On Friday 15th November, Ravensbourne hosted a milestone in online video distribution. A Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Richard II starring the increasingly ubiquitous David Tennant was streamed to more than 30,000 schoolchildren around the UK, with some in Australia, the US and elsewhere in the world as well. The Richard II performance had been broadcast live to cinemas around the world two days earlier, and reportedly made the Royal Shakespeare Company over £1 million in income. We took a recording of that performance and embedded it within a live studio event, all delivered via the Web.
My role was project managing the incredible student teams that put the event together. Four students from the BA (Hons) Web Media course I run designed and created the website (http://r2inschools.rsc.org.uk) according to the RSC brief. It’s a beautiful, flat, full-width single-page site which takes some inspiration from the parallax scrolling genre that is currently extremely fashionable. Compared to the I, Cinna project I worked on 18 months ago, the site has far fewer elements, as it was primarily designed to be the front end for the event video stream. But this project had the huge name of its star actor to get people interested.
The other student team ran the studio event and Internet video stream, and consisted of around 15 students from Ravensbourne’s broadcasting courses. There were hundreds of terminals watching this stream, with each serving a classroom of up to 50 schoolchildren, or maybe even more in some cases. The estimate was over 30,000 viewers in total. Most stayed through the whole four hours of the event. After the play, David Tennant and RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran joined us in Ravensbourne’s TV studio for a live question and answer session, chaired by TV presenter Konnie Huq. The questions were sent to us via a Web-based system, which had been custom-built by one of the Ravensbourne students. We had over 1,400 questions from schoolchildren, which was a phenomenal response, and a huge increase on the I, Cinna project’s post-performance question and answer session. We illustrated the number and geographical range of these questions using a ticker along the bottom of the live video, as well as a map showing in real time where questions were coming from around the UK as they streamed in.
The RSC told us that this single event had reached more schoolchildren than come to Stratford-Upon-Avon to watch Shakespeare in an entire year. As a way to bring the 450-year-old works of the illustrious Bard to life for a new generation, this project has been an unmitigated success. Just as streaming live performances into cinemas has proven to be a lucrative way to expand the audience for the big brands of theatre and music, such as the Metropolitan Opera, streaming over the Internet into schools has great potential to bring theatrical performance alive for pupils. But it’s also clearly essential to tie this to pupil participation, so they are engaged with the performance and can feel it’s an event for them, and not just something they are expected to watch for school.