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RSC / Google / Away with the Fairies?

by Contagious Team

Why Midsummer Night's Dreaming Matters

While the Cannes Lions Festival will no doubt have its fair share of moon-lit cavorting and intrigue this week, at the height of this celebration of last year's creativity, Googleand the Royal Shakespeare Company will be weaving a whole new category of creative magic across the web and the world. Their deliciously timely recasting of one of Shakespeare's most beloved works as Midsummer Night's Dreaming is set to turn a centuries-old play with transformation at its heart into something unpredictable and new.

At the heart of the production is a faithful staging of Shakespeare's original play which will be performed by actors in locations around Stratford-upon-Avon over the course of three nights and a day - the same timeline used by the playwright. In conventional theatre, these scenes would only be witnessed by a limited, paying audience, but this is where the project begins to seriously part company with tradition. The scripted action will be witnessed, captured, reported and embellished by the lead characters' retinue of courtiers, fairies and sundry peripheral players, using all the usual social media - and notably the Google+ platform, where the latest from the play will be aggregated and accessed and amplified by an unseen diaspora of Shakespeare fans around the globe.

Confused? The mechanism may be untested with Elizabethan drama, but should be strangely familiar to anyone engaged with contemporary news reporting, and indeed the everyday melodramas of popular culture. Tom Uglow, steering the project for Google, cites the fascinating spectacle of Charlie Sheen's epic online meltdown of 2011 as a key inspiration for this experiment in multi-authored, multi-dimensional storytelling: 'It's true. I loved what happened with Charlie Sheen. It felt like the most authentic and fresh and uncontrolled narrative I had ever seen. That now sounds like ancient history; we've seen this dynamic vividly in the incredible rise in political engagement, from the streets of Cairo to the corridors of power in Washington - it is a question of whether we can capture that with fictional drama.'

While the fictional drama begins with the Bard's tale of bossy patriarchs, young love, fairies and folly, a range of collaborators have been commissioned to create a halo of new content around the world imagined by Shakespeare. 'It came to quite a specific kind of artist - one who could work collaboratively, who understood writing cross platform, and who could write for characters,' explains Geraldine Collinge, leading the project for the RSC. 'We also needed visual artists who could respond quickly to a brief and, again, who could work collaboratively with the writers.'

Walking the line between old and new is not only a longstanding preoccupation for the RSC, but also a vital stimulus for a living medium. 'Shakespeare's words are at the heart of this project, and we are doing what we do best - presenting Shakespeare's words in the best possible way,' says Collinge. 'But we've also been asking ourselves questions about how we would invent theatre now and about how we engage a large global audience in theatre. Those questions are as much about the form of theatre in the 21st century as Shakespeare.' 

Whatever you think the answers might be, for the fast-approaching Midsummer weekend, all the world's a stage* and the RSC and Google invite the creative community to 'think mischievously and come and participate in what is going to be an incredible weekend on line and in Stratford.'

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*Oh, come on - wrong play, right sentiment!