Digital Media and Shakespeare – The Medium and the Message
By Anita Gaffney, Executive Director, Stratford Festival
Studying the work of William Shakespeare can be fun and stimulating – particularly when the classroom study is combined with a live theatre experience. Seeing the plays in performance provides an insight into the characters, into the language and into the plot. There is nothing like it.
As a student, I saw a production of The Taming of the Shrew in the early 1980’s at the Festival starring Len Cariou as Petruchio and Sharry Flett as Kate. The verbal jousting and word-play between Petruchio and Kate that distinguishes this play was brought to another level of intensity when the words were lifted from the page and brought to life by these two actors. I wish every student had the opportunity to be stirred by these great performances.
Over the past 60 years, the Festival has welcomed some 3.4 million students. These students not only benefit from seeing the plays but also from meeting the artists and gaining some insight into the different elements of the production – sound, lighting, costume creation, stage combat and set design. We often hear from our patrons that a visit to Stratford as a student served to ignite a life-long passion for Shakespeare and for live theatre.
Bard to Disk
We reach even more students with our performances of Shakespeare through the medium of film. We’ve filmed The Tempest in 2010 and Twelfth Night in 2011 and hope to make more films in the forthcoming years. These films take our work to new audiences today and preserve it for generations to come. Of course nothing replaces live theatre – the communal experience, the thrill of live performances, the impact of the stage and lighting design and the wonderful setting of the community of Stratford – but the latest digital technology provides for a perspective that shares some of the attributes of the live experience.
Romeo and Juliet Games
Creating films of our productions is one way to expand our reach to even more students but the digital media milieu offers some other exciting new avenues. We are even marrying the work of Shakespeare with the burgeoning game industry. The Festival is collaborating with game developer Industry Corp and the University of Waterloo (both the Stratford Campus and UW’s main campus) to create a suite of games based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The games feature the characters from Romeo and Juliet and will draw on excerpts from the play.
At the same time, we will use prop and costumes pieces from our archival collection to help animate the game. We have the largest archives dedicated to a single theatre on the continent and there is a rich mine of materials that can be used to enrich the game playing experience. The Festival will launch its 2013 season with a production of Romeo and Juliet in May and the games will be ready to unveil at the same time. We hope that these games will be another way to spark an interest in theatre and drama among our future audiences.
Shakespeare In Any Medium
The work of William Shakespeare has endured for generations – on the page, on stage, on film, in music and graphic novels and now even in mobile games. Marshall McLuhan famously stated, “The medium is the message.” It is amazing to consider that no matter the medium that Shakespeare message endures. It will be most interesting to see how the work of Shakespeare is explored with the continued development of digital media. I look forward to being a part of this exploration.