Tender Claws first took the immersive media world by storm with the release of Virtual Virtual Reality—a mind-bending, metafictional love letter to VR that you can find on Oculus Quest, the Rift Platform, and Oculus Go. The critically-acclaimed studio followed up that cult classic with The Under Presents, which Forbes described as “a novel exploration of VR and live immersive theatre.” Live actors have taken center stage in The Under Presents from time to time since launch, and May 2020 saw special Variety Hour live performances every Friday and Saturday. Today, we’ve got some exciting news to share: The Under Presents introduction is now free on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform, including over 30 minutes of single-player gameplay to explore. And beginning July 9 and running through the end of September, you can catch a limited-time performance of Tempest—an interactive reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic tale of magic, betrayal, and revenge. Tickets are on sale now as in-app purchases priced at $14.99 USD, which includes the 40-minute show plus access to the game’s multiplayer space.
In The Under Presents: Tempest, an actor sheltering in place explains that they were set to play Prospero in a stage production of The Tempest until it was called off as a result of COVID-19. The actor then takes the audience through their private imagining of the show, blurring the line between fact and fiction, the virtual and the real.
Audience members will form intimate groups of six to eight participants per actor, with no two performances exactly the same.
“We’ve learned so much from running The Under Presents over the past seven months with live actors and had been exploring ways to expand that unique world and create other avenues to highlight our performers, and the pandemic ended up making a lot of loose ideas coalesce,” explains Tender Claws Co-Founder Samantha Gorman. “With a lot of uncertainty for actors as theaters closed, and with everyone stuck at home seeking safe ways of meaningful human connection, The Under Presents inadvertently became a lifeline in many ways. With The Under Presents: Tempest, we’re extremely excited not only to create something new for our actors and fans, but also to continue to push the envelope for what virtual performances can be, and how we can experience liveness and presence in a virtual space.”
Ticketed performances will run 4:00 to 8:00 pm PT on weekdays and 11:00 am to 3:00 pm PT on weekends, with showtimes beginning on the hour. You can buy tickets in advance, and a handful of day-of tickets will also be available on a first come, first served basis. Those who have already purchased The Under Presents will still have access to the multiplayer space and Timeboat (now available as an in-app purchase for $11.99 USD), though a paid ticket will still be required to experience Tempest.
We sat down with actor Brandon Bales to learn more.
How did you first get involved with Tender Claws?
Brandon Bales: I have done some immersive theatre work in Los Angeles with Delusion and The Speakeasy Society, and notable immersive wonk Noah Nelson (of No Proscenium) was tipped off about Tender Claws’ The Under Presents. I went to audition for them last year, and here we are.
What has the experience acting for The Under Presents been like?
BB: The Under Presents has definitely been one of the weirdest and most interesting acting jobs I’ve ever had. The way in which the community sprung up around the multiplayer functionality was astounding and inspiring. Tender Claws created a very special world that resonated deeply with its dedicated players. Being an actor amidst that has been an incredibly interesting experience. It is a pioneering place of theatrical magic that can encompass a range of emotions—from mundanity to outright transcendence. I’ll never forget the time that I actually forgot myself and instead knew that I was now a skeleton playing a keytar while helping rehearse a song done by a talking cat.
Does The Tempest hold a special place in your heart for personal and/or professional reasons?
BB: The Tempest is perhaps Shakespeare’s play that I am most familiar with, so it's a treat to get to experience bits of that in this outlandish way!
Tell us about your process. How do you get the audience involved in the performance?
BB: Acting is reacting—haha. We are doing pieces with this work that does not exist without a live audience, so that’s where we start. I may have ideas of a scene in The Under Presents for example, but they only truly take shape when the audience is there and reacting to the story. So much of what we do is shaped by the audience, so with open hearts we go in with big plans that inevitably change shape in the transmission. The Under Presents: Tempest should be no different!
What kind of response have you seen while demoing the experience?
BB: People love it when it becomes personal for them. Bits of the real, the meta, leak through from time to time that lead to the miracle of three worlds suddenly colliding—those being the virtual spaces crafted by Tender Claws, the world(s) of Shakespeare’s plays, and the “real” world.
The amazing scenery in this game have delighted audiences, and our stepping into epic characters has given them pause and bouts of silly laughter.
How do you think virtual and augmented reality will continue to change the world of live theatre and performance art in the future?
BB: It’s exciting, it’s transcendent, and it’s inevitable. Tender Claws has just begun the task of scratching this incredible surface. These are uncharted waters, and soon, we will all see just how immersive immersive theatre can be. Spoiler: it’s “very.” There have been a very few projects like these, and the way in which the community has sprung up around a project like The Under Presents drives the point home for me, that we are only seeing the beginning.
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
BB: I will continue to appear in Guild Wars 2 as a main voice, so tune in if you like grand online RPGs! Additionally, some good friends and I are working on a new, somewhat investigative podcast on board games (my all-time hobby love—talk about immersive!) entitled The Bonus Room.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
BB: Thanks for your support during this time, it’s because of the VR community that this show can happen in the first place and we can practice our craft during this time of theater closures. This work is exciting and bold, and your voices matter in how projects like these will continue!
We love to see you engage with the performances through forums and online communities. It has been very inspiring and meaningful to receive the real-time feedback about our performances, characters, and work.