On a foreign planet, you have been sent on a mission to help an alien creature transition. Falling through memories, Onyx reveals the music of the spheres and the nature of existence as you fly through worlds both inner & outer. FIVARS says “greetings, traveler” with Gumball Dreams directors Deirdre V. Lyons and Christopher Lane Davis and the creative team.
What led to the creation of this piece?
Answered by Deirdre V. Lyons: Each show has its unique origin story. Gumball Dreams starts with a story about our previous production, Welcome to Respite. Having experienced quiet moments of contemplation with other audience members during my experience as an actor on The Under Presents by Tender Claws, I knew that this medium had the potential for profound connection and wanted to find a project to support that experience.
Having done some voiceover work on The Severance Theory: Welcome to Respite, an immersive theatre play that was performed in Silver Lake, CA, before the pandemic, I felt this piece could be that kind of powerful experience in VR, so I talked to the team about this project, I contacted Lyndsie Scoggin from CoAct productions who was also doing nothing because of the pandemic (she didn’t even have a headset at the time) and we were off to the races. That show put us on the map, took us worldwide, and garnered us multiple awards, including last year in FIVARS. It worked beyond our wildest imagination.
While working on Welcome to Respite, I was at one of the community meetups when an incredible world creator named Christopher Lane Davis, aka Screaming Color, debuted their spectacular world Club Gumball. Shortly after, I approached him about coming to work on Welcome to Respite, and he did. The first thing he wanted to do was make a book that turned into a house for the start of the show.
While we thought this would be incredible, we didn’t know it could happen until the next day when he presented us with precisely that after working all night on it; we were stunned. It was beautiful, and he continued working on Welcome to Respite, adding a particular kind of Screaming Color magic.
Welcome to Respite was initially intended to be a multi-chapter story. However, Lyndsie became pregnant and could no longer continue down this VR path for a while as she was now swamped, as any new parent would know. I was still interested in exploring human connection and intimacy in VR. I had been thinking about this incredible world that Screaming Color had built, how I felt it was so beautiful and a perfect platform for a new immersive show. I started writing the first draft on the plane on the way back from the Venice International Film Festival after Welcome to Respite had its international debut there.
I showed it to Screaming Color, and he loved it. We worked together to continue writing it to make sure it fit his world lore, then he worked on the world to make it even more spectacular, and we took it around the world, where it has been loved and applauded, for which we are incredibly grateful.
What was the production process for you and your team? What did you learn?
Answered by Deirdre V. Lyons: Gumball Dreams was inspired by two existing puzzle worlds built in VRChat during the pandemic by Christopher Lane Davis. These beautiful worlds were so stunning; they seemed the perfect place to stage a theatrical show, and the idea of not building a world from scratch was very appealing. While this shortened the building process, ultimately, there was still an incredible amount of work to do, from combining the two worlds, rehearsing the actors, re-working the script and marketing materials, and organizing logistical work that goes into production.
How did you become an immersive media content creator and why?
Answered by Whitton Frank: Ferryman Collective came about in 2020 with the coming together of fans of and performers from the immersive VR game The Under Presents from Tender Claws. The Under Presents, an intriguing multiplayer experience set between two worlds, was launched using live actors playing NPCs with which the audience could interact. The audiences could create their own relationships and storylines within the game world with the help of these live actors.
Having met through The Under Presents, Brian Tull, Braden Roy, Deirdre V. Lyons, and Stephen Butchko were so enchanted with the idea of live performance in VR. It’s potential for immersive and interactive performance that they decided to form their own company and put on a proof of concept show. They created a fun sci-fi Halloween show entitled Para. This show followed a basic haunted maze format, with audiences encountering various live actors playing monsters and their guides.
To perform this show, the team brought on actors from The Under Presents, including Whitton Frank, who was so excited with the world that she later joined the Ferryman Collective team as a company member.
After this, Ferryman created the show Krampustnacht, a dark fable set on the slopes of the Austrian Alps dealing with the myth of Krampus; this show was nominated for a PGA Innovation Award.
Then, in 2021, Deirdre approached Lyndsie Soggin, the creator of an IRL immersive show called Welcome to Respite, about bringing her show to life in VR. To help bring this show to life, the team brought on animator and musician Christopher Lane Davis, who later joined the Ferryman team as a company member.
This show deals with memories, mental health, and family relationships. Welcome to Respite has been critically acclaimed and featured as an Official Selection at prestigious festivals, with its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, its International Premiere at the Venice Film Festival, its Asian Premiere at the Kaohsiung Film Festival, and featured in Raindance Immersive, where it won Best Narrative Experience.
Finally, in 2022, Deirdre collaborated with company member Christopher Lane Davis to create a show inspired by his hugely popular VR chat world, Gumball Lounge. Thus, Gumball Dreams was born. In this show, audiences have been called by an alien creature named Onyx to a mythical planet on which they live out their final days and are asked to help them transition from this reality to the next. In this show, audiences get a chance to interact with each other and to have a one-on-one with the actor.
Gumball Dreams had its world premiere at SXSW 2022, during which it won the Audience Award for the XR Experience Competition. It had its international Premiere at the 79th annual Venice Film Festival, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kaohsiung Film Festival, and Best Immersive performance at the Raindance Immersive Festival.
Ferryman Collective continues to work with other companies and creators, and their shows have been translated into multiple languages for greater accessibility. These shows have brought Ferryman to international recognition and acclaim. With the company, members are recognized as thought leaders in live performance in VR. Ferryman Collective believes strongly in the need for live performance to remain a part of the XR world. Live performance helps create connection, intimacy, and relationships between people.
The ultimate goal is to help bring Broadway-style live interactive to audiences worldwide.
What is the VR/AR industry like in your region?
Answered by Deirdre V. Lyons: Tech advancements worldwide are changing the dynamics of our trajectory and future faster than we realize. While it feels to some like VR has been around forever, it is only now more accessible to the public, being developed and used for more platforms, research, education, and training, and it can change our future the same way as computers, cell phones, and movies have. With Apple now entering the game, the zeitgeist changes once again.
Unfortunately, the arts are notoriously underfunded in the US. AR/VR is also behind Europe and Asia in supporting this new technology. Without the artists, who are part of the ecosystem of visionaries creating the projections of ‘what is possible’ in the future, America will continue to be further behind than other countries, losing out on the incredible opportunities that development in new technology brings.
What do you have planned for the future?
Answered by Stephen Butchko: The future holds exciting opportunities for us at Ferryman Collective. We are developing a live theatrical experience with the fantastic Rick Treweek (AKA MetaRick) inspired by his award-winning VRChat world Uncanny Alley, which went through the festival circuit last year.
Brian Tull and Whitton Frank are working with a local L.A.-based immersive theatre company to adapt one of their IRL productions for Virtual Reality. Additionally, Whitton is gearing up to rehearse a Canadian cast for performances of the English language version of Find Wiilii, the Korean Immersive storytelling company’s play, for this year’s PXR Conference in Canada.
And Screaming Color (AKA Christopher Lane Davis) currently resides in Taipei, where he is adapting Gumball Dreams for a Mandarin language version of the play with a Taiwanese cast for the Kaohsiung Film Festival.
What would you like to share with fellow content creators and the industry?
Answered by Brian Tull: We’d like to invite you all to see our shows and to consider the potential for live performances to enhance your experiences. The feeling of presence and space that XR gives us makes for the perfect environment to explore more intimate forms of storytelling, and no one can create that connection between storyteller and audience like a real, live person.
Multiplayer has been an integral part of the gaming experience since its earliest days because social interaction enhances our connection to what we’re experiencing and allows us to find new meaning outside of the boundaries created by its content.
However, what has yet to be explored in the digital realm is how that content can emerge directly from our social experience and how interaction with people trained to envelop themselves in the world and its lore can make that world seem boundless. Integrating live performance poses a significant logistical challenge in terms of scale. It will only make sense for some types of experience. Still, where it does, it provides something that cannot be replicated any other way.
Only now, through the convergence of XR building on previous technologies like high-speed networking and VoIP, can we start to rediscover much of what gets lost in the isolation of interacting purely with NPCs and find opportunities to reintegrate the human element back into digital media.
Do you think VR festivals like FIVARS are important?
Answered by Braden Roy: XR festivals are a rare and invaluable resource that will only grow in importance over time. Bringing the brightest minds in experiential technology and storytelling together in a way where we’re not only allowed to celebrate each other and the great works being created but also bond and connect… It’s a gift!
In a world that feels as though it’s increasingly shrinking, many in our field can relate to paradoxically feeling as if we’re working in the dark, spread out and disconnected from our peers. When we are brought together, we often find ourselves relegated to the sidelines at festivals where XR is far from the primary focus, regardless of its importance in building the future of storytelling, interactive media, and entertainment as a whole.
To be clear, that is in no way intended as an indictment of more “traditional” festivals — many of our greatest champions are front and center at those events, ensuring we’re valued and have a seat at the table! No, that’s just an example of the importance of events like FIVARS. They give us the rare opportunity to take the main stage, embrace our passions, and continue to build a foundation for our developing culture. Together.