PLSN: Whole World Web Show; A Whole New Comedy Stream

Music Matters Productions and Michael Smalley Back Improv Comedians with XR Visuals

Article by: Mike Wharton, June 2021

Aaron Soriero’s exploration into creating an Extended Reality (XR) space in his Music Matters Productions (MMP) warehouse in Atlanta is yielding impressive results, even though it was built just a few months ago. Sister companies Directions AV and Big Picture aided in his quest to give his clients a space to livestream or record events. In the process of creating a demo reel as a marketing tool, he has established a weekly streaming series featuring the Whole World Improv Theatre (WWIT), which was founded in Atlanta in 1993. This netted an offer from Apple Music to develop six episodes of an XR show for their new streaming service.

Soriero reached out to old friend and former business partner, Michael Smalley, to assist him in his efforts. Smalley, an Atlanta native, had been Soriero’s original mentor and teacher about all things lighting and production during Music Matters’ initial transition from a school for young student musicians to a full service entertainment production company. Now partnered with Gabriel Fraboni at PHNTM Labs, Smalley lives in Las Vegas. With the Covid-19 shutdown of the industry, he had the time available and was equally enthusiastic in getting on board when Soriero called and ask him to direct the demo reel.

Smalley called upon an old connection with WWIT seeking an actor to perform in the demo reel. In the course of explaining what XR was to theater managing director Emily Reily Russell, he had an epiphany that a comedy improv show presented in XR would be “super cool,” the perfect vehicle to highlight the technology. “We’re gonna make a TV show for you,” he told Emily.

A Convergence of Ideas

While giving the good news to Aaron that he had found an actor for the demo from an improv group, Soriero broke in midway with, “Are we going to do improv in XR? This is perfect! Improv is created on an empty stage; the production value we can add through XR really will be fantastic for the art form!”

“It was amazing how we both came to the idea separately but simultaneously,” agrees Smalley. “This is practically the antithesis of how improv is presented, but still follows its concept, and we would bring a totally unique look to how it is done.” Five scenes were created weekly in addition to a virtual theater loosely based on WWIT’s home space and marquee. Smalley acted as production designer and the liaison between the theater company’s creative directors to tailor the XR show closely to how their “normal show” would flow.

The nature of streaming obviates the natural give and take between a live theater audience and the performers on stage. Feedback and interaction is the essential element to live performances, especially in the improv comedy genre. Smalley, Soriero, and co-creator Chris Ruppel knew they wanted a way to add that ingredient to their production, but the big question was, how?

For full article in PLSN June 2021 edition:


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