Carnegie Mellon University

Whitton Frank, Actor, Producer and Writer

Acting and Producing When All the World’s a Stage

Whitton Frank’s (CMU 2006) acting and performance career has taken her around the world, but her latest venture gives her unlimited reach without leaving home.

She’s part of the Ferryman Collective where she writes, produces and acts in live, immersive performances in virtual worlds. Stepping into an avatar, she performs online using virtual reality technology.

“This is really the pinnacle of what performance in the future might look like,” says Whitton, who holds a bachelor of humanities and arts in drama and creative writing. “We can bring high-quality performances to anyone anywhere in the world at any time. It combines stage performance, voice acting, puppetry and mask work. All of that is crucial for live performance in a digital space.”

A typical VR production takes its lead from live, immersive theater. Audiences interact with actors, who improvise around a scripted story. In Whitton’s recent show “Gumball Dreams,” multiple actors play the lead role as an alien who is about to transition out of its current life.

Along with a small audience of just three people who solve puzzles to enable the transition, Whitton’s performance and one-on-one interactions explore themes of love, hopes, dreams and regrets. Recognition and awards for the work have come from South by Southwest, Kaohsiung Film Festival and Raindance.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitton’s team noticed one of the most effective gestures in performances was a hug or maybe a high-five.

“Technology without human connection is just cool technology, and that’s not enough, it needs a human element,” Whitton says. “What brings people out to try cool technology is connection. We’re creating empathy, understanding and connection between people.”

Story by Elizabeth Speed