Meet the hologram-making, Singularity University alum who wants to reimagine theater

Theater geeks like me tend to recoil in horror when we hear about stage initiatives that incorporate a lot of technology, so I was skeptical when I heard about Patty Rangel’s new R&D project at D.C.’s Arena Stage. Rangel, an accomplished holographer and Singularity University alum, will embark on a year-long residency to experiment with a variety of new technologies—everything from life-size VR and AR to vibro-acoustics and gaming environments—that could one day be incorporated into stage productions.

It sounds overwhelming, but Rangel says the goal is infuse mixed-reality storytelling in a way that doesn’t take away from the core theatergoing experience. In other words, she’s not expecting audience members to strap on VR headsets or download Pokémon Go-style apps before a show.

“What I’m trying to do is make it a seamless integration of technology into the production design,” Rangel tells me. “So it doesn’t become about you taking out your phone and seeing a segment of the play in augmented reality. That’s fun—it’s a different type of user experience—but we’re really trying to focus on the stories and the cohesiveness of the audience experience.”

Rangel seems like the perfect person to pull this off. In addition to her tech background (her past work led to the creation of that Tupac hologram), she’s also a graduate of the theater producing program at CalArts. And of course, Arena Stage recently brought us the social media-infused Dear Evan Hansen, which just won a bunch of Tonys. I’m looking forward to seeing what these folks cook up.   

[Image Courtesy of Patty Rangel]
Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that Singularity University is affiliated with NASA. It is on the NASA campus, but the two are not linked.