SO Festival visits Frequency Festival 2017

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Published 27 October 2017. Autumn is well and truly here, and so is Lincolnshire's vibrant cultural scene with so much to see and so much to do. On Wednesday 25 October 2017, the sun was shining with clear blue skies and a visit was taken over the glorious Wolds to Lincoln, where Frequency Festival was in full flow.

The event I was particularly interested in seeing was Metro-Boulou-Dodo's performance of "Empire Soldiers" at Lincoln Drill Hall.  The inspiration for this piece was driven by WW1 Caribbean Solders and their experiences of being asked to fight on the frontline.  The unique experience of this show was that it used the latest technology of a Virtual Reality (VR) headset for a complete 360° adventure.

VR experience is something completely new to me and I was a quite apprehensive to what it would be like. Would I feel disconnected from the performance? Would I feel alone?  Would I be scared? Would I be able to concentrate on the story?  Would I take any information in? How far will the artist challenge me on the visual impact?

What struck me on entering the performance space is that you were immersed in the performance space from the very start. It was incredibly intimate and very quiet, enhanced more so with an audience of five people, who were placed within the performance space as part of the scene.  Two wonderful performers introduced the piece, with music, movement and stories from Caribbean influences moving through to representing being called forward to fight, where the atmosphere became much darker.  And the VR headsets where introduced. 

VR is quite the experience and well worth trying out if you can. It took me rather a long time to get myself adjusted, and having the confidence to look quite literally around in 360°.  I also found it rather odd that I wasn't there in VR.  I did find my hands waving around when shattered plates were in front of me.  And even had to grab the box I was sitting on to ensure I wouldn't fall off or steady myself when the motion got too much.  I do wonder what we all looked like from an outside perspective and whether the others reacted with movement or stayed still.  The content was fascinating, roaming around different environments on different trains and the visual landscapes soldiers had to endure.  It didn't push me too far to be scared, or though, the visuals quite possibly could be pushed further.  But the aim wasn't to scare or to catch you out, the aim was develop your awareness of the topic at hand.  I really enjoyed feeling like I was sat at a table with a single man telling me stories.  I had to have that Virtual one to one "conversation" and make eye contact and listen to him, it would have rather rude not with there just being the two of us.  When it was over, I didn't want it to end at all. 

The show was complete with another performance of music and movement by the same performers at the beginning of the piece, at which point I was on complete sensory overload and lost some focus on what was being presented to me at that point. But I did appreciate that real human contact before and after the VR experience as a gentle transition between reality and VR reality.

As with the majority of work we experience, I hope I can see it again so I can capture more details and take in more of the stories. In my first experience, the content may have been overtaken a little by the pure wonder of Virtual Reality.

This piece was made possible by the Offsite Programme delivered by Déda, supported by SO Festival to grow new outdoor artist development opportunities.  Four companies have been successful by this programme including Highly Sprung, Maison Foo, Rogue Play and Metro-Boulet-Dodo.

Frequency Festival of Digital Culture is a biennial festival hosted in the city of Lincoln, providing a platform to celebrate the pioneering spirit of digital innovation and culture through exhibition, creative collision and debate.  It is taking place until Sunday 29 October 2017, where you have the opportunity to watch "Empire Solders" all weekend.

Katie-Louise Green, SO Festival Coordinator