When you think of Shakespeare's plays it might bring to mind a talentless performance you sat through in high school performed by your peers, or it might bring to mind a pioneering production that rocked your tiny mind, or maybe an experimental interpretation that pushed you to the utter limits of wakefulness.
The thing with this behemoth of English literature's plays is, they're readily open to adaptation and interpretation. They deal with universal and timeless problems, themes, and issues—from personal to family, to state to worldly to otherworldly. Much like the internet can adopt and transmute a story or idea, so too can Shakespeare's plays adapt and morph to different cultures and ages.
While there have been updates of his plays, like the The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company for example, they have never been adapted for the web—until now. The Royal Shakespeare Company has teamed up with Google Creative Lab for a special performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream called Midsummer Night's Dreaming, which marks the RSC's 40th interpretation of the play.
Actors rehearsing for the play
The "digital theatre project" will start tomorrow, performed at the real-times of the play over the three days of the British midsummer weekend. It will involve a physical performance of the play—taking place at the RSC's homeland of Stratford-Upon-Avon—to be streamed online and also, orbiting and augmenting this, coverage of the play will be unfolding online on social media. It'll be a kind of second, peripheral, multi-performance enacted by the internet relying on what the web does best: sharing, creating, and commenting.
As the story unfolds, lesser-known and new characters related to the play will report the happenings and backstories, exploring and explaining, as details of the plot roll onto Google+ in the form of a breaking news story. And people are encouraged to engage with it like they would a breaking news story—by blogging, tweeting, opining, memeing, hashtagging (use #dream40), LOLing and OMGing. Everything that's shared and posted to Google+ will be collated and shown on an "online stage".
An illustration of how the online stage will look and function
"We wanted to think about if you invented theatre now how would do it, so really the social media came first in this project." says project director Geraldine Collinge. "We thought about how news stories are experienced now and then brought a piece of fiction into that."
It's an unusual and ambitious undertaking, not only marrying the physical and the digital into a unified but manifold experience, but also building bridges between another two worlds: theatre goers and generation internet: "We hope that we will engage with a large audience through the online platform, hopefully with people that might not have seen Shakespeare in the theatre or indeed might not have thought of doing so."
As the project goes on over three days and with the expanse of the internet's many social platforms to become immersed in, it could be difficult to keep abreast of it all. Which is why the project has introduced the character of Puck (from the play), who acts like a guide and is the only main character to break free of the fiction and appear outside the physical performance. "Puck will be there to guide you through the weekend. He’ll be sharing some of the most interesting content and will be posting his own feedback on it all. Also the project will run alongside the play so you will always have that as a sort of metronome taking you through the performance." assures Collinge.
How the online play will work
The idea behind choosing A Midsummer Night's Dream, apart from it being one of Shakespeare's most popular and accessible plays, was its theme of imagination, which is always a key component in people's relationship with the web. Plus, along with the play's more whimsical aspects, like fairies and magic potions, it also addresses issues that affect and resonant with us in the 21st century.
"It’s a play about imagination and in many ways it comes to life between an audience’s and the actors' imaginations." says Collinge. "It’s also about transformation—of people—from the court to the forest, from a person to a donkey from the lover of one person to another—and that seemed perfect to me as a play that you might reinterpret online. It’s also a play that has many different layers, yes it’s a fun play with fairies and a donkey, but it also talks about climate change, about girls having to marry who their father says on pain of death and much, much more."
Midsummer Night's Dreaming starts tomorrow at 8pm GMT. You can join in online at dream40.org and at Google+ and can watch the play being performed at the following times: Friday 21 June 8pm: Act 1 Scenes 1 and 2; Sunday 23 June 2.30am: Act 2 Scene 1 – Act 4 Scene 1; Sunday 23 June 4pm: Act 4 Scene 2; Sunday 23 June 11.30pm: Act 5