Starting in the second term of the Master of Educational Technology program at UBC, my main goal was to create a classroom resource that makes an immersive experience out of Shakespeare’s play. Based on the design of the original Globe Theatre constructed in 1599 in London, England, this virtual replica would be a place to perform and watch performances, rather than simply a textual resource like https://www.shakespeareswords.com.
The ambitious project already had its forerunners, including the SecondLife Shakespeare Company (later renamed Metaverse Shakespeare Company) that aimed to produce plays for virtual audiences in the virtual world SecondLife, avatars would be able to interact with audience members while watching the play. Before modern stage features such as controlled lighting and front of stage curtains that essentially established the “fourth wall” between audience and actors, the thrust stage was meant to have audience participation: a monologue or soliloquy was never supposed to be spoken to the air in front of the actor, but involve the audience in the moral quandaries of the character on stage. I would a few years later find out that one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Francis Beaumont, wrote a play, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, that involves members of the audience on stage in a metatheatrical way, where characters in a play are conscious of being in a play staged at Blackfriars in 1609 – a fourth wall break three centuries before the phrase was coined by Bertolt Brecht.
The decision to make use of digital technology for teaching Shakespeare’s plays as a performance had a couple different aspects that needed to be figured out. One of the guiding principles from early in my MET studies was that most people learning about the play as they were originally created for audiences at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres watched them firsthand. The actors who were performing often only had access to their lines and a few words in advance to cue them while playing their part. The challenge for students now, used to learning the plays as literature as a whole, rather than listening to the lines as an actor would have been required to do. With a bit more patience and user experience testing, this could have been made into an app to be used on the recently developed iPad that were already finding a way into the classrooms in 2011. Other teachers in the MET program would develop this idea as part of a unit plan for A Macbeth Blended Learning Environment.
Finally, it was time to strike out on my own with a venture that would make the Virtual Globe into an edtech project. Working through weekly lessons and honing our elevator pitches, an entire cohort of MET students got familiar with the many ways that Shakespeare’s plays could be brought off the page and recreated on a virtual stage. This was still a few years before Facebook would buy the Oculus Rift for $2 billion, so the idea of there being any value attached to a virtual reality project was a bit far-fetched and unnecessary. Besides, schools were flooded with paperback editions of Romeo and Juliet, so what need would this technology serve? Determined to find a solution with technology that would soon become a commonplace reality (although many VR enthusiasts are still waiting for consumer wearables to have their “iPhone moment”), I launched into this venture and earned my first and only B+ in a masters program where straight As are the mean and mode. An uncertain end to a project that may still find its time in the sun.