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SD Fringe Artist Highlight: Iceland’s Huldufugl

Trio of artists perform virtual reality show for one person at a time

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The seventh annual San Diego International Fringe Festival is in full swing with a diverse array of shows available at the festival's new home base of Balboa Park. One unique show, "A Box in the Desert," comes from Iceland and involves virtual reality.

Aired: June 10, 2019 | Transcript

SD Fringe Preview: ‘A Box in the Desert’

The seventh annual San Diego International Fringe Festival is in full swing with a diverse array of shows available at the festival's new home base of Balboa Park. One unique show, "A Box in the Desert," comes from Iceland and involves virtual reality.

Most Fringe shows strive to get as big an audience as they can but for Huldufugl a full house is an audience of one.

"One person at a time can only enter it and they find themselves stuck within a box in the desert," explained Astor Agustsson, one of the two performers in the show. "And then there are conflicting entities which try to persuade them to either escape the box or find comfort within it. And then it's their choice of which entity they listen to."

Huldufugl (which translates as "hidden bird") is made up of performers Nanna Gunnars and Agustsson, and Owen Hindley, who created the virtual reality world for the show.

Photo by Beth Accomando

Actor Astor Agustsson prepares to enter the virtual reality space where one audience member at a time experiences the show "A Box in the Desert."

Agustsson said the experience can be daunting and trying for the performer because the experience can be different each time. But that also keeps it fresh and exciting.

"That's the beauty of it and that's the beauty of of immersive and interactive theater," Agustsson added. "Not just for the for the audience but for the performers as well. In interactive theater you're always on your toes and you never know what this audience member or these audience members are gonna do."

The unique nature of the show makes it perfect for Fringe. Gunnars runs the Reykjavík Fringe Festival and the story of getting "A Box in the Desert" into a traveling show typifies the spirit of Fringe. There is a do-it-yourself mentality to Fringe and when Gunnars couldn't find a venue for her show she simply decided to start the Reykjavík Fringe Festival to provide one.

"Fringe festivals are very many and very varied depending on where they are in the world," Gunnars said. "As I've gotten to know a lot about them in the past year that I've started running the Reykjavík Fringe Festival and there's more than 200 fringe festivals around the world and they all operate in a different way from one to another but mostly they're open arts festivals. So they're open for any type of art. It's not limited to theater, it's not limited to dance, it's not limited to comedy. It's everything and it's a really good breeding ground for experimental arts of any kind. So people that are testing out new material or new new people that are trying to break into the art scene, it's a really exciting playground of art of all kinds really."

Photo by Beth Accomando

Huldufugl's show "A Box in the Desert" almost immediately sold out all of its 40 performances at San Diego International Fringe.

With "A Box in the Desert," the group wanted to explore a variety of themes.

Agustsson described the underlying themes as "trust, freedom of choice, whether there is such a thing to begin with. And it challenges you to question authority as well."

Gunnars likes how it defies genres.

"We we think of it as theater," Gunnars said. "But we we took it to a games festival and got an award as the best game. It's been compared to escape rooms as well. So it's like crossing the boundaries between playing games and playing theater. We're getting people that are interested in computer games but we're also getting people that are interested in new media. And and people interested in how theater is developing. So that's that's a really fun thing too."

"A Box in the Desert" is completely sold out for its Fringe run but check out the video previews of many of the other shows playing at this year's festival on the Fringe landing page.

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