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A classic Shakespearean play is experimenting with mixed reality

A classic Shakespearean play is experimenting with mixed reality

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest has always been a play keen on technical innovation. As Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest is often cited as being akin to a masque production—which was expensive courtly entertainment commonly comprised of music, dancing, and elaborate stage design. Masques were bombastic and technically innovative for its time. Recently, the Royal Shakespeare Company, in partnership with Intel, has taken the latest stage production of The Tempest to new heights—by bringing in mixed reality.

the avatar was designed with 336 joints, like a human’s

In the company’s latest production of The Tempest, Ariel, the puppet-like spirit in the play, is being rendered as a CGI avatar. While Ariel itself may be prerendered, there’s an actor behind the scenes controlling the “cyber-thespian,” a term the BBC coins. Actor Mark Quartley called the preparation for the performance itself as sort of “schizophrenic” in the interview with BBC. “I was spending a lot of time in the main rehearsal room, working on it like any other play,” said Quartley. “Then at the other side of the scale, I’d be rigging myself into the sensor suit working with the avatars finding the best ways to make them perform and do exciting things.”

The avatar formation of Ariel may be pre-rendered as a digital blue creature, but all its movements are made by Quartley himself as he moves around on stage in a sensor-clad suit. With technology developed by The Imaginarium Studios, the avatar itself was designed with 336 joints, as to better capture the actual movement of the human body. The latest production of The Tempest is also host to other technological achievements, such as projections for scenery, or to add a ghost-like charm to the play.

The Tempest
Highly intricate stage design has always been a core aspect in adapting The Tempest.

Some are calling the play “digital gimmickry.” Others a “glorious mess.” Others, are entirely favorable to the tech-savvy play. But whether the technology advancements work or not in this particular form of theater, it’s a step forward for other productions to follow suit in tech experimentation to make it work organically and not stick out like a sore thumb as some have observed. And who knows, we could see more mixed reality-inclined plays and musicals in the future.

The Tempest runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in England until January 21, 2017.

Images courtesy of Intel.

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