Alarum. Here Another Skirmish! Digital Commissions with the RSC

As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, we’ve developed three digital commisions for the RSC that explore aspects of “Shakespeare’s Digital Heartbeat“.

Each commission focuses on a different part of the theatrical experience – from the actors and the audience to the plays to the performance schedule – and we worked with three different developers to see how different technologies and approaches would affect the outcomes.

The first of the commissions – Alarum, created with Nat Buckley – launches today. Alarum monitors sound and light activity around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, capturing the changes that take place in the theatre as the focus changes from backstage to front of house and back again.

Whether a quiet moment between performances, the hustle and bustle of the wigs and wardrobe department in the run-up to curtain-up, or the hush of the auditorium as the house lights go down, the theatre has a pulse of its own. Specially built sensors placed at key locations around the site measure light, sound and motion, animating the display with every change they detect. What you see here is happening right now in the theatre.

sound sensor

rsc sensors

A sound sensor – from build to the Swan Bar (Photo: Nat Buckley)

By exploring the changes in sound and light around the site, we can measure the heartbeat of the building. And by displaying those changes live on the internet, we can connect people around the world with Shakespeare, his plays and the main theatre in the town of his birth, every minute of the day.

We have used stage directions from Shakespeare’s plays to indicate the intensity of noise and activity, or, as a sixteenth-century bard might have put it, “alarum”. For a full list of these, see the glossary of terms.

Nat built prototype sensors using Arduino Ethernet boards that send data to Cosm. She’s blogged about her process and published the data.

The other two commissions have been developed with Tom Armitage and Matthew Somerville, and will be launching later in November. The project was managed by us for Kat Sommers, and by Sarah Ellis for the RSC.

There’s also more information about the project on My Shakespeare.