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Midsummer Night's Dreaming

The Royal Shakespeare Company and Google Creative Lab recompose the celebrated play in an experimental online stage

by Leonora Oppenheim in Culture on 18 June 2013

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The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in a bid to explore how the Bard of Avon can take center-stage in today’s digitally interactive world, has collaborated with Google Creative Lab to produce a three-day, real-time performance of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The event is situated in the real world in the RSC’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon and also online at Dream 40.

Many know and love the play within a play that is Shakespeare’s "A Midsummer Night’s Dream," in which several pairs of lovers fall prey to the mayhem and mischief caused by the king of fairies, Oberon, and his sidekick Puck. The plot is complex and layered, leading to a comedic web of emotional confusion and blurred realities.

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For Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, Google is encouraging people to interact with the play in a multitude of ways as they follow the characters’ journeys through the magical forest of dreams and towards the famous marriage scene between Demetrius and Helena, Lysander and Hermia.

From this midsummer’s eve (21-23 June) people around the world can take part online via the Google+ community hangout and other social media using the hashtag #dream40—this being the 40th full production of the play by the RSC.

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Those in Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon can watch the play—directed by the RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran—in person at the outdoor Dell Theatre. Audience members can also join in on 23 June by making decorations, writing blessings for the happy couples and by attending the wedding itself as part of the congregation.

Project director at Google Creative Lab Tom Uglow has written a detailed explanation of how the play will work on multiple platforms, complete with a sweet animation starring William Shakespeare himself and a time-traveling pig.

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Uglow compares the Dream 40 extravaganza with contemporary immersive theater performances. “Modern theater makes the audience walk, or puts them in a car, or makes them the actor; our stage is online, it is fragmented, glimpsed, experienced and amplified through sharing—the narrative exists around us and immerses us.”

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The experimental nature of Midsummer Night's Dreaming will reflect how theatrical performance can engage with the online world in real time. Puck leads the charge as the only character to bridge the live and digital performances with his own online profile. Puck, using his fairy magic, will encourage creativity and interaction among multiple audiences, while concurrently performing in the original narrative in the real world.

Uglow sums up the event: “The Royal Shakespeare Company wants to define future paradigms for digital performance. Google wants to explore those paradigms too—using tools like Google+ and YouTube to push, fracture, break and recompose. This is a creative experiment, an attempt to see what happens when you take the old and beautiful and reframe it within modern, noisy and uncontrollable tools.”

Images courtesy of RSC and Dream 40

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