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Björn Lengers: “I’m really curious about exploring the issues of our time through the medium of art, using today’s technologies.”

© Jörg Middendorf

11 April 2018

In computer games, films and art, virtual reality is already giving users a whole new experience of what it means to be right at heart of things. Along with his comrades-in-arms, Björn Lengers aims to make these virtual possibilities available to the theatre too. Rather than just sitting in their seats, the audiences of the future will be able to stroll through virtual stage sets, meet the avatars of the actors or even slip into their roles themselves.

Name: Björn Lengers

Age: 46

Occupation: Businessman

Website:vtheater.net

What are the “CyberRäuber” (“Cyber Bandits”)?
Along with my colleague Marcel Karnapke, we are a fringe theatre group which aims to bridge the gap between classical theatre and new, digital media like virtual reality.

In the theatre, unlike the cinema, although you may not be right in the middle of the action, you are nonetheless closer to it and in the same room with real actors. What new perspectives and experiences can virtual reality provide here?
We’re working in two directions: To bring theatre into VR and VR into theatre. On stage and in theatrical productions, what VR and AR (augmented reality) particularly offer is access to all possible digital worlds: absurd stages, real-time neural networks, actor avatars.

"We want to bring theatre into VR and VR into theatre."

Björn Lengers

What can VR learn from theatre?
A lot! Both are basically spatial media, and theatre has thousands of years of experience of telling stories in three dimensions, of directing tension and focus. Quite apart from this, theatre has built up incalculable quantities of fantastic material and classic tales and boasts amazing actors and clever and talented workers all over the place, all of whom have something to say.

How can theatre benefit from VR?
Classic stage productions can be expanded with the addition of new digital themes, and, importantly, VR offers the potential for a massive increase in the range of audiences. Urban theatre in Germany has an audience of only a few million, but almost everyone has a smartphone that is fully networked with the whole world and boasts graphic power that we would hardly have thought possible five years ago. This is a potential that we must - and can - exploit.

But the biggest challenge is...
To take theatres and artists with us on the path to digitalisation. Some have made themselves very at home techno-dystopias, operating along the lines of “we tell people what’s wrong with digitalisation; and then we put on stuff by Chekhov or Schiller”. What I miss is the curiosity to explore the issues of our time through the medium of art using today’s technologies. And then you have the planning timelines: we’re talking about projects in 2020, while, right now, new and fundamental developments in VR, AR, and Artificial Intelligence are happening every day. There’s a real gulf here.

In five years, VR will be...
...in different forms, everyday technology.

Your actual job is to manage a data analysis company. How did you get from there to virtual theatre?
The common element is digitality, an interest in creative and practical solutions. My driving force is a passion for theatre and for art, and the realisation that theatre doesn’t yet have much of an idea of what to do with the technologies of tomorrow which are influencing our society and people’s lives.

Do you think a robot will do your job one day?
Much of it, yes, especially in data analysis. Then I’ll have more time for the interpersonal stuff, for art.

Which digital product has yet to be invented?
Real holograms (without VR/AR glasses)

And which ones can you do without?
Fitness and health trackers

Which technical application will always remain something of a conundrum for you?
Facebook, but that’s the whole idea...

When were you last offline for 24 hours?
2014

Do you take your mobile to bed with you?
Well, since I use it as my alarm clock, I do, yes.

The “Profile” series is a new format of #explore: Here we want to regularly give a voice to exciting and inspiring people from the digital scene - to researchers, bloggers, start-up founders, entrepreneurs, hackers, and visionaries.