Snuffbox with theatrical scenes of a rope dancer and a puppet show
“Snuffbox with theatrical scenes of a rope dancer and a puppet show,” box by Joseph-Etienne Blerzy, miniature by Louis Nicolas van Blarenbergh and Henri Joseph van Blarebergh, 1778-79 (Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creative Commons)

VESPACE was conceived as a virtual reality model of a restituted theatre space, whose architectural framework was developed by Paul François, PhD. 

Dr. François’ work allows user to explore a version of the space represented on a 3cm x 6cm image depicting the marionette theatre of Sieur Bienfait at the Saint-Germain Fair, painted on an eighteenth-century snuffbox that currently resides in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

The Unity video game engine was chosen for this modeling in order to make the experience both entertaining and informative for the widest possible public. Paul François completed this modeling work while working under the supervision of Dr. Flroent Laroche (computer engineering, Ecole Centrale de Nantes) and Dr. Françoise Rubellin (French literature and theatre history, Université de Nantes).

At the end of February 2020 – mere days before France (as elsewhere in the world) shut down for the Covid-19 pandemic – Jean-Philippe Desrousseaux performed an excerpt from the 1736 marionette play “Polichinelle censeur des théâtres” (“Polichinelle, critic of the theatres”) by Denis Carolet, for inclusion within the model.

At this point, we were able to propose immersion in a model of an eighteenth-century theatre while a performance was underway.

You can download a standalone version of this model here. This model can be viewed onscreen, in two dimensions; navigate using the AWSD keys. However, for the complete, immersive virtual reality experience, we recommend viewing this model through a Steam-compatible headset (for example, HTC Vive).

Working from the architectural framework provided by Dr. François, professors Ben Samuel and Jeffrey Leichman coordinated the efforts of a team of emerging scholars to develop specific applications of the social physics technology developed by Dr. Samuel. Over a series of workshops from 2018-2020 (held in Louisiana, France, and online), this team developed an authoring tool and strategies for generating actionable data sets from literary and historical sources (for more on this, see our Scholarship repository).

In 2022, Daniel Dekerlegand and Norman Bennett, computer science graduate students at the University of New Orleans, helped integrate this system into a graphic interface within the architectural frame, in order to complete a prototype of a playable historical simulation of an eighteenth-century Fair theatre. You can access this playable simulation here. To enjoy the full, immersive virtual reality experience, we recommend viewing this model through an HTC Vive or other Steam-compatible headset.

For more on this project, be sure to check out the Project History and Collaborators and our Scholarship Page. And please don’t hesitate to be in touch with any questions or comments!