Tel Aviv's Gesher Theater Is Using AR Show to augment its production of "Gulliver."GERHSER THEATER
A new company based in Tel Aviv, ARShow, has developed a low cost way to use mobile AR technology to augment live theater, concerts, sporting and special events, allowing hundreds of local participants to share precisely anchored images and special effects combined in real time with live performances. I sat down with co-founder and CEO Sasha Kreindlin last month on his swing through New York, where he showed me how the company had augmented The Gesher Theater production of Gulliver.
Gulliver is a children’s theater production. When the audience enters they find a Merge soft headset with a pre-configured smartphone placed in each seat. They don’t wear the Merge the whole show, only when instructed to for special scenes. For some productions, audience members can tune into ARShow’s proprietary wifi network using their own smartphone and download the software.
It’s easy to break the fourth wall in a kids show, but much more complex to weave it into an adult theater experience. ARShow integrates with the ubiquitous stage management system Abelton, which means once it is set up, no additional operator or technical knowledge is required. All its cues are in front of the stage manager along with the lights, music, and other time-based events the SM must cue.
Every audience member finds a Merge soft headset with an AR capable smartphone already installed.AR SHOW
Kreindlin was in New York to meet theater companies and producers who have shows that lend themselves to special effects, like Marshall Pailet and Drew Fornorola’s Claudio Quest, a love letter to video games. “This is perfect for us,” director Pailet told me, “because the story literally takes place inside a video game, where the characters have gained self-awareness, but are trapped in the narrow confines of an immutable repeating world.”
My demo included a swarm of bees and wasps from Gulliver. While it was exciting to have wasps all around me, I did experience some latency. That doesn’t happen in a theater where everyone is seated, Kreindlin told me. “It’s not a 2D projection behind the actor, but it’s 3D objects in the virtual space. The entire venue is my platform.”
AR Shows adds swarms of bees and other stage magic to The Gesher Theater's production of Gulliverusing AR Show.AR SHOW
As someone with a theater-arts background, Kreindlin needed help from the tech community to make ARShow a reality. His co-founders include Simon Litsyn, a computer science, and electronics professor at Tel Aviv University; Isaac Barel, a digital designer and the company’s CTO; and Elena Litsyn, a theoretical mathematician. Kreindlin says the company completed a seed round of funding for the theatrical operating system and is now seeking to raise $8 million dollars in expansion funding that would allow ARShow to create its own headsets, among other things. In the interim, Kreindlin says he hopes sponsorships from companies will underwrite the cost of hardware.
ARShow has bigger ambitions than children’s shows. The company says it’s in talks with U.S. theaters and production companies in “major markets,” although it declined to name them. Kreindlin says he’d like to debut the system on a mid-size stage off-Broadway, and would then like to move to a larger Broadway venue. That might prove to be tougher than it sounds. Broadway producers are notoriously risk-averse, and most shows already don’t earn a profit, even without the added production expense of retrofitting a theater with unfamiliar technology. Kreindlin points out that ARShow offers a creative solution to production design that can cost millions. A stage show like Claudio Quest can be done a lot of ways.
ARShow founders Sasha Kreindlin (top left), Dr. Elena Litsyn (top right), Isaac Barel(lower left), and Prof. Simon Litsyn (lower right)AR SHOW
“We want producers to think of us as an option,” Kreindlin said. “It’s not a solution for every show, but it is transformative for the right show.” There is one danger of which the CEO and director is clear: “If you get carried away with the technology, you’ll have a bad production.”