INF 190/295 - AR/VR/MR Theater

Class Syllabus

Theresa (Tess) Tanenbaum


Asynchronous, but concentrated around Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2-3:30pm PST


Wherever you like


How do theories of acting, performance, and theater intersect with games and augmented/virtual/mixed reality? As designers of digital media systems what can we learn from theatrical performance? As theorists of games and media, what critical lenses can we draw from performance studies? What can we learn from the emergence of new forms of pervasive participatory theater, hybrid reality experiences, and interactive environments? In this online seminar style class we will explore the intersection of these topics.  We will draw our readings from both performance studies, game studies, and popular vernacular writing about emerging digital theater forms. 

Course Structure

We’re flying by the seat of our pants here in terms of format and content. My goal is to support both synchronous and asynchronous options for people to participate.  I believe that we will be able to have a pretty lively conversation during class hours over Zoom, but I recognize that not everyone will have access to a stable connection or quiet location.  To accommodate all participants, we will also maintain a slack for asynchronous discussion of the readings. We will have our discussions on either Tuesday or Thursday depending on student availability. On the other day we will use the designated class time to try to be on Slack, posting actively. We will structure deadlines for reading and reflection around this.  We’ll be using a number of different tools for this process (see below)

Learning Goals

By the end of this class, students should be familiar with the intersections of drama, storytelling, play, games, XR, and live performance. Students will demonstrate their understanding of the material through the production of a design document for an XR participatory theater project. 

Final Deliverable

Students will produce an asset-rich design document for an XR participatory theater piece, complete with storyboard, concept art, UX walkthrough, environment maps, scripts, cast list, and mood boards. We will work on this in small pieces over the quarter in parallel with our readings and discussions.

Course Logistics and Resources

I will use e-mail and Slack to distribute links and passwords for these platforms. Please DO NOT share these with anyone outside of the class for any reason.


We will be using Slack for our class discussions. Slack allows us to maintain asynchronous communication with each other.


We will be using Zoom for voice and/or video conferencing. Zoom is a synchronous option for us to have more "face-to-face" style conversations. Zoom will be primarily for check-ins and course business.

Course Website

You've found it! This is it!
The syllabus will be posted on the course website, along with any digital resources for your use.

MS Whiteboard

Whiteboard will be used to supplement both Slack and Zoom discussions, allowing for more visual elements.

HA! Just kidding! Whiteboard couldn't handle all of us at once. Chalk this one up to a teachable moment, I guess?

Google Drive

We will use Google Drive to host all of the readings, and for submissions of all assignments.


I will occasionally pre-record lectures and post them to a private YouTube Channel for the class.

Grading and Expectations

Grading Options

Due to the global pandemic, UCI is shifting to a Pass/No Pass option for all classes. I would strongly prefer that everyone takes advantage of this option.  However should anyone wish to use a standard grading scale they may do so. My understanding is that you need to opt-in to P/NP grading, but that you may do so at any time during the quarter. Please contact the Student Affairs Office for more information.

Much of this class is discussion focused. This means you should plan to spend a fair amount of your course time reading the materials, and log-in to our sessions prepared to ask questions, take positions, and dig into the topics we’re considering.  XR Theater is still a pretty new phenomenon, so there is lots of room to speculate and disagree.  Please come to this class prepared to read, think, and discuss.

That being said, we’re in an extraordinary time, and I’ll do my best to make this class as accessible to everyone as is possible.  While it is my hope that most of us can be online during the scheduled class times, I recognize that this may not be possible or even likely.  I promise to adapt my expectations to your unique situations as we move forward, and ask that you all extend me the same consideration.




To give you a chance to develop a preliminary idea about the kind of experience you will be designing in this class. You will be revising and iterating through your idea over the course the quarter, but this gives you a starting point from which to design.

For the moment don’t worry about how you would implement this vision. Treat this as a “speculative design” exercise: what kind of XR Theater experience would you create if time, money, expertise, and technology were not limiting factors? What kind of XR Theater experience can you imagine?


Your vision statement should be around 1000-2000 words. It should include the following elements:

  1. A short introductory story describing a key moment in the experience for the participant(s). Written in a narrative style, this story should capture the emotional and aesthetic goals of the experience and should allow the reader to imagine themselves into the shoes of a participant.
  2. A “just the facts: overview describing the main features and elements behind the idea:
    • One paragraph description of the piece
    • If it’s an adaptation of a specific pre-existing IP, which one, and how will this differ from the original?
    • How many players/participants?
    • What is the participant expected to do?
    • What is the setting/environment in which the piece takes place? In a theater? At home? In a public space? In a theme park? Etc.
    • Is it time-delimited, or can it be played/experienced at any time?
    • How long is the experience?
    • What technological/interactive elements are present?
  3. The Visual and Aural mood of the work, with references to specific similar works (we will expand on this for the mood board and concept art deliverables). What are the inspirations for the work? What genre is the work in?
  4. A one paragraph pitch of the piece, suitable for posting in Slack

Remember that you can use images, graphs, tables, diagrams, and other visuals to communicate your ideas.

Assessment Criteria

  • Clear writing, proper spelling and grammar, and complete sentences.
  • Submission provides sufficient material to generate a productive conversation about the idea/concept
  • Engages with the ideas of the class (eg: XR, theater)

How to submit

  • Please email me a .docx file on or before class time on April 16th (Week 3).
  • Subject line: [INF 190/295 – XR Theater] Deliverable #1
  • Post a copy to the class Slack before class time on Thursday, Week 3.


To capture the look and feel of your project and identify key visual and aural influences and inspirations for the piece. To give you an opportunity to sketch out some visual elements that can’t be captured by pictures online.


This one is simple: I want a collage of images that capture the aesthetic you are aiming for with your piece. You may use an online tool, like Adobe Spark, or just add images to a Google Slides Document. There are dozens of free moodboard makers out there and so many guides that I haven’t been able to decide on any one for you to use.  So work with the tools that you find comfortable.

A typical mood board often includes the following elements:

  • Photo Reference
  • Drawings
  • Color swatches or pallets
  • Sample fonts
  • Notes and captions for context

You may include any of these things that you wish on your mood boards.

Additionally, I’d like you to assemble an auditory mood board – a playlist of relevant songs and sound clips that help inspire your work. This can be done on youtube, or some other free online service.

Finally, I’d like each of your to try your hand at sketching a piece of concept art for your project.

Assessment Criteria

  • Captures and communicates a strong aesthetic for your piece.

How to submit

  • Please email me a link or file on or before class time on April 16th (Week 3).
  • Subject line: [INF 190/295 – XR Theater] Deliverable #2
  • Post a copy to the class Slack before class time on Thursday, Week 5.


To provide a visual overview of your design, and to better visualize the physical and virtual spaces of your piece.


Whether your experience is physical or virtual (or a hybrid of both), space plays a significant role in conveying your narrative. By weaving details into your environment it becomes one of the most important avenues of storytelling available to you as a designer. 

For this assignment you will be creating a visual representation of your experience that shows the path that participants, actors, and spectators take through it. This could take the form of an illustrated flowchart that shows the experience journey of people through your experience, or it could take the form of a literal map or floor plan showing how the space is laid out, and highlighting key design features and elements.

Assessment Criteria

Should convey visually both space and time:

  • How is the environment laid out?
  • What are the salient items and features of the environment?
  • Who is in the environment? (NPCs, Actors, Crew, Participants, Spectators, etc.)
  • How do people move through the space in time?
  • What happens as people move through the space?

How to submit:

  • Please email me a link or file on or before class time on May 21st (Week 8).
  • Subject line: [INF 190/295 – XR Theater] Deliverable #3
  • Post a copy to the class Slack before class time on Thursday, Week 8.



The interactive experience is built on a single theological framework that unites Dante, George R. R. Martin, every major heist movie, and Erin Gloria Ryan's

Heist and High: The Craigslist Robber Who Stole $400,000 ...

How the £24million Hatton Garden raid unfolded, minute by minute ...


The UX Walkthrough is the most detailed version of your design yet. This is meant to be a detailed accounting of the experience that a participant will have from the moment they begin the experience to the end.


The UX Walkthrough is meant to be a highly detailed document that lays out the experiential aspects of the system in anticipation of a designer or builder implementing that experience. Think of it as a recipe for your design: I should be able to take that recipe and use it to create something that correctly realizes the vision you have in mind. this means that I expect your UX walkthrough to be very specific and detailed about the minute-to-minute experience of your system. What happens when the experience starts? What does the participant see and hear and do? Then what happens next? What key assets need to be produced to execute this vision (visuals, audio assets, interactional assets, and narrative details)?

See this Sample UX Walkthrough for formatting and content inspiration

Assessment Criteria

  • Clear writing, proper spelling and grammar, and complete sentences.
  • Length: as long as it needs to be, but typically in the 10-25 page range. (if you use the formatting of my example)
  • Effectively communicates the experience that a participant of your system will have.
  • Provides sufficiently detailed technical guidance to allow someone to implement your design.

How to submit

  • Please email me a .docx file on or before class time on May 28th (Week 9).
  • Subject line: [INF 190/295 – XR Theater] Deliverable #4
  • Post a copy to the class Slack before class time on Thursday, Week 9.


This is it!  The final portfolio!

The goal of this assignment is to reflect upon all of your work this quarter and bring it together into a single coherent vision for your Speculative XR Theater Design


If I’ve done my job right, then by now your ideas and designs should be different from the initial vision document that you pitched. Hopefully you know more about the possibilities for XR Theater, and the underlying theatrical and digital media theory that can inform those possibilities, and have a better understanding of what kinds of systems and experiences exist in the world already. Ideally, your ideas have grown and evolved over this quarter.

For this final assignment I want you to go back over everything you’ve done up until now, and evaluate it from this perspective. How has your design evolved since you started? What is different from when you started? How have the readings and discussions changed your work?

For your final submission I want you to take all of the things you’ve made, and update them to reflect your new perspective. The older they are, the more updating and revision they will likely require, but you may want to iterate over everything, to make certain it is all telling the same story. Please make certain you have addressed any feedback or suggestions that I’ve given you on your previous assignments.

Then I want you to package this all up into a single unified design prospectus that you submit as a .pdf.  For many of you, as you have been working in Milanote or similar web-based platforms, you will need to export or screen capture your work into a stable document that you can submit as a single file. The final submission should clearly incorporate the ideas from the readings into it, and should feel like a single unified prospectus with a high-level vision plan, moodboard, visual diagrammatic plan of a player’s journey through the space, and detailed UX walkthrough.  If you have other ideation and material that fleshes out your design further, please include it as well.

Assessment Criteria

  • Clear writing, proper spelling and grammar, and complete sentences.
  • Effectively and comprehensively communicates your design without requiring any additional explanation on your part.
  • Provides sufficiently detailed guidance to allow someone to implement your design.
  • Clearly demonstrates an understanding of the key concepts that we have been discussing throughout the quarter.

How to submit

  • Please email me a .pdf file on or before class time on June 9th (Finals week).
  • Subject line: [INF 190/295 – XR Theater] Deliverable #5
  • Post a copy to the class Slack before class time on Tuesday, June 9th, Finals Week


You will be presenting your ideas to the class on either Tuesday or Thursday of Finals week. We have 20 projects in the class, and a total of 180 minutes to present them, so each of you will have 8 minutes to present. Your presentation can take any format you like, but should be no longer than 5 minutes long, so that we have time for a few questions between talks. I will distribute a presentation order to the class prior to finals week so that you can prepare.  I will also enable screen sharing so that you will be able to use powerpoint or keynote or google slides to showcase your idea.

Weekly Schedule

Week 1

Getting up and running

Tuesday, March 31  (ZOOM)

  • Course introductions and orienting to the technology
  • Readings (for week 2)
    • Milgraph & Kishino (1994) A Taxonomy of Mixed Reality Visual Displays
    • Cowling et al. (2017) Augmenting Reality for Augmented Reality
    • Jing et al. (2017) Magia Transformo: Designing for Mixed Reality Transformative Play

Thursday, April 2 (SLACK)

  • Continued orientation to online platforms
Week 2

VR? AR? MR? XR! – Fundamentals of Design for Hybrid Realties

Tuesday, April 7 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 3)
    • Saltz (2000) The Reality of Doing: Real Speech Acts in the Theatre
    • Wirth (1994) Interactive Acting selections
    • Tanenbaum & Tanenbaum (2009) Commitment to Meaning: A Reframing of Agency in Games

Thursday, April 9 (SLACK)

  • Review Deliverable #1
    • Project Vision Document
Week 3

Acting and Agency

Tuesday, April 14 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 4)
    • Benedetti (1994) The Actor at Work selections
    • Daw (1997) Acting: Thought into Action selections
    • Tanenbaum (2015) Transformation, Drama, and Method Acting

Thursday, April 16 (SLACK)

  • Post & critique Deliverable #1:
    • Project Vision Document
Week 4

Transformative/Theatrical Play & Role Playing and Method Acting #1

Tuesday, April 21 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 5)
    • Lobdell (2000) Practicing the Paradox: Addressing the Creative State
    • Tanenbaum & Tanenbaum (2015) Empathy and Identity in Digital Games: Towards a New Theory of Transformative Play
    • Tanenbaum (2015) Identity Transformation and Agency in Digital Games (Introduction and Conclusion)

Thursday, April 23 (SLACK)

  • Review Deliverable #2:
    • Mood Board
    • Concept Art
Week 5

Transformative/Theatrical Play & Role Playing and Method Acting #2

Tuesday, April 28 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 6)
    • Tanenbaum & Bizzocchi (2009) Rock Band: A Case Study in the Design of Embodied Interface Experience
    • Bizzocchi et al. (2011) Games, narrative and the design of interface
    • Tanenbaum et al. (2020) “How do I make this thing smile?”: An Inventory of Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Commercial Virtual Reality

Thursday, April 30 (SLACK)

  • Post & Critique Deliverable #2:
    • Mood Board
    • Concept Art
Week 6

Interface Design and Embodiment

Tuesday, May 5 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 7)
    • Tanenbaum et al. (2015) Costumes and Wearables as Game Controllers 
    • Tanenbaum & Tanenbaum (2015) Envisioning the Future of Wearable Play: Conceptual Models for Props and Costumes as Game Controllers
    • Buruk et al. (2019) A Design Framework for Playful Wearables
Thursday, May 7 (SLACK)
  • Review Deliverable #3:
    • Environment Map
    • Cast List
    • Preliminary Script
Week 7

Costumes, Props, and Masks

Tuesday, May 12 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 8)
    • Jonsson et al. (2006) Prosopopeia: Experiences from a Pervasive Larp
    • Worthen (2012) “The written troubles of the brain”: “Sleep No More” and the Space of Character

Thursday, May 14 (SLACK)

  • Assign NEW Deliverable #3:
    • Diagram/Experience Map
  • Assign Deliverable #4:
    • UX Walkthrough
Week 8

Larp and Participatory Theater

Tuesday, May 19 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 9)
    • Meisner (1987) On Acting 
    • Pope (2000) Redefining Acting: The Implications of the Meisner Method
    • Segura et al (2018) Designing Future Social Wearables with Live Action Role
      Play (Larp) Designers

Thursday, May 21 (SLACK)

  • Post & Critique Deliverable #3:
    • Diagram/Experience Map
Week 9

Social Connection and Expressive Performance

Tuesday, May 26 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings
  • Readings (for week 10)
    • Spolin (1963) Improvisation for the Theater selections
    • Johnstone (1979) Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

Thursday, May 28 (SLA​CK)

  • Post & Critique Deliverable #4:
    • UX Walkthrough
  • Assign Deliverable #5:
    • Final Design Package
Week 10

Improvisation and Indeterminacy

Tuesday, June 2 (ZOOM)

  • Discuss readings 

Thursday, June 4 (SLACK)

  • Continue discussions
  • Discuss any questions or concerns that people have with deliverable #5
Finals Week

Tuesday, June 9 (ZOOM)

  • Present Deliverable #5:
    • Final Design Package

Thursday, June 11 (ZOOM)

  • Present Deliverable #5:
    • Final Design Package

Additional Important Course Policies and Resources