Bringing to life the hidden histories and creative processes of Britain’s oldest theatre
Press release issued: 6 July 2021
The University of Bristol’s Theatre Collection has received £45,000 from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to create a series of activities incorporating virtual reality which will bring to life the hidden histories and creative processes of Britain’s oldest theatre – Bristol Old Vic.
The project, entitled Making a Scene, will be carried out in partnership with Bristol Old Vic and Bristol-based technologists Zubr, enabling children and young people in Bristol to engage in playful and creative explorations of behind-the-scenes theatre activities.
It will combine a pioneering mix of 2D digital facsimiles, 3D printed physical objects from the collection (captured using photogrammetry), and virtual and augmented reality created by Zubr.
The archive of the Bristol Old Vic Company from its foundation in 1946 is held by the Theatre Collection. This spans the entire remit of the company’s work including production records such as prompt books, programmes, production photographs, posters, show files and press cuttings.
Items selected for inclusion in the project will be selected by local young people via a series of workshops, co-delivered with Bristol Old Vic.
Once a range of items has been chosen, the team will set out how best to reproduce them - which may be physical facsimile, digital surrogates or 3D digital models that have been captured using a 3D scanner and then can be viewed online or in virtual or augmented reality.
As well as paper-based material, other items may include objects, props or perhaps even costumes selected from the collection.
Jo Elsworth, Director of the Theatre Collection said: “In designing a mixed-reality experience which includes an augmented reality app, and a series of guided workshops and activities that make use of it, we are mindful that the lives of young people have been particularly insular and screen-focused for much of the past year with very limited opportunities to engage with museums and theatre.
“In planning for these workshops in 2022, as we move away from COVID-19 restrictions, we deliberately want to take a mixed-reality approach that builds on our developing digital expertise but encourages interactive ‘hands-on’ group activities from participants as a counter-balance to the digital intensity of recent learning environments.
“Making a Scene will be an immersive and creative tool with which to explore the inner workings of theatre, encouraging young people to explore ideas around creativity and career options.”
Amy Spreadbury, Heritage Engagement Manager for Bristol Old Vic, said: “Over the last four years we have been privileged to work closely with the University of Bristol Theatre Collection (the custodians of the Bristol Old Vic Company archive) on a range of heritage interpretation to increase access and understanding of the rich history of our unique theatre.
“We are thrilled to receive this funding, which means we can now take our digital interpretation to the next level - developing our collaborative approach to creating and delivering Engagement work, and deepening our relationship with Zubr, who created our augmented reality app Window to the Past which launched in 2018.
“Our community and schools’ groups are already excited to test out the latest AR technology which will enable us to give unprecedented access to fragile items from our collection outside of the archive, providing greater insight into some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the theatre.
“Bristol OId Vic practitioners will use the augmented reality loan box in classrooms and afterschool sessions to inspire devised work and spark conversations about working in the theatre. We’re hugely grateful for the opportunity it affords us.”
Funding for the project comes from the Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund, a collaboration between UKRI, AHRC and The Museum’s Association to support museums to explore digital innovations such as bespoke video games and telepresence robot guides.
A total of £600,000 will support 14 museums across the UK, including the Theatre Collection, to kick-start, scale up, and evaluate the innovations they so adeptly designed through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI, said: “Museums play a vital role in bringing communities together; they help us to understand our past and imagine a better future.
“This investment will bring diverse, underrepresented voices into museums to share their experiences, so that new audiences benefit from our outstanding museums and museums benefit from different perspectives.
“Coming together as a society to learn and discover new things is a key part of our cultural lives, and the recipients of this funding will help to facilitate this in novel and exciting ways.”
Bristol Old Vic
Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously running theatre in the UK and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. The historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with its own original productions, both at home and on tour, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through their 350-strong Young Company, their many outreach and education projects or their trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment.
They use their funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to their programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep their extraordinary heritage alive and animated.
In Sep 2018, Bristol Old Vic completed its two-year multi-million-pound redevelopment project, which transformed its front of house space into a warm and welcoming public building for all of Bristol to enjoy, created a new studio theatre and opened up its unique theatrical heritage to the public for the first time.
Since Bristol Old Vic had to close in March 2020, the organisation has strived continuously to find new ways of sharing theatre with its community and the wider world. In the last 12 months the theatre has completely reimagined a digital version of itself, experimented with streamed performances available globally, maintained links with their most vulnerable participants and welcomed live audiences during the moments when restrictions were lifted.
Bristol Old Vic’s ambitious Autumn/Winter season of work has just been announced, signalling the theatre’s return to live performance alongside simultaneous live-broadcast whenever possible and will include The Meaning of Zong by Giles Terera, Wuthering Heights devised by Emma Rice, Robin Hood from The Wardrobe Ensemble, Dr Semmelweis starring Mark Rylanceand Wonder Boy by Ross Willis.
About UK Research and Innovation
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the largest public funder of research and innovation in the UK, with a budget of around £8bn. It is composed of seven disciplinary research councils, Innovate UK and Research England. We operate across the whole country and work with our many partners in higher education, research organisations businesses, government, and charities. Our vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally. Our mission is to convene, catalyse and invest in close collaboration with others to build a thriving, inclusive research and innovation system that connects discovery to prosperity and public good.
About the Arts and Humanities Research Council
The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, funds internationally outstanding independent researchers across the whole range of the arts and humanities: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages and literature, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. The quality and range of research supported by AHRC works for the good of UK society and culture and contributes both to UK economic success and to the culture and welfare of societies across the globe