“It’s a form of puppetry,” said the Royal Shakespeare Company’s director of digital development, Sarah Ellis. “Those avatars come alive when they breathe, and how they breathe is through the live actor.”
The software that drives the performance, called Unreal Engine, is used across the video games industry and is behind popular titles like “Gears of War” and “Fortnite.” Since 2013, the company that developed it, Epic Games, has been branching out to create interactive 3-D content with the tool for film and TV, and, increasingly, for live events such as music festivals, museum exhibitions and theater productions.
Layering the tech with live performance, and relaying it instantly via a web player to thousands of devices, is an experiment for both Epic Games and the Royal Shakespeare Company. And then there’s the interactive component.
Up to 2,000 audience members for each performance can become part of the show, and will be invited to guide Puck through the forest. Onscreen, the chosen spectators will appear as a cloud of tiny fireflies: By using their mouse, trackpad or finger on the screen of a smart device, they will be able to move their firefly around the screen, and Puck will follow their lead through the virtual space.
“Without the fireflies — the audience — Puck wouldn’t be going anywhere,” said E.M. Williams, who plays the role. “The audience are very much the fuel, the energy, of the show.”