“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” may be one of Shakespeare’s most played plays – but its latest version from the Royal Shakespeare Company won’t be like any other play ever seen. Titled “Dream,” the 50-minute-long live streaming production combines live performance with motion capture technology, 3-D graphics and interactive gaming techniques that allow audiences to lead Puck from far away through a virtual forest.
As the theater directly sprays some serious hi-tech fairy dust, “Dream” promises to bring the “rarest vision” of the play to our screens, borrowing a line from Shakespeare. It will be available to watch online once a day at various times from Friday through March 20.
“It’s part of our ongoing engagement with this brave new world,” said Gregory Doran, Artistic Director of Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2016, the theater’s production of “The Tempest” used live motion recording technology to create a 3-D digital avatar projected above the stage.
The difference this time is that everything in the play – the performers and their surroundings – will be virtual.
A cast of seven will perform in a specially built studio in Portsmouth, south England, wearing a Lycra motion-capture suit equipped with sensors. They will be surrounded by a 360-degree camera rig, made up of 47 cameras, with every movement almost instantly displayed by digital avatars, forwarded to the viewer. through the stream. These magical characters move seamlessly in a computer-generated forest, and the action is narrated in a low voice by Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave like the voice of the forest.
To home viewers, virtual fairies moving through the digital jungle will look more like a video game or a CGI blockbuster than your usual Royal Shakespeare Company TV show. . But the performances are live and real-time. The performance of each night will be unique.
With the short run and the cast being cut down, “Dream” was not a mass production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; rather, it is a story inspired by it, centered on Puck and the fairies. But don’t expect any cute digital wings: These are nature’s elemental, mysterious forces.
Marshmallow Laser Feast Art collective, which works with mixed, augmented and virtual reality, has created digital avatars for the actors to look like they have emerged from the natural world. Puck is made up of pebbles and rocks, while Titania’s fairies are made up of moth wings, spider webs, earth, or tree roots. Fairies are shape-shifters that combine into recognizable human and animal forms on a screen, and grow or shrink so they are small enough to “get into acorn cups”. , as Puck said.
Royal Shakespeare’s director of digital development, Sarah Ellis, said. “Those avatars come alive as they breathe, and the way they breathe is thanks to live actors.”
The performance-boosting software, called the Unreal Engine, is used in the video game industry and behind popular titles like “Gears of War” and “Fortnite”. Since 2013, the company that developed it, Epic Games, has branched out to create interactive 3-D content with tools for movies and TV, and more and more live events such as music festivals , museum exhibitions and theater products.
Categorizing a technology with live performance and instantly relaying it through a web player to thousands of devices, is an experiment for both Epic Games and Royal Shakespeare Company. And then there’s the interactive component.
Up to 2,000 spectators per performance can become part of the show and will be invited to lead Puck through the jungle. On the screen, selected spectators appear as a cloud of small fireflies: Using the mouse, trackpad or finger on the smart device’s screen, they will be able to move His fireflies around the screen and Puck will follow their instructions through virtual space.
“Without the fireflies – spectators – Puck wouldn’t go anywhere,” said EM Williams, who played the role. “The audience is a huge source of energy for the show.”
In traditional theater production, “technical” rehearsals are final, after weeks of work by the actors on the character and story. For “Dream”, this process begins with accessories for motion capture suits, so that players can correct their movements. Their digital avatars were perfected on giant LED screens around the set to guide performers in virtual environments.
“It looks very 3-D, like it sometimes appears on the screen,” Williams said of the computer-generated forest. “There are times when I touch it, I expect to feel it. It is thinning the veil between the tech world and the real world. “
The Royal Shakespeare Company has long been seen as a fortress of traditional British theater: venerable texts and verses, supported by great actors. Did the company foresee any resistance to its high-tech, experimental approach? Some reviewers said its “Tempest” motion capture feature was a gimmick.
“Of course there will be some criticism,” said Doran, the company’s artistic director. However, he added, he hopes “Dream” can speak to traditional theater audiences, as well as those who are attracted to the technology.
Besides, Shakespeare’s genius meant that his plays could take away any new invention thrown at them. “It was like an experimental product of any of these plays,” said Doran. “Shakespeare is very strong: He will still be there.”
Presented online by the Royal Shakespeare Company, March 12 to 20; dream.online.