All the world's a stage, virtually

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The Independent Online
THE CONCEPT of 'Karaoke Shakespeare' might not have appealed to the Bard, but it is apparently one way to persuade the computer generation to take an interest in his plays.

A computer specialist working for Sun Microsystems, a US company that produces virtual reality 'walk-throughs' of new hospitals and chemical plants, has taken an interest in the Globe Theatre and produced a VR version as a sideline. By slipping on a headset and glove, people can get an impression of what it feels like to stand on the stage of the Globe and play the part of Romeo with a virtual representation of Juliet, or Juliet with a virtual Romeo, in something approaching a gender-free interpretation of the play.

The person wearing the headpiece sees not only the stage and other actors in front of them, but also the script of the play scrolling before their eyes, rather like an autocue. This has earned the system its 'Karaoke' title.

The suggestion is that teenagers today are so familiar with computer technology that exploring Shakespeare through animated virtual reality and interacting with virtual actors is more appealing than acting on a real stage with real people.

At yesterday's launch, the 49-year-old actor Robert Powell had problems reading the part of Romeo because he was too short- sighted without his glasses to see the small print displayed in the virtual world in front of him. The computer's Juliet gave a somewhat stiff performance, not helped by the American accent.

The system's developer, Andrew MacRae, hopes to link the VR system on to an international network so that somebody in London and somebody in San Francisco could act together on the same stage.

'It's not an alternative to the Globe, but adds an extra dimension to what we are doing,' Alastair Tallon, education officer at the theatre, being rebuilt on the London site of the Elizabethan original, said yesterday.