“O brave new world, that has such people in it!” So exclaims Miranda in the final act of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, as her eyes are opened to the possibilities of a life beyond her small island. For centuries now, theatre companies have used the most modern technologies at their disposal to instill this sense of wonder in audiences.
The Royal Shakespeare Company recently opened up its archives for the first time to the public, revealing a rich history of stage wizardry and behind-the-scenes secrets which have helped them to tell some of the most famous stories of all time. And now the company is taking its special effects a step further, partnering with leading technology organisations on its new jubilee year production of The Tempest. This particular play holds great potential for visual achievements; storms, spells and spirits abound. It is even speculated that the character of Ariel, a sprite who does the bidding of sorcerer Prospero, will be portrayed entirely by a 3D digital avatar, similar to a hologram.
Gregory Doran, Artistic Director at the RSC, took his inspiration from Shakespeare’s original productions: “They were the multi-media events of their day, using innovative technology from the Continent to produce astonishing effects, with moving lights, and stage machinery that could make people fly, and descend from the clouds,” he says. “So I wanted to see what would happen if the very latest cutting edge 21st Century technology could be applied to Shakespeare’s play today. We contacted the leaders in the field, Intel, and they were delighted to come on board. And we have been developing our ideas with them, and Andy Serkis’s brilliant Imaginarium Studios to produce wonders.”
Doran believes that incorporating digital technology into off-stage distribution as well as on-stage productions will be crucial in attracting younger audiences. While the RSC already streams 360 degree productions of plays into classrooms, he comments that there is no follow-through with these consumers once they leave school, even though they spend their whole lives online.
“There is a huge audience out there who want to participate and want to be with us and it’s about making them part of it,” he says. “We have got to be the ones pushing this forward, not the people providing the technology, and that’s a very exciting place to be.”