Science

Royal Shakespeare Society to perform “exciting” VR show

The Royal Shakespeare Company has had to adapt to life in COVID-19. Source: Tony Hisgett (via Wikimedia Commons)
In spite of the current COVID-19 pandemic, a prominent Shakespeare play is being revived in virtual reality.

By Francesca Ionescu | Contributor

Since the Covid-19 pandemic the arts have been badly disturbed, as a lot of performance arts could not continue without an audience. While some companies took that as an opportunity to use the very relatable method of video-calling – see Staged with David Tennant and Michael Sheen – the Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, is taking this a step further.

The Royal Shakespeare Company is well known for their special effects and high budget surreal production, and for their upcoming performance ‘Dream’ based on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ they are planning to step into Virtual reality. This is done in partnership with thirteen other companies and universities including Epic Games, De Montfort University and Intel. Bringing together the art of drama and that of game development opens up a lot of possibilities when it comes to how stories are told and how much input technology can have.

The audience will be able to join in from anywhere, using a mobile phone, a VR headset or through the stream on the website, and the show is meant to be an interactive opportunity. The actors will be in a digital forest, wearing motion sensors that will allow them to interact with both the audience and the setting. The Philharmonic Orchestra inspired music will be expanded in real time by the movement of the actors.
The story, as well as the trailer, starts with ‘Puck’ leading the audience from the RSC wooden, real life set to the Virtual Reality forest where the story takes place. This is a nice reminder of Virtual Reality as a medium for art, reminding the audience that this is in fact not ‘reality’. The show also plans to use Augmented Reality (AR) as well as Mixed Reality (MR) elements.

This could raise concerns that post pandemic we might not return to traditional performances, however RSC artistic director Gregory Doran said this is “not a replacement to being in the space with the performers but it opens up new opportunities.” In reference to the performance’s use of new technology alongside traditional theatre techniques, Doran noted that: “By bringing together specialists in on-stage live performance with that of gaming and music you see how much they have in common.”

The performance has actually been around as an idea for longer than the pandemic, as it is funded by the Audience of the Future program – part of the government Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund delivered by UK Research and Innovation -announced in March 2018 in the Creative Industries Sector Deal. The £16 million investment is planned to include four performances according to the RSC official website, and this is only one of them, so it is exciting to see what else the company might explore in the future. After all, technology is to be used, and while it might not replace traditional theatre, it will definitely help make theatre and art more accessible, even post pandemic.

The performance will be made up of seven actors and had been postponed to the week between the 12th of March and the 20th, and it can be watched for free, however members that wish to interact with the performance must purchase a £10 ticket from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s website the Monday before.

The current cast list names several of the performers, including: EM Williams (as Puck), Maggie Bain (as Cobweb), Durrassie Kiangangu (as Moth), Jamie Morgan (as Pease Bottom), and Loren O’Dair (as Mustardseed).

 Science and Technology

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