Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shakespeare on Ice – in Second Life

Shakespeare, Second Life: On Winter Solstice 2008 (Dec 21), the SL Shakespeare Company endeavors on a last production of the year, a 24-hour ongoing festival of 'Shakespeare on Ice', to occur on the Shakespeare Island SIM, with a purpose of entertaining and educating.

The festival revives salient plots and character relations from past SL Shakespeare Company productions, as well as new ones created just for this, in the form of displays that replay through the brief segments persistently. Managing Director Complex Infinity states, "We're using bots since scheduling is too painful in this season, and also, this is a chance for everyone to—literally—drop by and get a glimpse of us at any time." Artistic Director Ina Centaur explains the purpose of this production, "It's a production, and we actually have it labeled as a SLBP—'Super Low Budget Production.' The 'scenes' or displays are set up somewhat like museum exhibits, where the audience can explore each one on their own. [Although no new animations and very few assets were created for this production,] We're maintaining our trademark for visual excellence while trying to give everyone a chance to see what we're about—even during these hard times as we attempt to raise funding to keep our islands." Though admissions is free, Centaur mentions that several relevant merchandises will also be available for the audience to purchase to help support the Company financially, "All proceeds for purchases of the skins of each character will help support our current SOS 'Save Our Sims' Fundraising Campaign. Also, we will be displaying a 'one-of-a-kind' photorealistic virtual gown based on Queen Elizabeth's Rainbow Portrait—the silent auction for this item would end at 4 PM on Sunday the 21st."

Centaur explains the reason behind each display, "Each exhibit is self-sufficient and does not refer to a particular scene, explicitly, but is true to the relations among the characters in the world of [that] play. They're basically a 'single-instance interpretation' or a caricature-like 'capture' of part of the essence of each play." The Company's Hamlet is back in the unlikely form: Hamlet is revived and stalking Lucianus down a path, leaving him with "what became of Romeo and Juliet", then coming back to pursue Claudius who had been arguing with both Polonius and Gertrude; Ophelia looks at the scene in a frozen expression of horror, and the Ghost loiters about. Although such script-programmed behaviors have not been used in a major theatrical production on Second Life before, Centaur waves off the technological innovation of this production, "We're really just digging through the attic and showing off some very old toys we didn't have to use before."

And, of characters not yet seen in past productions: Both Queen Elizabeth (incognito, dressed informally in her Rainbow Portrait gown, as Gloriana) and Henry VIII will make their appearance while roaming about on skates on ice paths on the Shakespeare Island. New 'productions' created especially for this display include a "single-instance interpretation" of Kate, the female lead from The Taming of the Shrew, and the triangular relationship of Romeo, Juliet, and the Apothecary. Kate is shown psyching out on ice (but the ice never breaks); Romeo and Juliet, dressed as ice skaters, are circling around a stooping and unmoving Apothecary, with a dagger to the heart protruding from Juliet's blood-stained body, and Romeo binging on a vial of poison potion.

Ina Centaur jokingly names the exhibit of "Romeo and Juliet (and the Apothecary)" as a tribute to virtual economist Edward Castronova, "We weren't lucky enough to get any external funding for our projects, so we had to do everything [referring to this particular display] with just L$250. Ed got a US$250,000 grant to create a Shakespeare world in Second Life, where people could 'learn' about Shakespearean plays presumably through such Disneyland-esque methods. But he didn't actually get to make his project on Second Life, so—not that I particularly cherish the theatrics of this one—we dedicate this display to his idea!"

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