VR and presence pain relief demo illustrates plot of play “Ugly Lies the Bone”

[The ability of VR and presumably presence to relieve pain is central to the plot of the play Ugly Lies the Bone; the story below from the Roundabout Theater Company blog describes a recent demonstration the cast and others experienced (some of the coverage indicates that audience members will have the opportunity as well). More information about the play is available from Broadway World. The stories don’t mention it but the lead actress in the play is Meryl Streep’s daughter, who also has a key role in the CBS TV series Extant, which deals with other presence-related themes. For more on portrayals of presence, see the (new) web site of the Telepresence in Media Environments project. –Matthew]

Ugly Lies the Bone VR demo

[Image: Actress Mamie Gummer, who plays Jess in “Ugly Lies the Bone”]

Virtual Reality and Ugly Lies the Bone

Posted on: August 12th, 2015 by Jill Rafson

How can you put yourself in the shoes of a person experiencing pain? The answer comes in the form of a simple bucket of ice.

On July 27, members of the cast and creative team for Roundabout Underground’s Ugly Lies the Bone gathered in a rehearsal hall to learn about the ways in which Virtual Reality technology can be used as pain therapy. Howard Rose, Founder and CEO of DeepStream VR, led the group in a discussion of how this technology has developed from something used by gamers for simple entertainment to a scientifically-proven aid in alleviating both chronic pain and the severe pain suffered during wound treatment for burn victims.

In Ugly Lies the Bone, soldier Jess was burned over much of her body, and she immerses herself in the snowy landscape of a virtual world to find relief. This aspect of the plot comes directly from the actual Virtual Reality game “SnowWorld” and its newer offshoot, “Cool.”

It would be one thing to simply put on goggles and play these games, but Rose wanted the artists to understand how pain feels on its own and how differently we react to pain when distracted by something like these games. To demonstrate, volunteers were timed while immersing one hand in a bucket of ice water. The hand was kept in for as long as they could tolerate the pain. Once removed, they were warmed up with a towel and heating lamp. Most of the artist volunteers lasted about one minute in the bucket.

The experiment was then tried again, but this time while fully immersed in the world of “Cool,” in which the player hears gentle music while moving through a pleasant landscape in which they toss paintballs at animated otters that change color in response. With the added distraction of the game, volunteers were able to keep their hands in the same bucket of ice much longer. For most, it was about three times longer that the pain could be tolerated, which Rose confirmed as on par with previous demonstrations.

The actors, director, and designers all walked away from the experience with a first-hand understanding of how Virtual Reality can impact the life of a person in pain, valuable information that will now inform their work in bringing Ugly Lies the Bone to the stage.


Ugly Lies the Bone begins previews September 10 at our Black Box Theatre. All tickets to Roundabout Underground are general admission for only $25. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

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