The Royal Shakespeare Company, in collaboration with Manchester International Festival, Marshmallow Laser Feast, Philharmonia Orchestra and Epic Games will stage a live performance of Dream from 12-20 March 2021 using motion capture as the culmination of a major piece of cutting-edge research and development.
Dream was due to open in spring 2020 as an in person and online live performance and has been re-created during the pandemic for online audiences while theatres remain closed. The project is one of four Audience of the Future Demonstrator projects, supported by the government Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which is delivered by UK Research and Innovation.
Dream is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and gives a unique opportunity for audiences to directly influence the live performance from wherever they are in the world. Audiences will experience a new performance environment easily accessed on their mobile, desktop or tablet. The performance uses the latest gaming and theatre technology together with an interactive symphonic score that responds to the actors’ movement during the show.
The 50-minute online event will be a shared experience between remote audience members and the seven actors who play Puck and the sprites. The ten Dream performances are scheduled so that audiences across the world can join the event.
In the cast are: Maggie Bain (Cobweb), Phoebe Hyder (Understudy Puck and Mustardseed), Durassie Kiangangu (Moth), Jamie Morgan (Peaseblossom), Loren O’Dair (Mustardseed), EM Williams (Puck ) and Edmund Wood (rehearsal assistant, Understudy Moth, Cobweb & Peaseblossom).
Director Robin McNicholas is joined in the creative team by Pippa Hill (script creation), McNicholas and Hill (narrative), Esa-Pekka Salonen (music director and composer), Jesper Nordin (composer, interactivity designer and creative advisor, music) and Sarah Perry (movement director).
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. For instance, the RSC’s deep understanding of scripted drama combined with Marshmallow Laser Feast’s innovation in creative tech brings thrilling results.
“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.”
A major piece of research runs through the project led by i2media research at Goldsmiths, University of London and NESTA, including the potential for making similar online performances financially viable for the arts sector. All findings and research will be shared with the wider UK cultural sector throughout 2021 after the live performances are completed.
Building on the technology used in the RSC’s 2016 ground-breaking production of The Tempest, the first play to feature live performance capture rendered in Unreal Engine, Dream harnesses live performance, virtual production and gaming technology. The production is performed with seven actors in a specially created 7×7 metre motion capture volume created at the Guildhall in Portsmouth, supported by a team from the University of Portsmouth. The performance space includes an LED backdrop which displays the unreal world allowing performers to see their place and act within the virtual environment.
Vicon motion capture cameras and state of the art facial rigging capture the movements of the performers. This in turn drives the virtual avatars of each of the characters in real-time through a traditional performance lighting desk into Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. The live performance is mixed with pre-recorded animation sequences.