Carry Me Home is a fantastical experience, first performed in June 2022, that incorporates circus acts, live music performance and explores the boundaries of imagination through technology, a live and virtual journey into the creative mind of the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil acrobat turned singer-songwriter Didier Stowe. This groundbreaking performance was made available online, via a video stream and with virtual reality headsets, as well as in-person, exclusively at the Animatrik Film Design Studio in Burnaby, Vancouver.
Not only did the show present the first ‘4-Audience Model’ of performance and explore what a circus in the metaverse might look like, it brought the audience into the present moment to share a beautiful live marriage proposal in both the real and virtual worlds. Performer Stowe proposed to his girlfriend, Veronica Herrera, a dancer and acrobat who was also performing live in the show and, of course, she said yes!
The show is inspired by Stowe’s personal life experiences, including a pivotal moment in his career when he fell on his head during a performance and suffered a concussion that triggered a series of questions about pathways to take. Taking this concept into literal imagery, the audience is virtually transported into a set that resembles the ‘brain’ of Didier. The 7 Fingers’ co-founder and artistic director Samuel Tetreault describes it as John Malkovich meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“We’re venturing into different pockets of memories or inspiration.Performers bring [Stowe] artefacts that trigger these memories, that serve as backstories for the music. I had to imagine the environment that would support each song, so Carry Me Home was actually where he was being brought to the hospital after his concussion. He had this vision of being in a boat drifting away from the summerhouse and then hearing his family talk and then somehow longing to connect with them,” said Tetreault.
This imagery is brought to life through VR and motion tracking technology.
“Carry me Home is kind of three shows in one. You have a stage production for the in-person audience. And I, as a director, have to think what is that in-person experience? What’s happening in the pre-show? How are we transitioning between scenes?” Tetreault explained.
The audience travels into Stowe’s subconscious, as he experiences the trauma and its aftermath. The technology employed to tell the story adds to the unreliability of the storyteller, with every audience member experiencing the story in their own way. The psychedelic journey follows a non-linear narrative; performers are puppeteering their digital avatars in real time and interact with virtual environments, using motion tracking technology.
Online audiences can experience Carry Me Home in one of two ways: through a video live stream presented in a movie-like format, or with the use of virtual reality headsets. VR attendees are able to move around the virtual arena and experience the show from a range of viewpoints – including through the eyes of the circus performers on stage.
Tetreault further explained, “I can go on with all the challenges we faced. Like how do you turn a mocap suit into something that doesn’t look like a mocap suit but keeps its effectiveness. Similarly for the studio – how do we make a mocap stage look like a stage show with lighting and costumes. There were so many things we learnt, like managing the workflow of the production and planning the schedule of the rehearsals when you have to somehow connect the production of the virtual set, the virtual characters and the virtual environments with a real-set. And then, there were things like battery life, and the active markers versus the passive markers, and figuring out if we could have a day’s rehearsal in passive markers in regular mocap suits and then put on the show’s costume adaptive markers.”
“I duct taped the ring under my piano in between the two shows. And I told myself: look, the show is first and then we’ll see how that goes. And if I feel that we’re both happy with it, then I’ll just rip it from under the piano and I’ll do the proposal at the end. But if not, no biggie. It’s there. The thing is, I knew it would just be so special because all of our family, including her family from Mexico, were watching. There’s a lot of people that couldn’t be there, and it was just a way to share that moment. To say that I did it in mo-cap both live and in the virtual world is amazing,” Stowe said.
The 7 Fingers team, together with Animatrik Film Studio’s motion capture technology, transports the audience through moments in time and it’s this beautifully authentic moment that pulls the audience back into the present. Viewers from around the world, watching via different ‘realities’ are witness to something that can only be amplified by technology, not created: the love between two people and the love of live performance.