A year on since theatres had to close their doors, we have witnessed arts organisations reimagine their work by bringing so much of it online and experimenting digitally. The RSC are taking online performance to a whole new level with Dream.
Funded by the Audience for the Future program before the pandemic even began, the RSC have been doing research and development into immersive technology for the past two years. Despite the last year throwing a spanner into some of their work, when they went back to the drawing board, they managed to come up with a new version of Dream – where theatre, music and groundbreaking technology combine in an extraordinary exploration into the future of live performance.
Actors perform live every night alongside both live and pre-recorded music to create a digital world where audiences can interact through gaming technology.
I spoke to Sarah Ellis, Director of Digital Development at the RSC about this exciting new project that explores the future of live performance using immersive technology. “We were due to do a performance in Stratford-Upon-Avon last June which was going to showcase what we’d learnt through our research and development,” Sarah said. “Due to the pandemic hitting, we had to stop production last March and completely reimagine the experience online.
“In that process, we learnt audiences were craving togetherness and liveness, but there was also a huge digital inequity in people’s homes. We wanted to create something using immersive technology that is accessible to people. “
Sarah describes Dream as “very much a piece for now.” Set in an virtual midsummer forest, it is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the themes of the play.
For this project, the team at the RSC had always planned to intertwine immersive technology into their work, but as the world went online, it only accelerated their digital exploration. “We were really equipped to think differently, experimentally and innovatively,” she said. “We’ve got to be brave and courageous at this time, if we can’t take risk now, when can we?
“This project is in development; it isn’t final production. But it is supposed to create a conversation by testing a new way of working with technology, creative and production.”
Working with Manchester International Festival, Marshmallow Laser Fest and the Philharmonia, the RSC had just completed a recording of the music the day before the first lockdown in March 2020. “We really had to start again, but by starting again we were able to think about where we are at and how we could achieve something with our audiences in this quite profound shift in time. Like everyone, we’ve had to reimagine and readjust.”
“We’ve got to be brave and courageous at this time, if we can’t take risk now, when can we?”Sarah ellis – director of digital development
They then came up with a production that is streamed using motion capture and interactivity to engage with the audiences live. “It is much harder to do it live, but the project is about the future of live performance using real-time technology,” Sarah said. “It is really important to say that, and also to recognise that liveness is something we have really missed in this pandemic. So it is really crucial we push the technology to support that.”
Sarah’s worked at the RSC in a digital role for nearly ten years, but digital has never been as important as it is now. “One of my roles at the beginning was to use digital tools and technologies to disrupt our own systems. But I feel what it is now, is about driving digital,” she said.
“The world has become a lot more digitally aware, so now the job is to show people the possibilities. Show them that there are many tools that people can use to imagine, build and create work, but also ways of connecting and creating togetherness.
“We’ve aligned ourselves so it isn’t an ‘either or‘ situation, it is a ‘yes and.’ We are very much about welcoming everyone back into our buildings later, but hopefully we’ve found a new community who will come back with us too.”
With theatres being one of the first to close and the last to reopen, it has been paramount for these buildings to find new ways to connect with their audiences. Sarah emphasises how it is important to use what we have learnt this year, and build on it to remain accessible.
But what can audiences expect? Sarah tells me: “Audiences can expect to feel welcomed into the performance and the world of play. You will enter the performance online and then you can sit back, relax and enjoy. If you have an interactive ticket, there will be a few gentle moments in the show where you can interact by lighting Puck’s way.
“We hope that it delights you, we hope it moves you, we hope it is something different and that you really enjoy it.”
Find out more about Dream on their website.
Featured photo by Stuart Martin (c) RSC