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Theatre in the
Round
Exploring the use of 360
video to support critical
interpretation of drama
Alistair Brown
Mark Childs
mark.childs@durham.ac.uk
James Youdale
Introductions
Dr Mark Childs
Durham Centre for
Academic Development
Dr Alistair Brown
English Studies
James Youdale
Durham Centre for
Academic Development
Student Actors: Jack Coombs, Emily Browning, Ellie Mather, Charlie Holliday
Background: Drama Teaching in Durham English
Studies
Teaching through lectures and small-group tutorials
Emphasis on close reading of dramatic text
No live theatre, workshopping, field trips in curriculum
Existing Approaches: Designed for VR
Hamlet 360: Thy Fathers' Spirit, dir. Steven Maler,
Commonwealth Theatre Company (2019)
Existing Approaches: In Theatre
Shakespeare-VR, dir. Steven Wittek, American
Shakespeare Centre Blackfriars Playhouse (2019)
Existing Approaches: Complicit Spectator
Shrew 360, dir. Spitzkowsky and Declan Mulcahy, University of
Melbourne (2019)
Innovations: Diegetic and Actorial Points of View
Diegetic point of view:
Polonius spying on Hamlet
and Ophelia
Hamlet's 'to be' soliloquy,
then Hamlet and Ophelia
in dialogue
Non-diegetic point of
view: camera between
interviewer and
interviewee
Act 3, Scene 1
Marlene (interviewer) and
Jeanine (interviewee)
Act 2, Scene 1
Recording the videos
• Against fairly tight time-scales, the scenes
were filmed across two sessions.
• Locations: The Cosin’s Library (Palace
Green, Durham). The Teaching and
Learning Centre (Durham)
• Two 360 cameras used: Ricoh Theta Z1;
Insta 360.
• Minimal film crew (limitations of recording an
entire room). Use of wireless lavalier
microphones for audio.
• Minimal production design (proof of concept)
Top 10
UK university
Ranked 6th in The Complete
University Guide and
4th in The Guardian
University Guide
Research Design
Pedagogic areas of interest:
• What does the point of view tell us about the motivation of the
character(s)?
• How does the point of view affect the perception of body language,
stage cues etc.?
• What does this reveal about the intention of the author / director?
Research question:
1. To what extent does 360 theatre enhance the students’ learning of the
above pedagogical points?
The Focus Groups
Set-up
• 2x 2 hour focus groups
• The participants (n=7) were asked to read the scripts
for the scenes from Hamlet and Top Girls in
advance.
• The participants engages with 6 videos covering
three performances of each play (third-person, and
two point-of-view perspectives) through Oculus 2
headsets with pre-set ‘stationary' boundaries,
controlled remotely using the ‘Showtime VR’
software.
• After the showcase, the students took part in a focus
group discussing:
• impressions / experiences of the technology
• Interpretations of the texts
Confounding
variable – video
alone
• Texts more
comprehensible when
performed.
• Students referred to
closeness to performers
as opposed to theatre,
Being there, or not
• “a unique kind of feel because I was able to look
at the space around me”
• “you're drawing on the social because you're in
the space and you're drawing on your own social
skills because you're inhabiting that space”
• “you can't physically get closer to her, … like for
Ophelia and watching him, he gets closer and
you can't technically back away.”
Insights into character
• “It made sense why people think
[Hamlet’s] gone mad because he's like in
this massive room with nothing, going on
and on and on for hours.”
• “I naturally shrunk when I had Marlene
staring back at me”
• “Especially when you're kind of like a
submissive character. There are points
when Hamlet's in your face”
• ”Hamlet was really angry, but I didn’t feel
that anger. I just heard a disembodied
voice from behind my head”
Usefulness of repetition
• Needed the third person perspective first
• “when I was in the second video, when I was
doing the soliloquy, if I hadn't seen the first
video, I wouldn't know that I was meant to be
Hamlet.”
• “She makes a specific reference to like Janine's clothing choices, for example. So
there's stuff like that. I felt like It was easier to kind of be the character once I
had seen what the character might act like and then be like.”
• “We remain attentive to the whole thing all the time. And this was a really good
way of making that a lot easier.”
Freedom to look, or not
• “It's like the Polonius or whatever you
(are) freed in a way. But if you’re Hamlet.
… Anything you can do will change what's
happened. You feel a responsibility to
look”
• “I don't know if I liked that. just having to
do that all the time because I always feel
like I'm missing something, like I'm looking
at Marlene. But Janine is doing a really
interesting facial expression”
Do we need a new set of conventions for
spectatorship for 3D video?
“
I don’t know quite how to place it. It’s not quite theatre,
but it’s not quite a filmed production either.
”
Next Steps
Write-up and dissemination
• British Educational Research Journal (Brown,
Childs and Youdale)
• Collaboration with theatrical venues in capturing
and sharing performances
• A technical paper on the process to be shared with
the ed tech community (Youdale, Brown and
Childs)
• My focus: bringing together Body
Representation (neurology), Mind and Body
(philosophy) and other VR teachers to dig
into meaning of “Better than Watching”.
• A full VR seminar?
Final set of
questions
• Any questions about
our findings?
• Any thoughts about
how this could apply
to your own practice?
• Any suggestions
about where we
could take this next?
References
• Charlton, J. M., & Moar, M. (2018). ‘VR and the dramatic theatre: Journal of Performance Arts
and Digital Media, 14(2), 187–198. https://doi.org/10.1080/14794713.2018.1511137 are they
fellow creatures?’ International Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (2019) Hamlet 360:
Thy Father’s Spirit, dir. Steven Maler https://commshakes.org/production/hamlet-360-thy-
fathers-spirit/
• Farnell, B. (1999) Moving Bodies, Acting Selves, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 28,
(1999), 341-373
• Kuksa, I. and Childs, M. (2014) Making Sense of Space: The Design and Experience of Virtual
Spaces as a Tool for Communication, Chandos, UK: Oxford
• Mcinnis, D. (2021) ‘Virtual Reality in the Classroom’, in Wittek, S. and McInnis, D. (eds.)
Shakespeare and Virtual Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 24-42.
• Sheikh, A., Brown, A., Watson, Z., & Evans, M. (2016). ‘Directing attention in 360-degree video’.
IBC 2016 Conference. https://doi.org/10.1049/IBC.2016.0029/CITE/REFWORKS
• Willems, M. (2007). ‘Video and its paradoxes’, in Jackson, R. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to
Shakespeare on Film, Second Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 35–46.
https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521866006.003

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MarkChilds.pptx

  • 1. Theatre in the Round Exploring the use of 360 video to support critical interpretation of drama Alistair Brown Mark Childs mark.childs@durham.ac.uk James Youdale
  • 2. Introductions Dr Mark Childs Durham Centre for Academic Development Dr Alistair Brown English Studies James Youdale Durham Centre for Academic Development Student Actors: Jack Coombs, Emily Browning, Ellie Mather, Charlie Holliday
  • 3.
  • 4. Background: Drama Teaching in Durham English Studies Teaching through lectures and small-group tutorials Emphasis on close reading of dramatic text No live theatre, workshopping, field trips in curriculum
  • 5. Existing Approaches: Designed for VR Hamlet 360: Thy Fathers' Spirit, dir. Steven Maler, Commonwealth Theatre Company (2019)
  • 6. Existing Approaches: In Theatre Shakespeare-VR, dir. Steven Wittek, American Shakespeare Centre Blackfriars Playhouse (2019)
  • 7. Existing Approaches: Complicit Spectator Shrew 360, dir. Spitzkowsky and Declan Mulcahy, University of Melbourne (2019)
  • 8. Innovations: Diegetic and Actorial Points of View Diegetic point of view: Polonius spying on Hamlet and Ophelia Hamlet's 'to be' soliloquy, then Hamlet and Ophelia in dialogue Non-diegetic point of view: camera between interviewer and interviewee Act 3, Scene 1 Marlene (interviewer) and Jeanine (interviewee) Act 2, Scene 1
  • 9. Recording the videos • Against fairly tight time-scales, the scenes were filmed across two sessions. • Locations: The Cosin’s Library (Palace Green, Durham). The Teaching and Learning Centre (Durham) • Two 360 cameras used: Ricoh Theta Z1; Insta 360. • Minimal film crew (limitations of recording an entire room). Use of wireless lavalier microphones for audio. • Minimal production design (proof of concept) Top 10 UK university Ranked 6th in The Complete University Guide and 4th in The Guardian University Guide
  • 10. Research Design Pedagogic areas of interest: • What does the point of view tell us about the motivation of the character(s)? • How does the point of view affect the perception of body language, stage cues etc.? • What does this reveal about the intention of the author / director? Research question: 1. To what extent does 360 theatre enhance the students’ learning of the above pedagogical points?
  • 11. The Focus Groups Set-up • 2x 2 hour focus groups • The participants (n=7) were asked to read the scripts for the scenes from Hamlet and Top Girls in advance. • The participants engages with 6 videos covering three performances of each play (third-person, and two point-of-view perspectives) through Oculus 2 headsets with pre-set ‘stationary' boundaries, controlled remotely using the ‘Showtime VR’ software. • After the showcase, the students took part in a focus group discussing: • impressions / experiences of the technology • Interpretations of the texts
  • 12. Confounding variable – video alone • Texts more comprehensible when performed. • Students referred to closeness to performers as opposed to theatre,
  • 13. Being there, or not • “a unique kind of feel because I was able to look at the space around me” • “you're drawing on the social because you're in the space and you're drawing on your own social skills because you're inhabiting that space” • “you can't physically get closer to her, … like for Ophelia and watching him, he gets closer and you can't technically back away.”
  • 14. Insights into character • “It made sense why people think [Hamlet’s] gone mad because he's like in this massive room with nothing, going on and on and on for hours.” • “I naturally shrunk when I had Marlene staring back at me” • “Especially when you're kind of like a submissive character. There are points when Hamlet's in your face” • ”Hamlet was really angry, but I didn’t feel that anger. I just heard a disembodied voice from behind my head”
  • 15. Usefulness of repetition • Needed the third person perspective first • “when I was in the second video, when I was doing the soliloquy, if I hadn't seen the first video, I wouldn't know that I was meant to be Hamlet.” • “She makes a specific reference to like Janine's clothing choices, for example. So there's stuff like that. I felt like It was easier to kind of be the character once I had seen what the character might act like and then be like.” • “We remain attentive to the whole thing all the time. And this was a really good way of making that a lot easier.”
  • 16. Freedom to look, or not • “It's like the Polonius or whatever you (are) freed in a way. But if you’re Hamlet. … Anything you can do will change what's happened. You feel a responsibility to look” • “I don't know if I liked that. just having to do that all the time because I always feel like I'm missing something, like I'm looking at Marlene. But Janine is doing a really interesting facial expression”
  • 17. Do we need a new set of conventions for spectatorship for 3D video? “ I don’t know quite how to place it. It’s not quite theatre, but it’s not quite a filmed production either. ”
  • 18. Next Steps Write-up and dissemination • British Educational Research Journal (Brown, Childs and Youdale) • Collaboration with theatrical venues in capturing and sharing performances • A technical paper on the process to be shared with the ed tech community (Youdale, Brown and Childs) • My focus: bringing together Body Representation (neurology), Mind and Body (philosophy) and other VR teachers to dig into meaning of “Better than Watching”. • A full VR seminar?
  • 19. Final set of questions • Any questions about our findings? • Any thoughts about how this could apply to your own practice? • Any suggestions about where we could take this next?
  • 20. References • Charlton, J. M., & Moar, M. (2018). ‘VR and the dramatic theatre: Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 14(2), 187–198. https://doi.org/10.1080/14794713.2018.1511137 are they fellow creatures?’ International Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (2019) Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit, dir. Steven Maler https://commshakes.org/production/hamlet-360-thy- fathers-spirit/ • Farnell, B. (1999) Moving Bodies, Acting Selves, Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 28, (1999), 341-373 • Kuksa, I. and Childs, M. (2014) Making Sense of Space: The Design and Experience of Virtual Spaces as a Tool for Communication, Chandos, UK: Oxford • Mcinnis, D. (2021) ‘Virtual Reality in the Classroom’, in Wittek, S. and McInnis, D. (eds.) Shakespeare and Virtual Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 24-42. • Sheikh, A., Brown, A., Watson, Z., & Evans, M. (2016). ‘Directing attention in 360-degree video’. IBC 2016 Conference. https://doi.org/10.1049/IBC.2016.0029/CITE/REFWORKS • Willems, M. (2007). ‘Video and its paradoxes’, in Jackson, R. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, Second Edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 35–46. https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521866006.003

Editor's Notes

  1. Dr Alistair Brown, Department of English Studies.
  2. An aside for the Jisc people as they’re into successful collaboration design
  3. English Studies at Durham compulsory Level 1 Introduction to Drama module. Engages students with key theoretical issues in the study of drama, and allows them to encounter dramatic texts from medieval to contemporary literature from the wider Anglophone world. As a module taught mainly by lectures and through 50 minute tutorials, there is only a limited emphasis on performance. Extracts from productions may be shown in lectures or used as prompts for tutorial conversation, but there is no in-curriculum opportunity for students to workshop the texts, act them for themselves, or take field trips to relevant performance venues. Most teaching involves close reading of written text, rather than experiencing of theatre.  VR technology potentially enables students who have less extra-curricular experience with theatre or acting to experience the sensation of live production in an immediate and affective way. For our purpose, we were also interested in whether such technology could help students on a module taught mainly through looking at texts to understand how stage directions, body language, and the use of space are a key semantic element of drama. Our first step in the experiment was to hold a workshop with academic colleagues who currently teach drama, to review some of the strengths and limitations of existing 360 productions, and to understand how we might produce new versions that potentially support student learning most strongly. We looked across a number of productions from Shakespeare, who as the most canonical and familiar Western dramatist has been the most common testing ground for VR experimentation.
  4. Our first example is a pioneering production by Commonwealth Theatre Company, done in conjunction with Google to promote their Cardboard headsets. This was technically astute. It exploited the affordances of a 360 stage to create an immersive experience – but one that is a new version of Hamlet designed specifically for VR headsets. At 1 hour long, the play is reduced to about a third of its original length. The set includes a rich array of props and media assets for viewers to experience – for example, while Hamlet is speaking the viewer can potentially turn around to look not at Hamlet himself, but at how his father, projected onto a mirror, is reacting to the dialogue or soliloquy. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this VR-enabled adaptation, it's clear that the technology has driven a particular type of performance, rather than a performance that emerges naturally from the text happening to be perceived through the VR technology. 
  5. So we also looked at a more authentic approach which puts us back into a conventional theatre. The American Shakespeare Centre in Staunton, Virginia has a reproduction of Shakespeare’s first indoor theatre, Blackfriars, where his company began performing in 1608. Such theatres included a range of seating positions, both upper and lower galleries, plus ‘lords chairs’ positioned at the wings of the stage itself. However, this production places us in a completely unconventional position, on stage at the front elevated above the main audience. Although this point of view allows the viewer to understand the spatial relationships, and how the actor is relating to the audience around them and making use of the stage, the unfamiliar position also produces a feeling of disorientation and discomfort. We are at once voyeurs of the action on stage, and being spectated upon by the live audience. (Furthermore, in terms of allowing us to perceive the underlying text, this is actually less good than a directed 2D televised version of live theatre would be. The resolution is poor so it's hard to see facial expressions, the sound is not especially audible, and the actor turns their back on the viewer.) (This impoverished experience may inadvertently reproduce some of the sensation of being in an Elizabethan or Jacobean playhouse, but in terms of enabling students to perceive or feel things originating in the text itself this may have distracting limitations.)
  6. Our third category takes advantage of the feeling of uncomfortable presence that VR can generate, but exploits this in a more credible kind of way.  This production of Taming of the Shrew was made for David McInniss's Shakespeare course at the University of Melbourne. Here the action unfolds around us in a familiar domestic kitchen. This immediately creates a more understandable relationship between the camera position and the space compared to the Blackfriars Playhouse. We are lurking by the counter at a party, an awkward imposter amid the argument playing out among familiar friends.  The director of this play wanted to draw out Shakespeare’s theme of what we would today construe as domestic abuse. The fixed 360 camera enhanced this, making the audience feel ‘immersed' but 'immobile’ so that ‘they recognise their complicity’ as a passive bystander. David McInniss reports that for students this experience ‘invariably proves strongly affective’.  However, one can also see the potential limitations in enabling a feeling of passivity in the viewer in less aggressive scenes, where such passivity again simply feels odd, like we're an unnatural fly on the wall. 
  7. Building on our perceptions of the strengths and problems with recent productions like these, therefore, we wanted to innovate two main things: the difference between diegetic and non-diegetic points of view, and putting the viewer in the perspective of a character rather than audience member or fly on the wall. After workshopping with academic colleagues, our test material was extracts from two plays currently taught on the Introduction to Drama module: Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1 which features Hamlet's famous 'to be' soliloquy followed by a confrontation between himself and Ophelia; and Caryl Churchill's Thatcher-era Top Girls, in which the aspirational boss of an employment agency, Marlene, interviews and mentors a younger Jeanine.  Firstly wanted to test further the issue of the camera position. When the camera is positioned non-diegetically amid the action, so that we occupy the perspective of a viewer who shouldn't be there, this seems disconcerting, as in the Blackfriar's production. Where the camera is positioned diegetically, in a way that occupies the point of view of an observer who might reasonably be in the scene, as in The Taming of the Shrew, this seems more effective and affective. In the Hamlet scene, Hamlet's soliloquy and dialogue are spied upon by Polonius, whose point of view provided us with a logical perspective. In Top Girls the camera just happened to be non-diegetically present between the two characters.   Our second difference, extending this idea of the diegetic camera, was then to put the viewer not just as a witness to the action, but in the perspective of a character in the play. Rather than simply being a complicit spectator, however powerful that effect might be in Shrew 360, what if we actually 'become' the actor? What would it be like not simply to watch Hamlet speak his famous ‘to be’ soliloquy, for example, but to inhabit his point of view as he speaks? Could it help students with no acting experience to understand what it is like to perform and inhabit a role?
  8. So what did we find out?
  9. Some of the comparisons students made were with theatre and with reading text – sometimes difficult to disentangle which bits were VR-specific The power and effectiveness of the acting (and the writing) added to the immersiveness – can’t disentangle psychological immersion from sensory immersion.
  10. Elicited a different response from theatre – not only more immersed in the space but also the audience is absent – rather than having to suspend disbelief about the performance occurring on a stage and tuning out an audience – there is none to tune out. It therefore felt more authentic.
  11. The authenticity due to absent audience provided more insight into how character is perceived.
  12. The audience’s ability to inhabit the character was enabled by them having seen the character first Students felt they “owed it to the character” to replicate the gestures the actor had performed The added engagement produced by VR meant the students were engaged throughout the repeated scenes, leading to them getting more out of the scenes. One of the benefits of any new tech. Aware this might wear off (the Hawthorne View).