Rémi Large & Samuel Lepoil

The digital world challenges staging and the role of the viewer, and questions the very essence of theatre or dance.

Founded in 2017 by producer Rémi Large and artistic director Samuel Lepoil, Tamanoir is a studio offering experiences that fuse performance art with new technologies. They have made Hétéropia (2020), which won accolades at the 360 Film Festival, and are preparing to launch “Call me Calamity” (2021), which blends virtual reality with immersive theatre.

Updated on 20/12/2021

5 min

Rémi large / Samuel Lepoil
© Tamanoir

Why did you set up Tamanoir studio? Can you tell us about how you met?

Rémi Large: We met in 2015, when we were studying for a master’s in New Writing at the Sorbonne. We were at a party when Samuel confided in me about a virtual reality projects and invited me to join him on the adventure! I said no at first, as we were students, we didn't have any money and we didn't know anything technical. Samuel took a Google Cardboard, a cardboard headset, out of his bag and got me to take the Google tutorial. That was my first experience in virtual reality! I agreed to join him, and we created Saving Tomas (2017). It was the first virtual reality project to be bought by France Télévisions! After that experience, we founded Tamanoir studio with a desire to give everyone access to performance art and allow viewers to rediscover their body and themselves.

Rémi Large, you were a hip hop dancer and assistant director on documentaries. Samuel Lepoil, you are a director and did an intensive foundation degree in literature at the Henri-IV school, followed by interactive design studies at the GOBELINS school of images. How do your different backgrounds influence your pieces?

Lepoil: I’m a shy person. Theatre helped me and I wanted to share this personal journey. Interaction enables people to learn without realising just how much they have learnt. It gives the viewer a different experience of performing art, as our pieces respond to what the viewer is doing. By the end of an experience, we want the viewer to get moving, to dance and engage their body.

Large: We want to create new tools for performance art and find a way to get the viewer dancing or playing in an impromptu kind of way, without expecting it. We think that everyone is capable of dancing and moving in a space, if properly guided. We try to imbue our creations with our passion for stage arts.

Since the Tamanoir adventure began, you have worked with a host of cultural organisations at the intersection of the traditional arts and digital creation. How do you see this encounter? How do these two ecosystems fuel one another?

Lepoil: The traditional arts have learnt to do a lot with little: one set on stage, one object and the ability to bring a story to life for hours at a time. Digital creation needs this simplicity and to make room for the imagination. Conversely, the digital arts are giving the traditional arts a renewed appeal, a way of reinventing themselves. The digital world challenges staging and the role of the viewer, and questions the very essence of theatre or dance.

Large: Cultural institutions are part of a paradoxical movement. They are interested in it and see a future in the approach, but at the same time it frightens them as it breaks from the traditional mould. Our work consists of reassuring these institutions and explaining that our goals are the same: to bring art and audiences together.

Our pieces respond to what the viewer is doing. By the end of an experience, we want the viewer to get moving, to dance and engage their body.

Your latest project, “Call me Calamity” (2020) combines virtual reality and immersive theatre and brings the viewer into the heart of the American legend of Calamity Jane. Tell us about this piece.

Lepoil:Call me Calamity” is a piece that blends immersive theatre with virtual reality and brings the user into the heart of the American legend to witness the birth of the first female figure in the West: Calamity Jane. This 50-minute experience is designed for 12 users equipped with virtual reality headsets. 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.

What gave you the idea of creating a piece of theatre in virtual reality? Why did you choose to create a piece for 12 users? When are you planning to present it for the first time? 

Lepoil: We wanted 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.

Large: If the public health situation improves, the short version of the experience will take place in spring 2021 at the American Center for Arts and Culture in Paris, where we are currently in residence.

You started your career at a time when virtual reality was in its very early stages. How do you view this market today?

Lepoil: Virtual reality has developed new use forms and a taste for immersion, an appetite for entering different worlds. It allows you to interact differently than in the world of video gaming, involving your body, touch, sensations. This technology has opened up the field of possibilities and is allowing new types of practices and desires to emerge.

Large: The market is structured. The number of production companies has decreased because the industry has not exactly exploded. Those remaining are the people who are committed to bringing viewers into their stories.  

What are your upcoming projects?

Lepoil: Birdie Long Gone (2021) is a piece that uses a real, not virtual, set and immersive sound. We worked with our co-producers Demute to make it, in order to link sound with touch, or light. We have tried to develop a scenographic language with spatialised sound.

Large: We’ll probably preview Birdie Long Gone at the 104 in spring 2021, if we have all the right conditions, and will enter it into the Venice Film Festival in September 2021.  

The Institut français and the artists

« Call me Calamity » is presented in the “VR Immersive Experiences” catalogue that presents some forty original works at the intersection of virtual reality, live entertainment and visual arts.

Find out more about the “VR Immersive Experiences” catalogue

« Call me Calamity » is also presented on Futur image and Culture VR

L'institut français, LAB