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Dream – live, online performance leads the way in future audience experience

Performance: Friday 12 March - Saturday 20 March 2021

Booking: - booking opens 12 noon on Monday 8 February 2021 #DreamOnline21

Press images from rehearsal can be downloaded HERE 

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in collaboration with Manchester International Festival (MIF), Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) and Philharmonia Orchestra will stage a live performance of Dream using motion capture as the culmination of a major piece of cutting-edge research and development (R&D).  The pioneering collaboration explores how audiences could experience live performance in the future in addition to a regular visit to a performance venue. Dream was due to open in Spring 2020 as an in person and online live performance and has been recreated during the pandemic for online audiences whilst theatres remain closed. The project is one of four Audience of the Future Demonstrator projects, supported by the government Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which is delivered by UK Research and Innovation. 

Dream is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and gives a unique opportunity for audiences to directly influence the live performance from wherever they are in the world. Audiences will experience a new performance environment easily accessed on their mobile, desktop or tablet via the website. The performance uses the latest gaming and theatre technology together with an interactive symphonic score that responds to the actors’ movement during the show.

The live performance is set in a virtual midsummer forest. Under the shadow of gathering clouds at dusk, lit by the glimmer of fireflies, Puck acts as the guide. Audiences are invited to explore the forest from the canopy of the trees to the roots, meet the sprites, Cobweb, Mustardseed, Peaseblossom and Moth, and take an extraordinary journey into the eye of a cataclysmic storm. Together with Puck they must regrow the forest before the dawn.  When day breaks, the spell breaks.

The 50-minute online event will be a shared experience between remote audience members and the seven actors who play Puck and the sprites. Audiences can choose to buy a £10 ticket to take part and at key points in the play directly influence the world of the actors, or to view the performance for free. The ten Dream performances are scheduled so that audiences across the world can join the event.

Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director said:

“What’s brilliant about Dream is the innovation at play.  An audience member sitting at home influencing the live performance from wherever they are – that’s exciting.  It’s not a replacement to being in the space with the performers but it opens up new opportunities. By bringing together specialists in on-stage live performance with that of gaming and music you see how much they have in common. For instance, the RSC's deep understanding of scripted drama combined with Marshmallow Laser Feast’s innovation in creative tech brings thrilling results.

“The story is king, whether you are a gamer, or an audience member.  Stories haven’t changed, but the way we engage audiences with them has.  Shakespeare was our greatest storyteller and it’s brilliant that we get the opportunity to use one of his plays to discover what could be possible for live performance.”

Robin McNicholas, Director and Co-Founder of Marshmallow Laser Feast added:

“Our focus has been on creating an experience with the natural world at its centre. It’s a celebration of the magic of biodiversity brought to life by an incredible cast on this adventurous virtual production. The team has created a work that explores new narrative techniques, opening doors to a vast story-world that offers new perspectives enabled by cutting edge technologies performed live on a motion capture stage.

“We hope audiences find a new and unique way to engage with immersive storytelling. Virtual productions such as this offer new creative forms of expression and opportunities for performers, musicians, artists, designers and creative coders”.

A major piece of research runs through the project led by i2media research at Goldsmiths, University of London and NESTA, including the potential for making similar online performances financially viable for the arts sector.  All findings and research will be shared with the wider UK cultural sector throughout 2021 after the live performances are completed.

DREAM – A live, online performance set in a virtual midsummer forest.

Cast and creatives:

Robin McNicholas – Director

Pippa Hill – Script Creation 

Robin Mc Nicholas & Pippa Hill – Narrative 

Esa-Pekka Salonen – Music Director & Composer

Jesper Nordin – Composer, Interactivity Designer and Creative Advisor, Music

Sarah Perry – Movement Director 

Maggie Bain (Cobweb), Phoebe Hyder (Understudy Puck and Mustardseed), Durassie Kiangangu (Moth), Jamie Morgan (Peaseblossom), Loren O’Dair (Mustardseed), EM Williams (Puck ), Edmund Wood (rehearsal assistant, Understudy Moth, Cobweb & Peaseblossom).


Building on the technology used in the RSC’s 2016 ground-breaking production of The Tempest, the first play to feature live performance capture rendered in Unreal Engine, Dream harnesses live performance, virtual production and gaming technology. The production is performed with seven actors in a specially created 7x7metre motion capture volume created at the Guildhall in Portsmouth, supported by a team from the University of Portsmouth. The performance space includes an LED backdrop which displays the unreal world allowing performers to see their place and act within the virtual environment.

Vicon motion capture cameras and state of the art facial rigging capture the movements of the performers.  This in turn drives the virtual avatars of each of the characters in real-time through a traditional performance lighting desk into Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. The live performance is mixed with pre-recorded animation sequences.

The audience is led by Puck (EM Williams) who takes them from the real world into the digital world. As fireflies the audience can guide Puck through the forest at key points in the play using the movement of their touchscreen, trackpad or mouse. The actors perform and respond to audience interaction and direction making each performance unique, as the audience will behave differently at each event.

A bespoke web-player has been created for Dream to enable the effective distribution of real-time content from individual audience members to the Unreal Engine server and back to the audience. This new software allows the level of dynamic, real-time interaction working with a mass volume of users (up to 2000 per performance) in a live environment.

James Golding, Technical Director - Character Tech, at Epic Games added:

“It has been such a great experience to support phenomenal collaborators, across many different disciplines, on this ambitious project. It’s exciting to witness creators exploring the wonderful possibilities ahead for live entertainment.”


Music is integral to the experience of Dream. An interactive symphonic score recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra will be manipulated in key points in the play in real-time by the performers, who will create interactive music with their movements. The result will be a living, dynamic soundtrack that adapts and interacts live with the narrative and the pre-recorded orchestral tracks.  

The installation will feature core classical repertoire and two contemporary orchestral works – excerpts from Gemini, the latest composition by Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Philharmonia’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, and Ärr, composed by Swedish composer Jesper Nordin. The music was recorded by the Orchestra, conducted by Salonen on Friday 13 March 2020, the last full-scale orchestral recording, involving 100 players, before the pandemic struck.

Alongside his growing recognition as a composer, Nordin is the creator of the ground-breaking interactive music tool Gestrument, giving parts of Dream an interactive musical layer. Gestrument allows the performers to generate music from their movements. This real-time generated music can be shaped by the performers but will always be in perfect sync with the pre-recorded orchestral score.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor, commented:

“Immersive technologies are going to change the way we compose, perform and experience music, and I believe we need to reimagine the symphony orchestra for this new landscape. This is primarily an R&D project – to reimagine immersive technology for live performance – where the creative process itself is one of the most valuable aspects of the whole project.

Dream has brought us together with some of the world’s leading theatre practitioners, VR world-builders and game designers to reimagine storytelling. The collaboration has moved from the stage to the real-time games engine. As a composer, it has allowed us to reimagine composition for a new landscape where the audience has agency, and the performers can become part of a living, dynamic score that is integral to the live performance.” 

Talking about the project, Prof. Andrew Chitty, Challenge Director, Audience of the Future, UKRI, said:

Dream is an extraordinary achievement by the RSC and its partners but also a demonstration of how entirely new audience experiences are created as immersive and digital technologies become integrated into performance.  When we set out the Audience of the Future Challenge no-one would have predicted this entirely digital performance of Dream; it goes far further in putting new technologies at the heart of performance than we had dared to hope.  It’s also stands as a beacon showing what our world class performance and creative technology companies can do given the right support for Research and Innovation.”

Gabrielle Jenks, Digital Director at MIF concluded:

“Audience of the Future has been an invaluable space for world-leading organisations to consider the future of virtual production and understand the opportunities and challenges of working with real-time technologies. From DYSTOPIA987, Skepta’s extraordinary mixed-reality experience created for MIF19, to Dream, the learnings from these ambitious and collective approaches to live performance will help us imagine new boundary-pushing ways to present work in The Factory, MIF’s future home being built in the heart of Manchester.


For further information please contact:

For the RSC: Kate Evans, Media and Communications Manager 07920 244434

For the Philharmonia Orchestra:, 07786 075 979

For Manchester International Festival: Oscar Lister, Press Officer 07494688523

Notes to Editors:

Covid protocols

All rehearsals and preparation for Dream have taken place under strict Covid secure protocols.

Performance details:

Friday 12 March to Saturday 20 March 2021

Friday 12th March                     11am    (performance times all GMT)

Saturday 13th March                 8pm     

Sunday 14th March                   6pm     

Tuesday 16th March                 7pm     

Wednesday 17th March             2am     

Thursday 18th March                10am   

Thursday 18th March                7pm     

Friday 19th March                     1pm     

Saturday 20th March                 10am   

Saturday 20th March                 8pm     

Booking:  - Booking opens from 12 noon on Monday 8 February 2021

Dream is brought to you by the Audience of the Future Consortium. The project is funded within the Audience of the Future programme by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Audience of the Future consortium - Led by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) the Audience of the Future consortium includes De Montfort University · Epic Games · i2 Media Research Limited · Intel Studios · Magic Leap · Manchester International Festival · Marshmallow Laser Feast · Nesta · Phi Centre · Philharmonia Orchestra · Punchdrunk · University of Portsmouth· The Space. 

Dream is generously supported by Miranda Curtis CMG, the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, Audrey Mandela and Sean Phelan, and is an EPIC MegaGrants recipient.

The Audience of the Future Advisory Group includes:

Clare Reddington: Advisory Group Chair and RSC Board Member – CEO, Watershed

Myriam Achard: Chief, New Media Partnerships and Public Relations, Phi Centre in Montreal

Professor Genevieve Bell: Distinguished Professor and Director 3A Institute, Australian National University and Senior Fellow at Intel Corporation

Rachna Bhasin: EQ Partners - Founder/CEO // Pacifica Investments – Founder

Ruthie Doyle: Director, Emerging Media, Interdisciplinary Program (IDP), Sundance Institute

Hilary Knight: Digital Director, Tate 

Ben Lumsden: Business Development Manager, Unreal Enterprise, Epic Games

Fiona Morris: CEO and Creative Director of the Space 

Kim-Leigh Pontin: Creative Director at Nexus Studios

Zillah Watson: Immersive Executive Producer and former head of BBC VR Hub

Diana Williams: Founder/Producer of Kinetic Energy Entertainment

New writing at the RSC is generously supported by The Drue and H.J. Heinz II Charitable Trust

Audience of the Future:

The project has been funded as one of the four major Demonstrator projects within the Audience of the Future Challenge.  Each demonstrator was charged with advancing the state of the art in technology, audience experience and business model for a key sector of the UK’s world leading creative industries: moving image, visitor experience, sports broadcasting and performance (Dream).  With immersive and digital technologies set to transform the way we make, distribute and consume cultural and creative experiences. Audience of the Future provides a coordinated programme of Research and Development to ensure that the UK can become a world leader in this new field of creative technology.  Audience of the Future is delivered by UK Research and Innovation as part of Government’s Industrial Strategy. 

UK Research and Innovation has the mission to convene, catalyse and invest to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good across the UK with a vision to ensure the UK maintains its world-leading position in research and innovation for the benefit of all.

Live Performance Demonstrator partners:

The Institute of Creative Technologies (IOCT), De Montfort University is concerned with the transdisciplinary practice and theory of creative technologies, bringing together technologists, creative practitioners and researchers to develop truly innovative practice. They create opportunities to discover and document new knowledge in the field of creative technologies, synthesising research with digital computing, creative practice, science and engineering.

Gestrument is a Swedish music-tech startup with the ambition to change the way we interact with music. The patented technology allows a composer, hobby musician or any music consumer to play within the rules of music in many different ways – in concert as a digital instrument, as an interactive layer on top of recorded music, in games or in other interactive music applications. Pitch ranges, rhythm, scales, duration, legato, velocity and other parameters in music can be controlled with any input device; movement, touch, synths or game events for example, all generated in real-time. With the praised consumer apps Gestrument PRO and Scalegen users can experiment with music-making on their iOS device.

i2 media research, based at Goldsmiths University of London is an expert consumer insight, user experience research and strategy consultancy delivering rigorous research. They have completed over 250 commissions in the commercial, public and third sectors.

Intel Studios makes the most amazing experiences of the future possible. Intel's innovations expand the reach and power of computing in personal devices and enterprise servers, the Cloud, make the Internet of Things smart and connected, and help ensure the security of our digital lives. The work of the company’s more than 100,000 employees transforms businesses, propels new discoveries and improves human experiences.

Magic Leap Magic Leap’s mission is to harmonize people and technology to create a better, more unified world. Magic Leap is a team of creatives and technologists building a lightweight, wearable computer that seamlessly blends the digital and physical worlds. Headquartered in Plantation, Florida, with offices in Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, Seattle, Austin, Dallas, Zurich, Wellington and Tel Aviv.

Manchester International Festival (MIF) was founded as the world’s first festival of original, new work and special events and is an artist-led festival, staged every two years in Manchester, reflecting the spectrum of performing arts, digital innovation, visual arts and popular culture. The next Festival takes place 1 - 18 July 2021. MIF will also run The Factory, the new world-class cultural space currently being built in the heart of Manchester. Attracting up to 850,000 visitors annually, The Factory will commission, present and produce a year-round programme, featuring new work from the world’s greatest artists and offering a space to make, explore and experiment.

Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF) is an experiential art collective working in the liminal space between art, technology and the natural world. The collective creates specific visual languages that expand perception and inform our lived experiences. Their approach has earned them a reputation for creating the seemingly impossible—for producing experiences that push boundaries, redefine expectations and excite audiences worldwide. Previous work includes the acclaimed In the Eyes of the Animal (Wired Award for Innovation in Experience Design) and other mixed reality works including: Treehugger (Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes Award 2017 & VR Arles Award 2018) and We Live in an Ocean of Air (British Animation Award 2020)

Nesta - a global innovation foundation, backing new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time. They use knowledge, networks, funding and skills – working in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. They are a UK charity, working globally.

The Phi Centre is a multidisciplinary cultural organisation that cultivates all aspects of creation, development, production and dissemination. Phi is at the intersection of art, film, music, design and technology. Headquartered at the Phi Centre in Montreal, Canada, Phi was created by Director and Founder Phoebe Greenberg.

Philharmonia Orchestra a world-class symphony orchestra for the 21st century. It is a digital pioneer, using technology to reach new audiences and build new revenue streams. It has created award-winning web sites, an iPad app, and immersive experiences. They applied the idea of ‘Stepping inside the Orchestra’ to VR, having created four VR films to date. Beethoven’s Fifth, commissioned by Google in partnership with NASA, won a Raindance Film Festival Award for Best VR Music Experience.

Punchdrunk and Punchdrunk International has pioneered a game-changing form of theatre in which roaming audiences experience epic storytelling inside sensory theatrical worlds. Blending classic texts, physical performance, award-winning design installation and unexpected sites, the company's infectious format rejects the passive obedience usually expected of audiences. Punchdrunk International produces artistic works created by Felix Barrett and the Punchdrunk International creative team. The Company produces a selection of Punchdrunk’s commercial productions for national and international audiences. It also creates innovation-led partnerships with selected organisations on a bespoke basis.

Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) creates theatre at its best, made in Stratford-upon-Avon and shared around the world.  We produce an inspirational artistic programme each year, setting Shakespeare in context, alongside the work of his contemporaries and today’s writers. Everyone at the RSC - from actors to armourers, musicians to technicians - plays a part in creating the world you see on stage.  Our productions begin life at our Stratford workshops and theatres, and we bring them to the widest possible audience through our touring, residencies, live broadcasts and online activity. We have trained generations of the very best theatre makers and continue to nurture the talent of the future. We want everyone to enjoy a lifelong relationship with Shakespeare and live theatre.  Registered charity no. 212481

The Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries (FCCI), Portsmouth University encompasses teaching, research and innovation in the Creative Arts, Technologies and Performance. It has purpose built technical facilities, lab and performance spaces, and a specialism in Virtual and Augmented Reality, Motion Capture, Film, TV and Broadcast. Research focuses on the convergence of these technologies and their creative application.

The Space launched by ACE and the BBC, is a digital and broadcast development agency supporting the UK arts, cultural and heritage sectors to realise their strategic digital ambitions.

Unreal Engine Epic Games’ Unreal Engine is the world’s most open and advanced real-time 3D tool. Creators across games, film, television, architecture, automotive and transportation, advertising, live events, and training and simulation choose Unreal to deliver cutting-edge content, interactive experiences, and immersive virtual worlds. Follow @UnrealEngine and download Unreal for free at

Arts Council England (ACE)

is the national development body for arts and culture across England, working to enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to visual art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2018 and 2022, we will invest £1.45 billion of public money from government and an estimated £860 million from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

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