Bury The Wren (BTW) is a cutting edge exploration of Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and live performance. An interdisciplinary (Computer Science, Drama, and Art) project investigating themes of female erasure and the retelling of Canadian stories, BTW focuses on the true-life story of the Donnelly family who were massacred in 1880’s Ontario. Telling the story from the previously untold female perspective, we exhume the voice of Annie Donnelly from the grave of history.

Our objectives were to challenge and push the boundaries of perception in an intimate (one-to-one) performance setting. BTW explores the possibilities in these emerging technologies for the creation and performance of theatre, with an eye towards the unknown and future potentials, and the impact of each form on the other. We aimed to alter perception, and create a multi-sensory experience, while focusing on telling a compelling story.

In 1880, in rural Ontario, five members of the Donnelly family were brutally murdered by their neighbours. Annie Donnelly and her husband Robert survived, and lived among the murderers who were never brought to justice. 

The audience of one enters an empty room. There is a VR headset spotlit on the floor. A guide helps the participant put on the headset and they enter VR. It is pitch black until a book fades in floating and spinning. Slowly, walls made of mud emerge from the blackness. A voice enters the carbon room and begins to read a poem. She is effectively invisible, a ghost. “I am Annie Donnelly” she says. “Welcome to my grave.” From there she tells the participant her story, engages with objects – both virtual and carbon-real, seen and unseen. There is a shift into AR mediated by video passthrough, and then another shift into carbon reality when the headset is removed, and the participant finds themselves with the performer in a transformed performance space now inhabited by the carbon versions of all the virtual objects they engaged with… and more.