November 30, 2009

Technology Meets Shakespeare in As You Like It

By Sarah H. Dolan
November 19, 2009

The oft-quoted phrase, "all the world's a stage," takes on new meaning in the Regent University Theatre Department production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, an interactive production experience through the use of 21st-century technology.

"The play is about transformation," explained Director Scott Hayes, professor in the School of Communication & the Arts. "Characters are forced to change their environments, put on false identities, and their ideas are transformed into noble actions. I hope our 'transforming' of the play into a contemporary setting makes clear the timeless nature of our message."

Helping carry the message are singers who interact with musical interludes from Guitar Hero and Windows Media Player (WMP) soundtracks. Blackberry messages are projected on the big screen for the audience to see. Actors are outfitted in modern-day apparel, such as camouflage, worldwide wrestling uniforms and looks that emulate i-Pod character icons. And most importantly, about 90 text messages are sent throughout each performance to audience members' (silent) cell phones.

Hayes was inspired to add these and other modern, interactive elements to Regent's production when listening to a radio station describing a church that text-messaged the congregation during the sermon. The texts were released at specified times, citing verse references, web-links and other related content.

"I saw the worth of this approach, particularly when producing a play that uses advanced vocabulary or that takes place in an unfamiliar time or location," Hayes said.

As You Like It sticks to Shakespeare's original dialogue to tell the story of court exiles and forest natives searching for love and meaning in the forest of Arden. And Regent's audience set-up is designed for members to receive a mixed message, Elizabethan-style. This means that the audience is split into two classes: "wired" (informed), members who receive text messages in the balcony, and "unwired"(uninformed), members who sit in the orchestra seating. The wired section receives text messages that act as footnotes to the script, including biblical, Greek and Roman references. The texts also identify allusions to celebrity and nobility as well as disguised insults and humor.

As a result, at times laughter can be heard throughout one section, while the other just doesn't quite get it, which is meant to work toward adding depth to the comedy. Other modern-day elements include a comprehensive use of technology, such as projected live video and Twitter.

In the end, the elaborate use of visuals and technology add to the humor of the well-loved comedy, which is punctuated by what Hayes describes as some of Shakespeare's "wittiest characters" of all time. Two MFA in Acting students perform their thesis roles in the production, Stephanie Chandler (Rosalind) and Robert Arbaugh (Orlando).

Regent's production of As You Like It has caught the attention of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, the largest and most active regional theatre organization in the country, which plans to follow up with Hayes on the results of the show later this spring.

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