A couple of weeks ago, I learned from my podcast co-hosts, Michael Martine and Michael Rowe, that something new was afoot.

tl;dr I’ve long been fascinated by the convergence of the physical, virtual, visual, and digital worlds (as have Michael and Michael), and I have a background in literature, Shakespeare, and performance arts.

I was particularly excited that Dream was produced in Portsmouth, where I went to school and largely grew up; and that the performance space is the Portsmouth Guildhall, where I stood myself, as a treble chorister, in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, 30+ years ago!

Dream is a limited-time production, so the chances are that when you read this, you may no longer be able to see it live; but, I’m writing this to tell you about my experience.

An iPad Pro showing the “lobby” screen ahead of the live performance of Dream, March 14 2021

The naming and ambiance may lead you to believe that Dream is, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by Shakespeare. It is not. It is a production based on the magical forest conjured in that play, mostly featuring Puck. The other characters are sprites created to expand the space and the performance.

The challenge for theatre in a time of pandemic lockdown — and even before this, with arguably occasionally waning interest — is clear: how to maintain an interest in theatre and theatrical stories and performance, as an immersive environment.

Dream is a short (~20–30 minute) performance, but it is LIVE, and there is the opportunity to interact directly with the performers.

How does that work? The key here is that everything is indeed performed live, but in a virtual space. We meet our performers in the theatre in their mo-cap outfits, before we are moved into the virtual (and beautifully realised) space. Once there, the “plus” ticket holders have the opportunity, at times, to act as fireflies, and to light the virtual space for the performers. Towards the end of the show I took part in, the virtual camera zoomed back out to the physical space, to reveal the other supporters who need to be present to support the leads as they dance, move, and perform in a virtual space they can see through their headsets, but may not see physically on stage. Remarkable.

The Q&A segment with the cast, crew, director and team, was fascinating to round out the hour.

Is this the future of theatre? For me, I’ve always enjoyed being in the human space, and thus, to some extent, I hope not; but, the challenges of lockdown and of distance have challenged these groups of creatives, and this is so far, the best response I’ve seen, melded with the most innovative realtime technology. Beautiful, incredible, I have nothing but support for these people.

The show runs only until March 20th; but every time, every performance, is real, live, there are real humans, everything will be different! I’ve booked another (interactive/paid) ticket for another performance, later this week!

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