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Portrait: Tamanoir Immersive Studio, between Performance and VR

© "A City of Foxes", Nihaarika Negi, Rajiv Rainer and Tamanoir Immersive Studio.

Tamanoir is a French immersive studio dedicated to creating international experiences, lying at the intersection of immersive theatre and dance and interactive VR. Located at cutting-edge art space CentQuartre-Paris, Tamanoir combines technological expertise and deep artistic insight with an emphasis on pushing culture forward. Its work has been supported by the CNC (France) and performed at the China Academy of Art and the Venice Biennale. For their new project, A City of Foxes, a collaboration with Nihaareka Negi and BRICK Theater, Brooklyn, NY, they were selected for FACE Contemporary Grant in 2020. They also received support from the French Immersion program to promote their upcoming VR experience Call Me Calamity.

A young studio based on expertise in performing arts and VR

Tamanoir was founded in 2017 by two complementary people. The first, Samuel Lepoil, the Creative Director, studied interactive design at Gobelins while also running a theatre company. His work has always been at the frontier of theatre and new media. The other, co-producer Rémi Large, had a career as a dancer followed by work in cinema. Their first project, Saving Thomas (2017), was bought by France Télévisions. After this first success, they decided to create Tamanoir. 

In their creations, the audience is immersed in an alternative world and are truly actors in the performance taking place through VR. For example, Call Me Calamity (2020), mixes immersive theater and virtual reality; it takes the user to the heart of the American myth to witness the birth of the first female figure of the West: Calamity Jane. This 50-minute experience is designed for 12 users wearing virtual reality helmets. They are guided by a motion-captured actress; this motion-capture system allows them to transcribe their movements onto a 3D virtual model, which evolves according to the experience and the heroine's evolution, from the young Martha Jane Cannary to the character of Calamity Jane. In another project, Birdie Long Gone (2020), the audience can open the trunk of a missing illusionist and discover his secrets.

"We try to infuse the passion we have for the performing arts into our creations," explains Rémi Large. Yet, in order to realize these creations, they have to work with cultural institutions that are often wary of new technologies. "Our job is to reassure these institutions and explain to them that we have the same objectives: To promote the encounter between art and audiences." For them, VR proposes a different type of interaction than the one of video games, by involving the body and its physical senses. This technology has opened up the field of possibilities and gives rise to new types of experiences such as the one proposed by Tamanoir.

A City of Foxes, a new project immersed in a dark imaginary world 

Conceptualized and created by artist Nihaarika Negi, A City of Foxes is a collaboration between Tamanoir, executive producer Rajiv Rainier, and BRICK Theater (Brooklyn). It is a tale of compassion, hope, and imagination in times of strife – in a world that is forever falling apart. It allows participants to share a moment of deep intimacy with a seemingly vilified other in a way that might not be possible in the everyday. It seeks to create a raw, emotional, fantastical encounter that places the audience and their engagement at the center of the live experience. 

An emotional experience breaking boundaries between fiction and reality

During the fifty minutes of A City of Foxes, interactivity is at the heart of the experience. It occurs inside a physical set and is made for 3 audience members at a time wearing VR headsets. The audience wanders through the infinite deserts and palaces of this land to meet a fox, played by an actor who uses live-action motion-capture to appear as a fox in VR. Blurring the lines between the real and the virtual, and between reality and fiction - A City of Foxes pushes the immersive form, from that of light interactivity to one where the voice of the audience is integral to the storytelling experience.

This hybrid form of interactive performance is the trademark of Tamanoir Immersive Studio, which intensifies the emotional experience by blurring the boundary between real and virtual: "It’s the job of the performer to create this emotional bond," explained producer Rémi Large. Indeed, the performer playing the fox is free to improvise but his role is guided by the 36 questions sociologist Arthur Aron devised to help individuals develop immediate understanding between one another. Within just a few minutes, participants enter into discussion with a philosophical fox who explores the ideas of companionship and loss.

Due to the global pandemic, A City of Foxes has been delayed. The audience will be able to discover the magic of the project beginning in summer 2021. Would you dare to try it? Stay tuned for more information.

Call Me Calamity, an immersive theatrical piece on an American legend

Call Me Calamity takes you to the heart of the American myth to witness the birth of the first female figure of the West at the meeting of immersive theatre and virtual reality. The VR experience lasts 50 minutes and is set for 12 participants in the same time. They are guided by an actress in motion capture, a system that allows the movements to be recreated for a virtual model in 3D, which changes with the experience and the progress of the heroine from young Martha Jane Cannary to the character of Calamity Jane.

Interviewed by the Institut français, Samuel Lepoil said that their idea was "to create an experience that both allows us to reconsider the role of the actor and is a very theatrical technological experience. What could be better than talking about a figure who, for me, is emblematic of a theatrical character. We decided to create an actor’s playground, with the ability to interact in terms of the sound and lighting and to change costume instantly. The interaction creates an emotional connection to the character, who grows from childhood to becoming an actress. The viewer follows the same path: from viewer to actor in the world of Calamity Jane, as they come on stage virtually and play a small role. They literally become an actor and take on part of the narrative. If more viewers were involved in the play, the emotional connection would be lost."

Tamanoir is looking for partners to present Call Me Calamity in the U.S. If interested, feel free to contact the studio.

Want to learn more about Tamanoir? Read here an interview by the Institut français.

A City of Foxes

Nihaarika Negi, Writer/Director/ Producer

Rajiv Rainier, Executive Producer

Tamanoir Immersive Studio, Co-Producer

The Brick, Presenting Theatre 

FACE Contemporary Theater is a program of the FACE Foundation developed in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States. 

Call me Calamity

Tamanoir Immersive Studio & Small by Mac Guff, Co-Producers

Partners: Centquatre -  Paris,  American Center for Art & Culture

French Immersion is a program initiated by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States to support producers and creators of VR projects and immersive experiences.