Imagination gets a leg up in the new production of Peter Pan. One hundred computers assist 12 projectors beaming 10,000-pixel-wide images to bring us a computer-generated Neverland splayed across the world's first 360 degree CGI theater set. Peter, Wendy, Tink and the others soar against this HD backdrop nearly 100 feet up, in the US premiere of this highest of high-tech adaptations of J.M. Barrie's 1904 play.
But is it theater? Or is it more akin to PETER PAN! -- The Disneyland Ride? This London import's immensely immersive, flight-simulating virtual experience feels a bit like a theme park ride or a video game.
This genre, what I might call, "Planetarium Theater," might herald the future of theater (like 3D CGI is rendering hand-drawn animation quaint and rare). Or it might be a short-lived gimmick -- anyone remember the movie Earthquake... in Sensurround? (That seat-shaking trick was actually preceded by an earlier sensory garnish, Percepto!, developed by legendary 1950's showman William Castle to deliver electric jolts to theatergoers during the climax of his 1959 film The Tingler. John Waters spoofed the practice in 1981, releasing Polyester in scratch-and-sniff Odorama.
I'm not saying threesixty° entertainment's Peter Pan is the Odorama of live theater. I'm just saying maybe I hear William Shakespeare weeping somewhere beneath Stratford-on-Avon. Because here, the play's not the thing. It is, however, the launch pad for techno-awesomeness.