Virtual reality performance at Concordia explores classic Irish texts, traditions

“About 40 per cent of Quebeckers have some Irish heritage,” said Emer O’Toole, professor of Irish Studies at Concordia University about the Irish VR project making its way to Montreal. Brittany Henriques reports.

A virtual reality theatre project dealing with the theme of migration launched at Concordia University Friday morning.

The 16-minute immersive experience combines visual, performance and sound art.

It examines three generations of classic Gaelic stories through a contemporary lens.

Visitors will wear virtual reality headsets to experience the pieces.

The project, presented entirely in Irish with translations available, is called “Ar Ais Arís (Back Again)” by Brú Theatre.

“It’s based on Irish language literature writing about immigration,” said James Riordan, the artistic director at Brú Theatre. “So over the last hundred years, these are examples of texts written in Gaelic that are talking about people’s experiences of leaving Ireland, those who came home, and those people who never managed to come back physically to their home place.

“Throughout time, migration has had an impact on on families. And again and again on their families and their generations after that. And so the piece looks at both historical immigration and current immigration and also is interested in the language of Ireland and how immigration had a really negative impact on the fluent speaking of Irish in Ireland.”

Emer O’Toole, an associate professor in Concordia’s school of Irish studies, coordinated its visit to the university.

“It’s a way of of interacting with our roots without necessarily conceiving of Irish culture as being rooted in the past,” said O’Toole.

It’s the show’s North American debut after touring Ireland and throughout Europe.

“People in Ireland have particular sets of memories linked to migration,” added O’Toole. “And people here have another set, so it’s a new perspective. A good number of my students of Irish ancestry, a good number of the Irish community members who come to our talks and public events, they have Irish ancestry. And so the stories in this piece are the stories of their ancestors, the stories that tell them about why they’re here and who they are.

“And so I thought this piece about migration, a new layer is added when it crosses an ocean and it talks not only to the people who were left behind, but also to the people who left.”

The kickoff Friday at Concordia’s 4TH SPACE coincided with St. Patrick’s Day. It was followed by a roundtable talk with the artists.

“About 40 per cent of Quebecers have some Irish heritage,” said O’Toole. “That’s an enormous number. And that means different things to different people. Various aspects of our ancestry are more important depending on how we conceive of ourselves. But certainly in my work here at the school of Irish studies, I meet so many people for whom their Irishness and that part of their cultural heritage is immensely important.”

The show is scheduled to move to the school of Irish studies (until March 20), the department of theatre (March 21) and the Milieux Lounge (March 22).

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