My pre-teen loves Shakespeare. It’s not something I can take any credit for since I didn’t really pay much attention in English Literature (I blame the teacher) and the sight of Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Keanu Reaves striding around in riding breeches in the 1993 film version of Much ado about Nothing probably stopped me from appreciating the complexity and vivacity of the language.
Despite having the RSC and Globe Theatre more or less on the doorstep we haven’t quite managed a trip to see the Bard’s offerings live as yet, so there was little to reference when confronted by a project to design the stage setting for MacBeth. However, we were saved from having to trawl through countless videos on YouTube by a brilliant event produced by Florida Virtual School on the 6Connex virtual experience platform.
The Florida Virtual School develops and provides virtual K-12education solutions to students in Florida, the U.S., and the world. Founded in 1997, it was the country’s first, state-wide Internet-based public high school. Today, FLVS serves students in grades K-12 and provides a variety of custom solutions for schools and districts to meet student needs. Its virtual Shakespeare festival was live on 26-27 April and once we had logged in we were able to see presentations from FLVS students as they acted favourite Shakespeare scenes or added their own interpretation. With vignettes from other Shakespeare companies, including the very excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were able to absorb a lot of content and styles in a very short period indeed, presented in a way that felt extremely accessible.
Was something lost by the presentation of theatrical works in video that was a bit grainy and certainly wobbly in places? Possibly yes. But many children and young people (and the rest of us!) today live off a diet of YouTube video and homemade entertainment delivered via phone, iPad and PC so my 12 year old wasn’t remotely phased by a lack of cinematic quality. What she really enjoyed was being able to interact with the actors and presenters in real time. Networking was easy in this virtual environment and the fact that most of the other participants were 4,500 miles away was of no concern. Did she learn anything – definitely. Did she enjoy the experience – absolutely.
The debate about virtual vs live rumbles on, and on, but what this event shows is that these environments are not just a business solution. They offer a real opportunity to open up access to real live knowledge and expertise for all.