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Bringing Shakespeare to life in a virtual forest

The University of Portsmouth is part of a pioneering project combining live performance with virtual reality and gaming technology to bring immersive theatre to audiences wherever they are in the world.


The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in collaboration with Manchester International Festival (MIF), Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) and Philharmonia Orchestra will stage a live performance of Dream, based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


The latest gaming and theatre technology will be used to give audiences a unique opportunity to directly influence the live performance using their mobile, desktop or tablet.


The production is performed with seven actors in a specially created motion capture space at The Guildhall in Portsmouth, supported by a team from the University of Portsmouth’s Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries.


Vicon motion capture cameras capture the movements of the performers, which in turn drives the virtual avatars of each of the characters in real-time.


Pippa Bostock, Business Director of the Centre for Creative and Immersive XR (CCIXR), said: “Through the magic of cutting-edge technology, Dream allows the participant to be more than an observer - it allows them to immerse themselves in Puck's world. Real-time motion capture drives the characters, adding a new dimension to live interactive performance and opening new possibilities for the future.”


Professor Trevor Keeble, Executive Dean for the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, said: “The Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries is at its best when its staff and students are working in partnership with the professional creative sectors. To be collaborating on Dream with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Philharmonia, and Manchester International Festival, amongst others demonstrates the standing and expertise of our creative technology and performances teams here at Portsmouth, and in doing that, shows the importance of innovative creative industries to our wider economy.”


Chief Executive of The Guildhall Trust, Andy Grays said: “Portsmouth Guildhall is delighted to welcome this exciting collaboration to our Guildhall Studio. It has been fascinating to see the rehearsals and preparations for Dream come together and wonderful to see our Studio space at the centre of this cutting edge research and development work for the future of live performance.”

The 50-minute online event is set in a virtual forest. As fireflies, the audience can guide the character Puck through the forest at key points in the play using their touchscreen, trackpad or mouse. The actors perform and respond to audience interaction and direction making each performance unique, as the audience will behave differently at each event.


Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director said: “What’s brilliant about Dream is the innovation at play. An audience member sitting at home influencing the live performance from wherever they are – that’s exciting. It’s not a replacement to being in the space with the performers but it opens up new opportunities. By bringing together specialists in on-stage live performance with that of gaming and music you see how much they have in common.


“The story is king, whether you are a gamer, or an audience member. Stories haven’t changed, but the way we engage audiences with them has. Shakespeare was our greatest storyteller and it’s brilliant that we get the opportunity to use one of his plays to discover what could be possible for live performance.”


The project is one of four Audience of the Future Demonstrator projects that is delivered by UK Research and Innovation as part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. Dream runs from 12 to 20 March. Audiences can choose to buy a £10 ticket, to take part in the interactive element, or to view the performance for free. Tickets are available via dream.online

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