Pippa Hill, Head of Literary at the RSC,and Robin McNicholas, Director and founder of Marshmallow Laser Feast discuss Dream.
You both come from very different professional backgrounds? Pippa – can you explain a little more about the role of a dramaturg and what that involves?
Pippa: My role as dramaturg is to work closely with lead artists to develop and focus the storytelling on each new piece of work for the company.
The role of a dramaturg in developing a play can be really light touch or can be completely embedded in the process – it depends what the project needs and the individual writers’ process.
And Robin, can you tell us a bit more about your background with Marshmallow Laser Feast and their work?
Robbin: I am co-founder of Marshmallow Laser Feast (MLF). At MLF we’ve been exploring the theme of mixed reality since we first started out way back in 2011. Our work has shown in galleries, festivals, concert halls, arenas and other cultural spaces all over the world. We use technology as a means to engage and immerse audiences.
Tell us about your respective roles in making Dream and what they involve?
Pippa: In this iteration of the Dream, I’ve been working hand in hand with Robin McNicholas to develop the narrative and the script together. Essentially, I’ve been creating a script, which is a very different process for this type of show. It’s been fascinating because part of it is storyboard, part written narrative and part dialogue. I’ve been going into the original play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to inform every part of the story-telling. So, for example, I went through the play and found every mention of a plant, a flower, a tree or a creature that appears in that wood and the list has been given to the Visual Developers to work with. There has been a real rigour in connecting the text to the world of Dream so everything in the ‘virtual’ forest has got the DNA of the play running through it. There’s a very close correlation between the world of the play and the world we’ve created on stage.
Robin: It’s been an extremely new process developing Dream and I’m grateful to have teamed up with Pippa in crafting a storyworld we feel is respectful to Shakespeare’s original work yet completely new and unique at the same time. My role is to direct the various departments to bring the storyworld to life and to make sure it stays true to what Pippa and I have crafted.
What was it about A Midsummer Night’s Dream which inspired you as storytellers? Was there a particular piece of text or a particular scene from which you took inspiration?
Pippa: Yes, there are three pieces of text that really caught our imagination. Two of them appear in Act 2 Scene 1 of the play, when we first meet the sprites in the forest – that’s when we first get a real sense of the magic in the play.
There’s this amazing speech that the first fairy says when we meet them:
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
This provided a really useful and brilliant springboard into how we might view the forest. So we’ve connected each of the sprites to one of those lines.
We’re interested in showing the audience the things that are genuinely amazing about a forest and used this as a way of exploring the line between what is magic and what is real.
The other inspiration was Titania’s ‘These are the forgeries of jealousy’ speech in which she describes this huge, awful storm and a world in turmoil.
We felt that this speech provided a really good metaphor for what we’ve all been through over the past year. There’s something in the language about the familiar things that we love being taken away or turned upside down or being removed.
Robin: There’s also this brilliant line at the end of the play ‘How easy is a bush supposed a bear’. I was really inspired by that in particular because it’s about perception, it’s about what something is and what something seems to be. And that, I think, is the bedrock of the show, it’s what we can create but also what’s behind it – what’s real.
We wanted to explore perception of what is real and what is not. How things seem and how they are.
We want to take the audience on a journey between the real, live backstage environment and a virtual, digital performance space and we wanted to explore what type of theatrical magic a digital forest, as our stage, could deliver.
Does Dream have a ‘script’ as such or has it been storyboarded like a film? Does the piece feature any of Shakespeare’s original text?
Pippa: There is a selection of key documents. There is a script and the script is an end to end narrative beginning from the moment you join the online lobby right the way through to the end of the show.
That script comprises of stage direction and dialogue. Running alongside that is a storyboard that correlates to each piece of stage direction. This also contains visual references and technical references.
Are the acting company new to this way of working?
Pippa: There’s the option to improvise, precisely because its live. You can react to what the audience do and you can react to what other performers do. And that’s what will – I hope – enable the audience to create an emotional connection to the characters they’re seeing.
What do you hope audiences will take away from Dream?
Pippa: I think we want them to be delighted. We want them to feel like they’ve seen something they haven’t seen before. And we really want them to feel like they’ve been part of a live show with a group of other people – which, I think, is the thing we’re all really missing.
If we can give the audience that sense that they have been with a large number of people experiencing something simultaneously and contributing, that’s as close as we can get at the moment that we can get to having that communal, live response in a room.
Dream runs from Friday 12 March to Saturday 20 March 2021. Visit dream.online
to book your ticket.