captured live. Check it out at www.filmedlivemusicals.com. And now on with the show. Our guest this week is dancer and performer Lena Wolfe. Before taking the plunge as a full time performing artist, Lena was an optical engineer on the display team for the original Microsoft HoloLens, the first consumer grade augmented reality device. She has collaborated with a Facebook research team on avatar creation and worked with a creative technologist on immersive proposals.Welcome Lena. 

Lena Wolfe  0:49  
Hello, thank you, Luisa for having me.

Luisa Lyons  0:52  
My pleasure. I was so excited when I saw your Facebook post - you shared an article from Playbill about the potentials of augmented reality and virtual realit, and when I saw that you had expertise in this field, I got very excited.

Lena Wolfe  1:07  
Yay! Yeah, it's something that I've been excited about for many, many years, even before I knew what augmented reality was. So I guess I can give a little background about my experience with augmented reality. If we go all the way back to my days of college, when I was studying both optical sciences and engineering and dance, I wanted to see where the two of them could intersect. How do we as performing artists allow technology to enhance our performance? How do we make it more accessible instead of having it replace what we do? How do we supplement what we do? Because Performing Arts is so tangible, that putting it on film doesn't do the same thing as having an in person or an immersive experience. So once I discovered that this thing called "entertainment technology" existed, I became obsessed with the Xbox Kinect and managed to get a summer internship working on that. If anyone isn't familiar with the Xbox Kinect, it is a peripheral device that is compatible with the Xbox. And you can use it to play games without any sort of remote control, sort of like the Wii, but without a remote control. So you actually use your body as the controller. It's very interesting and especially as a dancer, the physiology and the practical applications of something that can do markerless body tracking was incredibly interesting to me, so I started running the path of - 

Luisa Lyons  2:44  
Especially at home, that's super cool.

Lena Wolfe  2:47  
Absolutely, especially at home. So my mind started thinking well, how can we as performing artists, as dancers, start to utilize this technology. Other industries have taken it towards physical therapy or using it for Alzheimer's patients people, to actually interact physically with physical movement, instead of just a two dimensional screen. It's actually taking a three dimensional representation of your body. Really cool stuff. So I wanted to see more how I could adapt this. Then fast forward a few more years, and I'm working at Microsoft on the new Kinect, very excited about that, and had an opportunity to join an undisclosed secret project that Microsoft was developing within the game design and game console, hardware team. I got the job and was immediately thrust into this world of augmented reality. So just a quick quick overview of the difference between augmented reality virtual reality and reality reality. So reality is the world -  

Luisa Lyons  3:50  
Yes please! But before you go on, I want ask - you're clearly very passionate about it and knowledgeable which I'm thrilled about - going back, how did you discover this world?

Lena Wolfe  4:05  
Well, I saw a flyer in the College of Optical Sciences that said, we want a full-time Kinect hardware engineer. And I looked at that and said, "Whoa, that's different." All of the other engineering positions available were for mostly defence contractors or manufacturing, something I wasn't interested in doing. I just personally don't want to work on defence. I wanted to work on something that entertained people. I am a performer, I'm an entertainer. So I wanted again to find Entertainment Optics and ran into a few naysayers here and there. So I brought that piece of paper up to my lab that I was working in and I said, "Hey, PhD students. Does anybody know anything about this?" Because the recruiters at Microsoft had no idea, because Microsoft is predominantly a software company and the recruiters coming to universities are looking for software engineers, not for that random little unicorn, me, the optical engineer. So I got in the back door because the lab that I worked in had a former PhD student who was now working on that team. He managed to connect me with the right people internally and then from there, it was all on me. It was all "Why do you want to do this?" Well, I want to work in entertainment optics. I'm intrigued by the ability to markerlessly map the human body, what can I do as a dancer? And it was a wonderful opportunity. So I got to go explore that more. I actually turned down a job at NASA in order to go work at Microsoft. I'm so happy I get to casually say that.

Luisa Lyons  5:54  
That is amazing. Where were you at school?

Lena Wolfe  5:56  
I was at the University of Arizona.

Luisa Lyons  6:01  
That makes sense, the NASA connection. 

Lena Wolfe  6:02  
Yeah, so University of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences is one of two undergraduate universities that offer a degree in optical sciences. The other is the University of Rochester. So we have this very, very extreme nerd rivalry. You would never know if you're into sports, but the nerds, we get it. But University of Arizona is in the heart of Optics Valley: Hubble Space Telescope. All of these large giant mirrors are manufactured in Tucson, the night sky is very clear, and there's less disturbance. So it's very easy for astronomy, and astronomical observation. So then, out of that the College of Optical Sciences grew to be one of the most prestigious institutions in the world. It's the Harvard of Optical Sciences, the Yale, the whatever you want to think about it as. So it's a very prestigious program, and only about 30 people per year graduate from their program.

Luisa Lyons  6:59  
So were you studying Dance while you were doing your Optical degree?

Lena Wolfe  7:03  
Yes, I did a double degree. So a double degree in a math minor, almost at a math major, but I just couldn't swing it (laughter). 

Luisa Lyons  7:11  
So I can't imagine that in in the whole world, let alone the United States, that there are many science optical engineers who are also professional dancers.

Lena Wolfe  7:22  
No, I know of one other person and he followed in my footsteps. He actually danced at Carolina Ballet, and then is an artist in residence at the University of Arizona and also pursuing his degree in optical sciences and was connected with me because I was the only one. It's not uncommon for dancers to have other studies and other focuses. A lot of my peers did business or one is a doctor. So pre-med, business, communications, you name it, the dancers did it. I was the only one studying optics and photonics though.

Luisa Lyons  8:03  
Okay, so you were at university, you saw a flyer on the wall and said, "Oh, that sounds interesting," and you had a connection through your PhD program.

Lena Wolfe  8:13  
Not my Ph. D. program. I only have an undergraduate degree. I wish I had a PhD, but I don't, yet. I was working with a PhD candidate who happened to after graduation move there. So I was working in the polarization lab at the University of Arizona and had a connection through a former research student who now worked at Microsoft. 

Luisa Lyons  8:38  
That's fascinating! Okay, so I know you want it to tell us, can you give us a breakdown. What is AR? What is VR?

Lena Wolfe  8:44  
 Yes, yes! So fast forward to Lena knows nothing about the cloud and is working for a huge software company called Microsoft on augmented reality. Well, what is augmented reality? Let's take a look at reality that we live in. As humans, the perception we have it's things that you can three dimensionally physically touch, see, feel. The world that we open our eyes everyday to see. Then you have the extreme occlusion, you have virtual reality where you put on something like the Oculus Rift, and you are completely isolated an occluded, 

Luisa Lyons  9:21  
Like a headset? 

Lena Wolfe  9:21  
Yeah a full headset and you are occluded in a new world. You are in a completely different virtual world, you are completely disconnected visually from your worldly surroundings. Now whether or not you're stuck in a chair that's giving you haptic feedback, (so something that rocks back and forth, vibrates, etc, depending on where you're stepping), that's a completely different experience that heightens the ability of being transported in a virtual world. Now, the reason I like augmented reality is because it's an overlap of those two areas. Augmented reality is digitally placing objects in the real world. Prime examples of this are any of your Snapchat or Instagram filters, anything that goes on your face. It's all just image recognition and overlaying digital content onto reality. Pokemon Go is another really big one because you're using geolocation and augmented reality, to see your characters in these locations. So really anything that has a digital overlay projection, or stereoscopic image, immersed in reality, that's augmented reality, hence the term "augmented reality" instead of "virtual reality" or "real reality.:

Luisa Lyons  10:41  
You incorporated some of this work, some of the augmented reality work, into your dance thesis?

Lena Wolfe  10:48  
Not quite because the augmented reality was not something that was readily available at the time. My dance thesis was exploring how dance and optical technologies could become interrelated and rely on each other. So it's something that I'm actually curious about doing now, especially in the current global climate of how can both artists and technologists or artists and scientists utilize each other to push both areas forward? So what I did was I interviewed a number of my peers and optics professors with "Hey, what types of technologies are you working on? And what do you see coming up in the next five to 10 years?" I then took that bit of data, these proposals, these existing technologies that will be expanded something like holograms, or haptic feedback or body tracking, things that were existing, and then brought them to peers and professors in the School of Dance, and asked them how they would utilize these technologies either as a performance tool, as a creation tool, as a modeling tool, as a teaching tool, or even as an archival tool. So all of these things became very, very exciting for the dancers to start experimenting with because it's out of the box and out of the realm of what an optical scientist might think of, and also just finding different creative ways to think about something. So then I was able to bring those ideas back full circle. So it's almost like kneading the dough back and forth of take this and give it to somebody else, let them change it, bring it back, and then see how it influences the other engineers. So that was a very fun exploration. I mostly looked at new and emerging technology, some that was coming out of Japan, Brigham Young University has some holograms, the University of Arizona had an updatable holographic display, and then the Xbox Kinect because it's something that is accessible and accessibility is a big issue with a lot of technology as we are learning in this world right now.

Luisa Lyons  13:09  
So how did audiences experience your dance piece?

Lena Wolfe  13:13  
I gave a lecture in the Auditorium in the School of Dance, and they experienced it via just some PowerPoints that I put together. And then also were able to dance with the Kinect and see the skeletal tracking because I had the development kit up and available. And again, at the time, my knowledge was very limited, but very readily explorable something that I was ready to dive into at any moment. And they were able to come and play afterwards and see their bodies being tracked by this device. And things that were trivial to me, things that I had experienced were things that some one else never had. So my thought of "oh, nobody's going to be excited about this. Nobody's going to be impressed by this." It was "Wow, I've never seen this before. This is really, really cool!" 

Luisa Lyons  14:11  
Yeah, it's very exciting.

Lena Wolfe  14:13  
Yeah. And then fast forward now, eight years later, we have so much more technology. I've now shipped a product that is working with exactly what I want to be doing. And I'm now on the other end of how do I make this accessible and produce work with augmented reality, with virtual reality, without replacing live performance? So enhancing or supplementing and making the accessibility greater for people who might not be able to travel. Or come to New York to see live theater. 

Luisa Lyons  14:53  
So what do you see as the next iteration of all this? Is it that someone in Tucson for example, could put on a headset and watch a show in New York City?

Lena Wolfe  15:04  
Yes, exactly. So a few thoughts that I have is, if you ever wanted to experience like a tabletop version of the Nutcracker, you put on your augmented reality headset and then in front of you, the snow seen starts falling. Or do you want to see it from the dancer's perspective, all of a sudden it gets bigger and now you're on stage and you're twirling right next to a snowflake. So getting to see it from all different angles and experiencing it from a different perspective. Instead of being in a proscenium theater as an audience member, you're actually on stage as the dancers are moving around you. You can feel that swirling, like even just imagining it in my own mind, you feel the snow swirling around you. 

Luisa Lyons  15:50  
I have goosebumps.

Lena Wolfe  15:52  
Yeah! (Laughter)

Luisa Lyons  15:53  
I don't know if you've seen the 360 degree videos that have become popular in the last couple of years. They film a Broadway show, from the stage and from the audience, but you get a 360 perspect. 

Lena Wolfe  16:06  
Yes exactly. And so the thing about those 360 degree cameras is that they're still made to be represented on a two dimensional screen. So instead of being able to view it as if you are in the real world, you're still viewing it on a two dimensional screen, you're still viewing it as if you're watching a film instead of watching live theater. And there are some moral and artistic dilemmas that I've, I've had conversations with many friends about. I have another have a few collaborators that I've been working with over the years, another dancer who was on the Phantom of the Opera national tour, my friend who dances with City Ballet, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University with Facebook. People have an interest in this, but theater is so stuck in "This is how we do things. And this is how it's always been done." So how do we how do we open their mind? How do we open our minds to: this isn't going to break the industry? It's going to enhance it's going to allow us to adapt. I can't remember what the question was there you started with. 

Luisa Lyons  17:22  
Neither can I (laughter)! So I'm curious, you mentioned the industry resistance to changing the status quo. My dream, especially with film life musicals, is that one day, you know, a kid growing up in Sydney, Australia, as I did, could put on a headset and experience a Broadway show and vice versa. That someone in Tucson, Arizona, could experience a show by the Sydney Theatre Company. How far away are we from that being a reality?

Lena Wolfe  17:58  
Well, we are there, but also not at all. So let me explain what I mean by that. You and I right now are talking via zoom from two very different locations. I got off the phone with a friend in Finland, my best friend lives in Singapore. I took class for the last few months from my living room on zoom with people across the country and even across the world. So it is there. The desire to connect globally is there. The accessibility is why it's not possible. So a lot of these devices the augmented reality devices, virtual reality devices, are exclusionary by price point. They are expensive. The HoloLens was retailing at about three grand when it first launched.

Luisa Lyons  18:56  
This is just the equipment to like put on a headset. 

Lena Wolfe  18:59  
It's basically a personal computer. So if you were to take your computer and put it on your head, that's why the price is so high. It's not a peripheral device, there are other devices that you can plug into your phone, which if you sum total all of them together, you'll get out to be about $3,000. So the idea behind it was to replace personal computing with an augmented reality device. You have better posture when you're sitting with this thing on your head instead of having to look at the camera that's God knows where. And you also can have eye contact, you can have real eye contact with people instead of looking at... If I want to have eye contact with you, I have to look at the screen but really, I have to look at the camera, which means I'm not looking at you. The way that the HoloLens works is it has the screen, a see-through screen essentially, in front of your face. So you and I will be looking at each other. The camera is so close that you can't tell that we're looking for we're not looking directly in each other's eyes. So it brings that element of personal intimacy back. And that's something that zoom is missing. So I did work with another creative technologist named Anna Henson on a proposal of how to use the new Azure Connect to create virtual intimacy between two remote spaces. We still have that proposal in our back pocket. But it's something that we were very, very interested in exploring of how do we physically allow visual and physical connection while being in two separate locations? And that that brings it back to what some of the discussions that I've had. Why is theater resistant to doing this? Because it's not the same. I can watch. I can watch Hamilton on my television. It's two dimensional. You don't have the audience. roaring, breathing, sighing crying with you. You don't have that human energy and so the idea of allowing that to permeate through technology is a very, very, very difficult thing. And we see that daily with how much social media has caused a divide among people, and how much the removal of a face to face conversation can affect conversation and attitude, and everything beyond that so video makes it better. So to get back to your question of is this is this possible and how far away do I see it being? It's possible and the desire is there. People are already doing it. We are already connecting on this level. The reason it has not yet is because we have to get the big game players on board, the people who have the pockets, the people who have the expendable resources to do this. Which is why that Playbill article both excited and angered me, because there are so many of us who've been trying for years to say, "Hey, this is a viable option!" But then getting nothing from the top level because "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" was the motto there. 

Luisa Lyons  22:16  
Absolutely. And it's the same with just filming shows. There was this huge belief before the pandemic, industry wide, at the at the professional level and particularly the Broadway level, that we cannot film theater. That it's not the same, that it's not really theater if you're filming it. And now with the pandemic, those people are seeing the demand for filmed live theater content. Now everyone's like, "Oh, I wish we'd filmed everything, because we'd have content to put out and we could potentially make money from it." So now I'm curious when we put VR/AR into this, does it mean that people will stop coming to life theater if they can experience it at home with a headset? I don't think it will. But I'm curious if that is a part of the resistance?

Lena Wolfe  23:12  
That's definitely a concern. So, many of the people that I've talked with are performers like myself, and some are more theater purists like my friend who dances with the ballet, and she understands that yes, things change, but also, you can't replicate it. Her thought process is, you can't replicate it. And other friends, and myself included, say "Well, no, we're not trying to replicate it. We're just trying to enhance it and make it more accessible." And that accessibility is I think, what's now driving it, accessibility and monetization. Because money is king, money drives everything. So the accessibility of theater is incredibly important and think about, not only during the pandemic but even before this, if people in more rural counties or parts of the country could travel to New York City via a headset. So if we have small locations that are even Show Hosts that own the equipment, so you go like a movie theater, you go to this virtual viewing of Hamilton, and it's a live theatrical debut. So there are cameras that can stereoscopic capture events, and it can even be live streamed. So there's there's so many possibilities for it. If you have one of these stereoscopic cameras in the back of the theater or in the middle of the audience that the person sitting in it is actually like, "Wow, my seat is row F 12. And that seat is where my my VR headset camera is living and that is then being streamed live." To the person sitting in Kansas, so they are at the Kansas VR viewing party, and whatever you want to call it, and but actually their avatar, the camera is sitting, it sounds kind of silly thinking about it, but the camera could be sitting in F 12. And they are getting to sit in F 12. You look to your right person is next to you what's your left person is next to you, you are on. You see the screen right there. Now that is going to be a large investment for theatrical companies and producers and also an investment of small companies that would be streaming these things. So you could have eight to twelve F 12s sitting in one seat. You have somebody in Oregon, you have somebody in Kansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, or even upstate New York, all sitting in that same seat, but all experiencing something, so you could even multiply how much money you're making. You sell the seat 12 times. So, it's a really interesting thought. And then you have a live performance. So you can mix media, it's a mixed audience, you have a live audience and you have a virtual audience all at the same time. And instead of only having one person in the seat, you can have 12 people in the seat. It's interesting, and it is something that could make money. And I just don't think that at this point, theatrical producers cared enough because they still are seeing that silver lining in their pocket. They've still got the money coming in because tickets to Hamilton cost $500. So what it could do is drive down individual cost of tickets, but drive up profit margin for larger theatrical venues. 

Luisa Lyons  26:50  
Ok, we've got virtual seat F 12, would it be possible that yes, there's a camera in F 12 that's looking. How does Joe in Kansas and Mary in London and Suzy in Sydney, if they're all looking in different places at the same time? How does that work? 

Lena Wolfe  27:16  
There would be some tech magic that would have to happen there. So this is something that I've not quite thought out logistically yet from a systems standpoint. It's a possibility where if you have a wide angle camera, they, Mary could be looking over here and Joe could be looking over here, but the cameras still capturing all of it. It's just that the field of view of the device that they're viewing it on is going to be smaller, so they'll have to move around to see the full field of capture.

Luisa Lyons  27:41  
And would it be possible, you mentioned Hamilton, they had shots from the top of the stage and from the back of the stage and all different vantage points around the theater. Would it be possible with VR, like a live from Lincoln Center kind of proshot where you have all these different angles? Could the person sitting at home in virtual seat F 12, would they be able to access any of those? 

Lena Wolfe  28:09  
If there's a camera, there's an angle. So, depending on how the production company sees it fit to share backstage magic, then add that as a tier of your experience where you get to have a virtual drink in the dressing room after the show with one of the principals. You get to sit on the vantage point from one of the stage managers,

Luisa Lyons  28:41  
Yeah, sit next to a stage manager and call a show! That would be so cool. 

Lena Wolfe  28:44  
Yeah! If the stage manager has a headset on they can also share live what they are viewing. So it would have to be non-intrusive, and then the rights management and negotiations that would have to take place for that, I think is a is a big hurdle. But the ideas and the possibilities are all there. So increase the tier of payment. Or if you want to have a school field trip to go backstage, if it's a theater group, and they want to see, "hey, we want to see how a stage manager works, or what does a dresser do or what is a what is a hair and makeup artists do in the back?" They could very well see that. Again, it would depend on the production, and how much the production is comfortable with sharing all this information to a virtual audience. But yeah, it's possible it would be very possible to at the click of a button or in the case of a HoloLens, the flick of a han. Change scenery, and you just get up and you walk over to a different vantage point, click, boom, you're now backstage instead of in the audience. There are a lot of logistical things that would have to be done and probably not live. But pre recorded content especially if they wanted to have special features. So like an extended version, extended DVD, an extended version where you could see the director's cut you could see everything that happens in the background how a dress rehearsal runs, where you're actually on stage with the performers, or even being one other performers. For a day, if they have if they have a headset on how cool would it be to walk around and Lin Manuel Miranda shoes for a day? How cool would it be to walk around and Idina Menzel's shoes for a day?

Luisa Lyons  30:30  
How cool would it be to sit in on tech and learn that process? Like I'm thinking of all the theater students, like millions of people around the world who are studying the craft? It's not just about the performers, but learning how the musicians work in the pit. How does tech work? How does a lighting lighting designer create the states for each each lighting cue? Yeah, the potential, the possibilities are enormous.

Lena Wolfe  30:56  
The education outreach is one of the most intriguing things for me because not only will the general public be able to access and appreciate what it is that we do on stage, and how much goes into it, but everyone can have access to that. Which then you have an argument of like, "Well, no, it's special, you shouldn't be able to have access to that." The performers and the theatrical professionals will always have that. That's never going to be taken away. An in person experience, as of now, I don't see any way that it can be replicated. So you go see virtual Hamilton from F 12 in the middle of Kansas and say, "you know what, I really want to go see it." But because you only paid $50 for that ticket, you can come to New York and pay $50 for a seat in F 13. And actually be there live. So the accessibility is unimaginable. Instead of having to have an entire classroom of students fly across the country, or fly from another country, fly from Sydney to come to New York. That is insanely expensive and cost prohibitive for some people. So how do we equalize the accessibility? And it's going to take producers stepping up, other companies donating and nonprofits, low budget companies running and making all this accessible, and then dreamers like us.

Luisa Lyons  32:33  
Do you think the cost you mentioned earlier, that the like the HoloLens is $3,000, do you think like computers and iPhones that over time the price has decreased, that the cost of the virtual stuff it's gonna go down?

Lena Wolfe  32:47  
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. If you're interested, you can look up something called Moore's law, which predicts the the size and power of silicon chips and how they increase in power and computing and processing power, but decrease in size. So it's an exponential graph. So at some point we're going to reach an insanely powerful, insanely small chip. So the that also translates to all technology, augmented reality, virtual reality. And inevitably, as things get easier to manufacture, as they're more readily available, the price will come down. If you think about the first computers, they were huge and inaccessible - 

Luisa Lyons  33:40  
They took up whole floors of a building. 

Lena Wolfe  33:42  
Exactly. Now we have computers in our pockets and people don't think twice about it. We have the ability to buy something for $300 or $400 that can can compute insane announced the data in seconds. If you were to tell some of the original computer scientists or computer engineers this set and feel like what? Excuse me?

Luisa Lyons  34:13  
Yeah and it's in our lifetime that that change has happened. I remember our first desktop computer was this huge heavy incredibly slow machine and like you say now it's we have vastly superior computers in our pockets, with touchscreens.

Lena Wolfe  34:31  
Yeah, how long did it take for your computer to turn on and then if you had a power surge, oh my goodness, you lost everything.

Now, dial up internet. 

Luisa Lyons  34:43  
Ba-ding, ba-ding. 

Lena Wolfe  34:52  
Rrrr! (laughter)

Yeah, it absolutely will reduce in cost and as we get more competitors in the market. So sure, Microsoft was one of the first to mass produce a consumer grade electronic heads up display. These things have been around for many, many years in military applications, so fighter jet cockpits and fighter jet helmets, they all have augmented reality on them, a lot of night vision or other flight tools. They've all been around for a while. It's just the consumer grade versions of them that don't cost $100,000 that are actually accessible to a middle class employee, or middle class person. Sure, it's an expensive investment, but it's not out of reach of your average person. And again, the more that the more technology improves, the better manufacturing improves. The more costs are reduced, the more accessible it will become. So instead of having to go to movie theaters to see a film or, instead of going to a virtual house, you can now have it in your living room. Look at all the televisions that we have, we have surround sound, three dimensional TVs, all of this. It's all becoming more and more and more accessible. I think it will have to be rolled out in a tiered development process. And it's going to have to start with some some big risks and some big investments. I think that once we get one everyone's going to want in.

Luisa Lyons  36:44  
Going forward, I think post-pandemic more theaters are definitely going to be filming theatre and with iPhones and the new cameras that are available, it's easier than ever to film. So that is going to become, we know the demand is there and I think it's going to become more normalized to film shows for distribution later. Do you think the same could be said for filming shows for VR or AR?

Lena Wolfe  37:08  
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think it's a worthy investment to start doing now. Because it is very possible. This technology already exists. So just add it now. And then you don't have to go back and re-film it later. Yeah, it's something that if it is controlled, then it can be more easily distributed and monetized. Now, instead of having people come in and be allowed to film on their own devices. That's still not something that is ideal in the performing arts world. I see it happen. Bootlegs exists, stuff is going to happen. But it can be more accessible and then it can be more controlled and better monetized and then it can lower the cost even more to allow accessibility. But yeah, just to summarize the answer, yes, it will be something that will garner more interest in the future, especially as these devices become more and more accessible. And the development of applications. Even an iPhone right now, or any sort of phone, you look at a three dimensional photo, you have to do this thing. So instead of having pan the camera, you pan the camera around, same thing, but instead of having a two dimensional device, you have an augmented reality device. It's just where the information is going and how it's being distributed. You can capture it in the same way. So if somebody doesn't happen to have an augmented reality or virtual reality headset, they can still view the experience. It's just, you're gonna have to pan around with your phone a bit, or allow or watch the two dimensional standard film version of it. 

Luisa Lyons  39:04  
Before we started recording, you mentioned briefly that you're working on a new project, are you able to speak about that?

Lena Wolfe  39:11  
Yeah, I I've just been working with a small circus group called Cirque Nuit, and we are investigating how to bring some of our work into the digital realm. There are a few fairly successful, immersive experiences happening right now. And I think people are craving that interaction. So we are just in the beginning phases of the messy creation process. It's frustrating, it's messy, it's fun, but overall, it's going to be very rewarding. So we are working on what stories do we want to tell, how do we want to tell them, do we want to film first, or do we want to perform live? How do we mix the two of these things? How many people do we have on, what platform do we use? So, the accessibility to online video conferencing services has increased dramatically. I remember even when I first started working at at Microsoft, it was, okay we have to have Lync, we can't even use Skype. Skype was kind of a thing. And then FaceTime starts picking up and now everybody has zoom. So, yeah, the, the market competition is really, really interesting. And just to see what's been developed, and how many different ways there are to broadcast to a new audience and interact with them. So are we interacting via text? Are we interacting via video conference? Are we on Instagram? Are we emailing all of these things that we're taking into consideration but I can't really say much more now because of We are still in the middle of the messy creation of it.

Luisa Lyons   
Very exciting. I can't wait to hear more about it. And please keep us posted, I will definitely share it when when something becomes available. 

Lena Wolfe 
Yeah, I hope I'm not getting in trouble for talking about it. 

Luisa Lyons  
I don't think you've given away too many pertinent details.

Lena Wolfe  
No, just the fact that we're starting to think about it. And yeah, so is everybody else right now. Creatives are going to create and come up with creative solutions. That's just the nature of our curiosity. Is how do we come up with a new way to play with this? Like, I want to play with that. 

Luisa Lyons    
And we're going to innovate and respond to the world around us. And right now, you know, more than ever, we have to respond to the world around us with creativity.

Lena Wolfe    
Yeah, And to me, that's where art and science intersect. They're both explorations of the curiosities of the world. It's just different techniques in order to do so. So there's a lot more common then many people might think.

Luisa Lyons  
So to wrap up, I have a few quick questions for you. We're getting a little short on time. I usually ask people what their favorite musical is, but I want to ask you what your favorite VR or AR experience is. 

Lena Wolfe  
Oh man. Oh gosh, that's really hard. So, I have to confess I'm a terrible, terrible technologist. I am a late adopter. So what I mean by that is I didn't get an iPhone until eight years after the first iPhone came out.

Luisa Lyons    
Yes! 

Lena Wolfe   
I like technology to evolve before I invest in it. But there was one experience that I I just fell in love with it when I was at Oculus. I can't remember the name of it right now, but it was a short three or five minute film, there is actually a virtual reality Film Festival out nowadays. And I will, I'll look that up and I'll send it to you later when I remember what it's called, I can't remember that off the top of my head right now. But it was an absolutely stunning virtual exploration into this young girl's reality. I think it was dealing with the loss of her mother. And you see, you start in her bedroom and you're in virtual reality, you're completely occluded. And you start falling into this bedroom, and then you hit the bed, and you sit next to a girl who's drawing in her journal and you start seeing things like horses and dragons flying out then you start flying into the stars. And it was just such a powerful and beautiful piece. That really impacted me. That's probably one of my favorite virtual reality. Things that I've experienced for augmented reality, there was a really fun game at Microsoft. And it was almost like a live action CSI, where the way that HoloLens works is it maps out your entire room so it has an infrared camera that then maps out the whole room. So if you and I had a HoloLens right now, we would be sitting and having a conversation at my table, you would be sitting in my chair. So the way that it It ended up working is you were interacting with this detective, the detective would sit with lean on the table next to you would get up walk through your doors. That was really, really cool. And for me, that was one of the the prime examples of how augmented reality is supposed to work because augmented reality can switch back and forth between virtual where all you're doing is playing with digital objects and augmented where you're actually interacting, where the digital object is leaning against your wall and telling you about a crime scene, or you see the blood on your floor or you see a piece of evidence and you have to go pick it up and put it in your supply kit.

Luisa Lyons   
So for folks who think that virtual reality or augmented reality means the end of interactive theater, think again,

Lena Wolfe    
Not at all! There so many possibilities. And also think about the artists that they employ a lot. I have a few friends who are graphic artists and digital artists who worked on video games, Halo, and they, they have to have artists to create this stuff. You can't just have a stick figure and expect it to work. It's ugly. Nobody wants that.

Luisa Lyons   
Artists are vital! 

Lena Wolfe    
Artists are vital, artists are very important.

Luisa Lyons   
This is so wonderful. Lena, thank you so much. Where can we find you online? 

Lena Wolfe   
You can find me online on my website which is Lena Wolfe with an E. Lenawolfe.com. Or you can check out my Instagram which is updated daily with my daily doings and slight shenanigans. @merlena19. So if you want to follow me along there, I will be launching a technology and tutor website at some point this year. But again, everything has changed. So we don't really know when those are going to happen...

Luisa Lyons    
Well, fingers crossed. This has been such a fascinating conversation. It gets me so excited about the potential of merging technology with theater and the potential for the future about making theater even more accessible in a really exciting way.

Lena Wolfe  
Yeah, it makes me very excited too and to see how many of my peers are willing and eager to engage in another aspect of my life that I love dearly. Just makes me feel like a valuable contributor to the performing arts. And it makes me very, very excited for the future.

Luisa Lyons    
Yes, more dancers like you, more technologists like you who are artists. We need artists who are scientists and scientists who are artists. It's what's going to make our world a better place. 

Lena Wolfe   
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for having me. This was a pleasure.

Luisa Lyons   
My pleasure. Oh, it was so much fun. Thank you again. Lena. Filmed Live Musicals is a labor of love, and we'd like to thank everyone who makes it possible. Thank you to our patrons, Josh Brandon, Mercedes Esteban, Jesse Rabinowitz and Brenda Goodman, Al Monaco, David and Katherine Rabinowitz, and Bec Twist for your support. If you'd like to support Filmed Live Musicals, please like and review on your podcast app, find us on Twitter @musicalsonscreen, and on Facebook at Filmed Live Musicals. If you'd like to support the site financially, you can find us patreon.com/musicalsonscreen. No matter what level you're able to pledge you'll receive early access to written content and early access to this very podcast.Visit www.filmedlivemusicals.com to learn more. Thanks for listening!

Transcribed by https://otter.ai