On Stage

Immersive physical installation, August 2016


  • Experience Strategy
  • Technical Direction
  • Prototyping
  • Software Development
  • Systems Design


The Royal Shakespeare Company is a historical institution located in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon (UK). With ongoing performances of his plays, as well as works by his contemporaries and other modern playwrights, the RSC aims to uphold the importance of his legacy. On Stage is an installation designed and developed as part of The Play’s the Thing, a permanent exhibit revealing behind-the-scenes secrets and stories of nearly 140 years of Shakespeare performances.
The exhibit, located in one of the grounds’ many theaters, offers visitors the opportunity to literally step “on stage.” Behind a curtained booth, a large screen creates a wall to separate the visitor from the empty stage. Acting as a portal, the display creates the illusion of a packed house under the lights of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where the visitor is given the opportunity to play the role of Hamlet in a dialogue with the ghost of his father (played by actor Ewart James Walters). On-screen text prompts the participants to speak their lines as the life-sized actor moves about the stage. Thanks to hidden intelligent sensors and programming, the actor maintains believable eye contact with the participant, only continuing the script after they have recited their lines. As if looking into a magic mirror, the visitor really feels like they are a true thespian.
“I like the Hamlet acting room because it feels like you’re actually on stage.”
A key piece to making the illusion work was to install a Kinect device within the booth that uses custom software we developed to analyze depth data. The Kinect senses when a visitor enters the booth, cueing the experience while using their height to determine where the on stage actor is looking and moving. It’s also programmed to sense the visitor’s voice responses, triggering the actor to deliver his next lines. Using virtual reality environments to mock up different placements of the actor and camera, we could define multiple options to best suit each visitor’s experience.
The magic of Shakespeare and theater comes to life using new technology to celebrate one of the oldest forms of entertainment. On Stage gives visitors the experience of performing and perhaps inspires some to explore their interest in theater and poetry further.
The Play’s the Thing is open daily at RSC’s Swan Theatre.

Tools & Technologies

  • Unity
  • Kinect
  • Virtual Reality