Living the Dream

RSC Director of Digital Development, Sarah Ellis, talks about the Company's latest project, Dream. 

Dream is a series of live performances using motion capture. The culmination of a major piece of cutting-edge research and development, the 50-minute online event is inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream and explores how audiences could experience live performance in the future...

What is Dream, Sarah? Can you describe it?
It’s exploring the future of live technology by reimagining Shakespeare’s play. Through 10 online performances open to anyone, anywhere in the world, and available through March, Dream will demonstrate the potential for audience interaction with live performance. 
We want to challenge and change how live performance can be experienced when it is no longer being bound by physical location.

The 10 performances will be shared across multiple platforms with remote real-time show control, built around Unreal Engine - the game engine developed by Fortnite creators Epic Games. 
What will the experience be like?

It will be online - essentially you experience Dream through a website, it’s as simple as that. You’ll click on a button and go into the performance and it will be wonderful! Entering the unreal world of the forest, you will meet avatars of Puck, Moth, Mustardseed, Peaseblossom and Cobweb, performed by actors whose movements and facial expressions are rendered onto the characters in real time through motion capture and facial rigging technology. 
You can buy a ticket for £10 to actively participate and influence what’s happening in the world of the performance, or you can choose to sit back, relax and enjoy the show. Each performance is unique, as the audience behaves differently at each event. If you choose to interact with the performance, you will become a firefly, using the movement of your touchscreen, trackpad or mouse to direct Puck through the forest.

What’s new and different about Dream to things people might have experienced before? 
To date you will have mainly experienced videos of live performers on a stage. Instead of simply watching a performance, Dream will take you into that world using digital characters that are performed by live actors. We’re using the latest gaming technology, live-broadcast techniques and performance technology to enable the actors and audience to interact with each other in real time. This cutting-edge approach brings the actors and the audience together as they would in any 3D video game. 

Who is it for?
Anyone can experience Dream, from anywhere in the world. You can sit and watch it as a family or on your own. We’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible, and there’s no age limit. You don’t need to know about technology - all you need is a device, an internet connection and some curiosity.
The live performances are streamed to audiences at different times of the day and night, including a 2am GMT performance, so they are accessible to audiences across the world in different time zones, to individuals and their families and to schools.

What’s the relationship between Dream and A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
Dream is inspired by Shakespeare’s play. It’s not a performance of the play, but it’s inspired by the world of the play and the themes of the play. And it’s such a brilliant play for now, and for us to imagine what different worlds could be like. 

What technology does someone need to take part?
You need your computer, or a mobile phone or a tablet. We explored whether we would do this on VR headsets, but very few people would be able to take part. It was a big thing to say: no, immersive technology is the thing we use to make it, not the thing people use to experience it and distribute it. It’s been really important for us that where we’re using immersive technology, it’s in the making of theatre. We did a piece of research on what technology people have in their homes, and there’s a huge digital inequity right now that we need to be mindful of, and that’s what this piece is doing. 

Do you have to be tech-savvy and understand the world of video games to make the most of it? 
No. You don’t. We’re using the technology of the video games but you don’t need to be a gamer to experience this. You need to be curious and you need to be open, but that’s all you need. We’re making it using gaming technology but this is a piece of performance that we hope will inspire and delight you. 
We’re hoping to bring people together to help them imagine what the future of theatre can be with us. This is an experiment to see what the possibilities are, and for us to use tools and technologies that are at our disposal and are available, to see what theatre can do with them. 

Dream is described as R&D and a prototype - where do you want it to go from here? Is this the future of theatre? 
Where we hope it goes from here is that we will be able to embed some of these technologies into how we make theatre more generally. We will share all our learnings with the industry and sector - what we’ve learnt, we share. What happens to the performance or the piece is still to be decided, but it’s not just about the work - this is about learning new skills, learning new craft, hopefully providing jobs in the future. Celebrating the crafts and skills we have, extending what we do - that’s what comes next. 
I think this is part of where theatre is headed in the future - I don’t think it’s a homogenised situation, it’s a part. We are creating an ‘and’ not an ‘other’ or a ‘thing’. We are hopefully providing a new set of ways you can make theatre for future audiences. 

How will you share it with other arts & culture organisations?
After the event in March we will be creating websites and documentation that will be published and shared out with the sector between March and September. We have six months of research partners writing it all up, the creative and technical teams will share their process, and documentation across the entire project will be made available.

How has lockdown and the pandemic affected Dream?
Last year we were due to do a performance in Stratford but that was obviously not possible. So we effectively started again and thought about how we could make a piece of work that could meaningfully engage with audiences wherever they are. 
In a post-pandemic world, I think we’d probably keep the spirit of what it is. We’ve set it up in such a way that in the future you could do it with both - in real life and with remote audiences. That would be really exciting, and that’s what we would love to do when it’s safe to do so. We know in the future, when we come through this time, we will be bringing together audiences in person and remote audiences, and it’s not enough to say that those remote audiences aren’t part of our world now. That’s the fundamental shift - how can we give our best experience to all our audiences, wherever we may be. It’s an exciting proposition and a hopeful promise of what we can do as we go through this painful time.

Each performance of Dream lasts 50 minutes and will be available to watch from 12 - 20 March. Click HERE for further information and to reserve tickets