Punchdrunk on its Media Lab collaboration

Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More has been connecting real world and online participants through digital channels. Photograph: Punchdrunk

“I have just come to the end of two of the most exciting (and longest) weeks of my career,” writes Peter Higgin, enrichment director at Punchdrunk. Writing in The Guardian, Higgin describes the culmination of the U.K. theater group’s collaboration with our team at the MIT Media Lab to create an online enhancement for the hit New York City theater experience, Sleep No More. Opened just over one year ago, Sleep No More is “an immersive retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, inspired by Hitchcock and set in a 1930s film noir world,” in Higgin’s words.

The project’s aim was “to connect a live Sleep No More audience member to an online companion,” Higgin explains. “We wanted to see if we could create an online experience which lived up to the visceral intensity of the live show and facilitate a shared experience which takes place in both the performance space and a remote user’s location.” The team was awarded a grant from the Nesta Digital R&D fund to develop the project.

The team was embedded in the project for the past several months. Ultimately, they ran over 8,000 feet of cable around the six-story site, creating a network across the building to live stream sound and audio content to both live and online participants. A combination of 10 RFID readers and 50 Bluetooth devices enabled them to track participants’ progress through the space.

During the week of May 14-19, the team ran a live test. “To say it was a glowing success would be inaccurate,” writes Higgin. ” – we were treading a fine line between game and experience, in an already delicately balanced performance.”

“Practically speaking we had too little time, with our Beta testing rolling all too closely into the actual live test period,” Higgins says. “The technology was beginning to do what it should by the end of the week and we found ourselves beginning to make exciting discoveries just as we had to pack up.” Many questions remain to be worked out, Higgins says:

Was it a game? Could the experience be solved? What was my mission? Did you feel connected? Did we need to make things more linear and visible? These were all questions that we have only just begun to interrogate.

We are breathlessly waiting to find out what happens next…

Read the full article: The Guardian: Innovation in arts and culture #4: Punchdrunk – Sleep No More

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