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When Shakespeare met high technology

 On a midsummer night, let yourself travel through time and space, return to the forest of ancient Greece, transform into a light firefly, use the flickering light to guide the elves, and start a fantasy journey. This is not an illusory dream that is divorced from reality, but a visual feast of the "Midsummer Night's Dream" that the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company will bring to audiences around the world from March 12th.


This new play called "Dream", inspired by Shakespeare's classic play "A Midsummer Night's Dream", moved the story from the theater stage closed due to the new crown epidemic to a virtual platform supported by the Internet, and brought virtual reality to the same level. Technology is used in the background narration of Shakespeare's classic plays. The audience can not only wander in the virtual Midsummer Night Forest, but also interact with the actors in real time and influence the development of the plot.


Even the imaginative Shakespeare himself, I am afraid that the handed down classics he created can be presented by posterity in this way.


"Brave New World"

The Royal Shakespeare Company has received special financial support from the "British National Research and Innovation", and has cooperated with the Manchester International Arts Festival, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the world's leading virtual reality technology company "Marshmallow Laser Monster" and the famous online The game company "Epic Games" has worked hand in hand to push the "immersive theater", an innovative form of expression that completely breaks the boundaries between the stage and the audience, allows the audience to participate in the plot and becomes a part of the story, to new limits.


The play brings together outstanding talents in stage performance, music, video and game production, and scientific research. They use their respective expertise to use immersive live performances through multiple platforms, using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and hybrids. High-tech technologies such as MR, bring a brand new and upgraded experience to the audience. As an interdisciplinary experiment of the "Future Audience Group" in the UK, the audience not only breaks through the geographical limitations of watching dramas, instead of passively watching, but actively participating in the development of the plot and becoming a part of the entire drama.



 

The seven actors in the studio use movement to control the avatars in the play. At the beginning of the show, an actor invited the audience from reality to the virtual midsummer night forest; under the densely clouded dusk, the audience instantly turned into fireflies in the forest, shining and gathering with little glimmers, lighting up the midsummer night The forest, and the avatars controlled by the actor at this time, such as Elf Parker, spider webs, and moths, follow the guidance of these fireflies, constantly shuttle through the forest, and experience the need to save the forest in the storm and break the spell before dawn Fantasy journey.


The role of fireflies the audience assumes is very important. They not only participate in the performance, but also guide the virtual characters forward. The fireflies played by different audiences have different choices for the direction of travel, which causes Parker the elf and other virtual characters in the play to have different trajectories and directions of travel.


The music recorded in advance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra is combined with Gestrument, the most breakthrough interactive music tool. The virtual characters will produce different musical effects in different directions and trajectories, which makes this experimental play bring audiences A dual interaction of vision and hearing.


It can be said that this 50-minute online performance is a shared experience between the online audience and the seven actors who play Parker and other roles. Each performance of "Dream" is a unique performance due to the participation and guidance of different audiences.



 

Global online audiences can choose to watch the performance for free, or they can choose to purchase a special ticket of £10 to participate in the above-mentioned interaction with the actors. Such experiential audiences can also enter the theater in person to watch a play, learn about the background of the story and how to interact with the actors in the virtual "theater hall" before the opening, participate in the performance during the performance and directly influence the actors at key moments in the play In the world, after the performance, you can also meet with the actors and learn about the backstage story of the theater.


In 2016, in the live stage of Shakespeare's classic play "The Tempest", high-tech was used for the first time to bring virtual characters onto the stage. This time, these technologies are fully blooming in the experimental drama "Dream". In this regard, the excitement of Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, is beyond words. He said, “This is a new interpretation and imagination of Shakespeare’s classics in the 21st century. It has given us a new context of imagination. It’s really extraordinary! I want to quote a sentence from the play-this will be a brave new one. world."




The staff produces "Dream". Figure/RSC


"The show must continue"

After the spread of the new crown virus worldwide in 2020, the stage for live performances has been forced to close. With the continuous recurrence of the epidemic in the West, theatrical stage performances have encountered unprecedented survival dilemmas.


At the recent Oxford University Business School Entrepreneur Global Online Forum, there was a seminar entitled "Performance Must Continue", focusing on the difficult live stage performing arts industry.



 

There are three major theaters in the UK that enjoy special royal funding. The directors of two of the theaters are Lisa Burger, executive director of the National Theatre of England, and Catherine Mallyon, executive director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Participated in this seminar as a special guest.


About 70% of the employees in the British drama industry are freelancers. Lisa Berg is worried that once the epidemic is over, these people may not all return to the industry. This kind of brain drain will undoubtedly be a huge blow to the drama industry.


Even if live theater performances can be reopened in the future, the social distancing measures required to control the virus will result in a sharp drop in the number of live audiences. This has to make the theater an economic account: Will live performances requiring social distancing measures Can’t make ends meet because the box office revenue cannot make up for the cost of the performance? Catherine Malion mentioned that the business model of the entire industry needs to be rethinked and defined. This is not only an innovation in story content and production technology, but also a new thinking and breakthrough in the business model.


High-tech methods are having a huge impact on theatrical performances. In the early days, high-tech was regarded as an unpopular "other" by the theater industry. However, as time went by, more and more theater stages took the initiative to incorporate high-tech into stage performances and related industries.


The new crown epidemic has accelerated this reshaping process. During the epidemic, the British theater industry began various cooperation with high-tech industries. Some theaters use advanced high-definition video technology to record live performances of dramas and broadcast them on TV and online platforms; some theaters use online platforms to interact with audiences. For example, in the interpretation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic "Holmes" series, the audience who enters the online platform will play the role of jurors, which will affect the development of the plot and become a part of the whole drama; while some theaters pay tribute to the classics, for example, Drama actors used the online platform to read Shakespeare's sonnets live online, comforting everyone who felt lonely during the epidemic lockdown.


One of the most influential attempts is the "National Theatre at Home" online program launched by the British National Theatre. According to statistics, during the four months from the start of the free program in April 2020 to the end of July of that year, a total of national theater performances including Shakespeare’s "Twelfth Night" and Charlotte Bronte’s "Jane 16 classic plays, including Love and Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, have been viewed more than 15 million times by 9 million families in 173 countries.


However, the popularization of theatrical arts and the economic benefits of theatrical institutions must be balanced. The free "National Theater at Home" online program cannot be sustained for a long time only with some symbolic fundraising. Therefore, after the show’s global success, the National Theatre of the United Kingdom launched the "National Theatre at Home" online theater for paid users, ensuring that users can not only move the theater back home, but also watch the theater’s new plays and exclusive behind-the-scenes monthly story.




 

Catherine Malion mentioned at the seminar that live stage performances will never return to the single form of the past. Instant performances and productions based on immersive performances, as well as diversified mixed expressions, give more The audience brings a new experience, which is the industry trend she sees. Many practitioners in the theater industry are becoming more and more calm about the subversion and redefinition of the theater industry by high technology.


Gregory Doran, the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, believes that online performance cannot replace the theater itself, but high-tech has brought more possibilities to the theater stage. “Online audiences can influence the performance and plot development of actors no matter where they are. This is very exciting. But this cannot replace the live stage performances where the audience and the actors are in the same space, but only provide another possibility. Sex." He said, "Shakespeare is the best storyteller. It is a great experience to have the opportunity to use Shakespeare's plays to explore the possibility of future theater performances!

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