To Be Today by Brendan Dawes

Posted to Commissioned Artists Data visualisation Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 17.01.13 by Sarah Ellis

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Living in a World where so much seems  fragile, transient and throwaway, the words of Shakespeare – hundreds of years on from when he originally wrote them – still seem as relevant as it today as they every were. It was this thought, provoked by a phrase from a BBC Podcast that Shakespeare “is a mirror or our own predicament” that inspired me to make something that would attempt to put into a real-time context the famous and not so famous phrases from Shakespeares’ work.

When the RSC first got in touch with me I confessed that I’d never read any Shakespeare – my school back then was more Kes than Macbeth – but they liked the fact my only experience with The Bard was through pop-culture such as the many movies that have been made of his work. Over the next few months I spent all my time learning and reading about Shakespeare and why his work still permeates our culture on a daily basis.

Over time, having written about every emotion, every part of society from the cruelest to the most wonderful, I asked myself what if those Shakespearean phrases that we hear so much could be super-imposed on to the events of the day, giving modern context to Shakespeare and introducing new audiences to his words through the context of rolling news.

With that idea in mind I took it to the RSC who thankfully loved it, after which I set to work on writing the algorithm that would attempt to match Shakespeare quotes with subjects in the news on a half-hourly basis. Early signs were promising but my knowledge of Shakespeare was sadly lacking. Thankfully I then started to work with a young intern at the RSC who could offer real insight into the database that powered the system. The matches now started to really come together; here was Shakespeare describing events in real-time, showing the timeless nature of the words that he wrote and how even today, hundreds of years later, Shakespeare is as relevant today as it ever was.

Billy’s Bloggerel – Where do ideas come from? (part 8 – Frolics)

Posted to Billy Shakespeare Commissioned Artists Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 16.01.13 by Billy Shakespeare


Welcome to Billy’s Bloggerel, a web-log of doggerel…

Where do Ideas come from?
Part Eight: Frolics

As I remember, Francis, you did promise
To help me close my treatise on ideas.
But here I find you like Sir John the Hog
Wallowing in wet clay and a fog
Of your own making. Why?

Why? Why he says? The busy bard asks why?
Why because there is nothing more to say.
This toying with ideas is done. Over!
Where do ideas come from you ask and ask?
Birth, death, anger, love, chance connection,
Dreams of course and you even admit theft.
The tally is as told as Noah’s roll.
What other ways are there? Let me count them.
None. None. And yet you insist on looking
For more reasons without reason. End it
And let us enjoy idleness and frolics.


Aye frolics. And romps, larks, capers, gambols,
Foolery, frisks, skips, and scrambles!
Any idle end to end your endless quest.

You are wise and yet a fool. Clear yet dim.
True yet mistaken. Pointed yet blunted.
The ringmaster and yet the baited bear.

This is some riddle. You hope to tease me
Once more into your game. But I fence-sit!
I am lately sworn against sweat and toil.
I intend to be the piglet and play.

Ha! You have spoken and yet did not hear.
As aware as a hare with hair in his ear.
You have hunted the answer like hound
Barked it out but not harked the sound.

Oh out with it! I am a pig quite foxed,
And cat-curious to know what it is.
Where do ideas come from, you great ass?

For when we work at play, we play at work
And then ‘tis not work at all, but play.

That much is clear if crystal is now clay.

Wisdom comes from acting the Tarlton fool,
For in jesting we gestate comedy,
For in tussling we tease out tragedy,
For in horsing we hurdle history.
With quick tongues we twist fixed language and by
Jibbering, we work, that is play, with words.
With quick minds we trust instinct, and not to ink,
For in play we must react, and must not think.
Play does not censure, or define what is wrong.
Even the patrons play, for they play along.

Friend. You are true and I the happy fool.

We shall be fellow fools, Touchstone and Feste.
Yea, let us both wear a suit of russet
And a buttoned cap. We will play the pipe
And tabor and while away this day
Playing ‘til we play out another play.

Billy words and pictures by The Brothers McLeod
Billy animations on YouTube
Billy badges at the RSC Shop

Billy’s Bloggerel – Where do ideas come from? (part 7 – Death)

Posted to Billy Shakespeare Commissioned Artists Featured Gallery with 2 Comments on 13.12.12 by Billy Shakespeare

Billy's Bloggerel

Welcome to Billy’s Bloggerel, a web-log of doggerel…

Where do Ideas come from?
Part Seven: Death

Now, I must rest on dark matters. List to me
That my words may mourn and tell like church tolls.
It may seem a simple game to reflect
On the source of ideas and thoughts,
On feverish novelties and notions.
For ’tis light to think on inspiration
When born from birth, love, dreams, even anger.
But there is another author, more feared.
Some say our round life flies before our eyes
In the last moments before the curtain.
Even if this be false, then we that remain
Know something akin to it, remembering
All our encounters with our passing friend,
From our first, cautious acquaintances,
To our many revelries, romps and embraces.
And we remember, too well, our final
Communion, wishing one more meeting,
Wishing one more encirclement of arms.
But all this, in vain.
These endings are like bellows to a flame,
The candle burns high, but the wax melts not.
We weak vessels that remain are as figures
Tricked by mist, which knowing not our bearings
Stand still, staring into naught, like stark skulls.
Only when the sun has painted the dial
With some few circles, do we sense the atom
Of intent, cradled within.
Perhaps it will be some few words, a poem,
A portrait, a lament or a worked stone.
When faced with all-ending, we must defy
And make memorial and monument.
Are these ideas the most sacred of all,
Hewn as they are in life’s failing fires?
Sacred or not so, they must be humble.
We cannot be like magi, conjuring stars
To convert the fixed constellations,
That we might preserve in their new shapes
Some memory, some thread, of life now lost.
We must settle for a few inky shreds,
For the dauby dabs of slickened brushes,
For the meagre marks that our bodies make
To commemorate those who have marked us.
One day we too will cross this Rubicon
And face what? Something? Or oblivion?
Yea. There are some destinies we cannot mend
And a play is not a play without an end.

Billy words and pictures by The Brothers McLeod
Billy animations on YouTube
Billy badges at the RSC Shop

Quintessence of Dust by Matthew Somerville

Posted to Commissioned Artists Data visualisation Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 12.12.12 by Sarah Ellis

Matthew Sommerville

I have always been interested in the hustle and bustle of the theatre, such as everything that goes on literally behind the scenes in the weeks and months before in order to make the work of art that I see as a member of the audience on a particular night. It’s one of the reasons I set up Theatricalia – – to record details of as many productions as possible, letting people see the history of people, places, and productions as they each move through the theatre world.

With the advent of the World Shakespeare Festival, I thought it would be interesting to be able to see an overview of the productions involved in the Festival across the country. As I’m a web developer by profession, I naturally wanted this to be a website-based data visualisation – one that as well as an animation showing the overview, allowed people to interact with it and find out more information about the events covered.

From the Shipwreck Trilogy in Stratford-upon-Avon and London at the Roundhouse, Forests at the Birmingham Rep, or Y Storm (The Tempest) at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, my work provides a summary of the Festival productions and associated events.

Matthew Somerville is a web developer based in Birmingham, working for mySociety on sites such as FixMyStreet and TheyWorkForYou. After finding it hard to discover what other productions the brilliant actors of the RSC Histories Cycle had been in, he set up as an open, editable, repository of theatre productions. It currently contains almost 24,000 productions, dating back to the sixteenth century production of Julius Caesar at the Globe.”

Quintessence of Dust is one of three myShakespeare commissions from Caper.


Bards Talk by Abigail Smith

Posted to Featured Gallery Performance with 0 Comments on 11.12.12 by Sarah Ellis

Bard Talk


Many people grow up with an existing perception of Shakespeare, and don’t consider his stories to be of any interest or relevance. I wanted to try and create a project which could show everyone that Shakespeare’s stories are still adaptable to our lives now.

Looking at social media sites, like MyShakespeare, and work young artists were producing on their thoughts of Shakespeare, I was inspired to contribute this community. The digital platform is the most common form of communication amongst our current generation, and allows viewers connect to the artist on a more intimate level.

To demystify Shakespeare, and connect to my audience, I created video diaries of people acting out their interpretations of Shakespeare’s characters. These are designed to look like they are made by normal people, with what they are talking about based on scenarios that could actually happen. They are supposed to highlight how Shakespeare’s stories are based on parts of human nature which never change, and that people still go through the same types of experiences to this day, whether it’s troubles with love, relationships, ambition, grief or hate.

So, welcome to Bards Talk! An interactive YouTube channel which hosts these video diaries and invites people to join and take part with their own submissions of characters and experiences. People can now see completely novel versions of Shakespeare’s plays, letting them understand the story in a way that is tailored to them. Bards Talk encourages a new or existing audience to be interested in Shakespeare, and interested in the theatre.

All the existing videos on the site have been filmed by those involved, and directed and edited by myself.

To see the Bards Talk channel, visit

and for more information  visit:

Be Stone No More – A Tabletop Shakespeare directed by Tim Etchells

Posted to Commissioned Artists Featured Gallery Performance with 9 Comments on 26.11.12 by Sarah Ellis

Tim Etchells

Director Tim Etchells invites a collection of people with different relationships to Shakespeare – including actors, writers and academics – to each choose a Shakespeare play, take a seat at table and narrate / enact the story using their own selection of everyday objects as stand-ins for the characters. These comical, absurd and intimate to-camera performances are schematic diagrams of Shakespeare – lovingly made miniatures which condense the world of each play to a one metre square tabletop and summon it with a collection of banal materials and objects. Produced in collaboration with Etchells’ company – the renowned Sheffield-based experimental theatre collective Forced Entertainment – Tabletop Shakespeare explores the dynamic force of narrative and the power of language to make pictures in the spectator’s mind – echoing Shakespeare’s own words from Henry V imploring spectators to “Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.”

What follows are the films and a brief interview with Tim Etchells.

Interview with Tim Etchells:

The Merchant of Venice performed by Yolana Wassersug:

Romeo and Juliet performed by Sam Taylor

King Lear performed by Kuselo Kamau

Hamlet performed by Nina Lampic

Spirits Melted Into Air by Tom Armitage

Posted to Commissioned Artists Data visualisation Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 22.11.12 by Sarah Ellis


Spirits Melted Into Air is a project exploring actors’ movement on stage, created by Tom Armitage as a series of three commissions programmed by Caper and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It takes individual scenes or speeches – in this case, two individual scenes from the 2012 Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Richard III and The Comedy of Errors – and produces data-visualisations of actors’ motion during them.

By stripping the text away from dramatic performance and removing the playwright, it highlights the work that the Royal Shakespeare Company does in bringing the written texts of Shakespeare’s plays to life.

Namely: the production aspects – the actor, director, motion coach, audience; everyone that influences a performance.

The work is in parts a technology prototype, data visualisation, and artwork. Custom-built, open-source software is used to analyse performance video and generate plots of actors’ positions on stage from a perspective viewpoint. These plots are then used to generate new, secondary artworks: posters, and laser-cut wooden shapes.

The posters illustrate only the traces of the actor upon stage; “footnotes” indicate salient lines in the text of the scene, anchoring the movement to Shakespeare’s original words.

The wooden shapes represent the shape of the actors’ footsteps for the whole scene, and are engraved with arrows indicating directions of motion, as well as recording the scene, actor, and date of performance.

More information, including video and photographs, is at

About Tom Armitage -

Tom Armitage is a technologist, writer and designer based in London.  He makes tools, toys, and art out of hardware, software, and the network. He has spoken on technology, design, and games at conferences around the world, and runs a popular weblog at .

Alarum by Natalia Buckley and Caper

Posted to Commissioned Artists Data visualisation Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 15.11.12 by Sarah Ellis

Alarum Project

Alarum; and chambers go off.

Alarum is an ambient display that shows the changes in sound levels and motion around the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Whether a quiet moment between performances, the hustle and bustle of the wigs and wardrobe department in the run-up to curtain-up, or the hush of the auditorium as the house lights go down, the theatre has a pulse of its own. Specially built sensors placed at key locations around the site measure light, sound and motion, animating the display with every change they detect. What you see here is happening right now in the theatre.

By exploring the changes in sound and light around the site, we can measure the heartbeat of the building. And by displaying those changes live on the internet, we can connect people around the world with Shakespeare, his plays and the main theatre in the town of his birth, every minute of the day.

Follow the process of making Alarum through Natalia’s blog and Caper’s blog

Alarum was thought out by Caper and Natalia Buckley and the creative team are:

Caper ( is a creative agency, founded by Rachel Coldicutt and Katy Beale. We run innovation programmes and create digital campaigns for a range of clients, including cultural organisations, media companies and luxury brands.

Rachel was previously Head of Digital Media at the Royal Opera House, and Alarum, the first of our three commissions, built by Natalia Buckley, draws on her experience there: the frenetic churn of backstage activity in a large theatre is often completely hidden from the audience, while the peaks and troughs of front-of-house activity have a rhythm entirely of their own. A theatre without people is simply an empty space, and Alarum is an attempt to convey the movement of staff, actors and audiences in a meaningful way.

Kat Sommers

I’m a digital producer, writer and wrangler of content, with a background in am dram that has seen me carry many a spear. The closest I get to treading the boards nowadays is poking around the green room and wings of a famous theatre from the comfort of my own home, which, coincidentally, is exactly the kind of thing that got me into the internet in the first place.

Natalia Buckley

I’ve been called a technologist, designer, developer, maker, and even a data artist. It boils down to making things out of the internet. In fact was the first child in Poland to access the web (probably) and a first one not only to have their own website, but one they’ve made themselves (definitely). I mainly break things, but somehow always manage to fix them before anyone notices.

The Tempest by RETZ

Posted to Featured Gallery Performance with 0 Comments on 30.10.12 by Sarah Ellis


From February to July 2012, we transformed a small shop in London’s Hoxton into the setting for Shakespeare’s last play The Tempest. Each month it became a different location on Shakespeare’s fantastical island: A dive bar, supercomputer, basement, run-down hotel, library and ferry port. Audience members visited the installations every month meeting the characters and witnessing as plots were hatched and flirtatious glances exchanged.

The story was not only spread over six installation but in newspaper articles, online videos and characters all supplementing the narrative. We saw the experience like a TV box-set audience members developing relationships with characters over a long period of time. The video above is the fourth installment, focusing on King Alonso and his men, who are sheltering in an decrepit hotel after crash landing on Prospero’s island.

We filmed each of the performances and they are available to watch online here, together they tell the complete story of The Tempest:

More details are available at

Billy’s Bloggerel – Where do ideas come from? (part 6 – Anger)

Posted to Billy Shakespeare Commissioned Artists Featured Gallery with 0 Comments on 29.10.12 by Billy Shakespeare


Welcome to Billy’s Bloggerel, a web-log of doggerel…

Where do Ideas come from?
Part Six: Anger

Was that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford?
He seemed most vexed, leaving at a gallop.
He almost bowled me about our wooden Globe
And skittled me into the King’s players.

Aye! It was that same accursed noble
Who nobbles the very word noble,
Making noble a curse, noble a fool.
He would ask history to usurp me
And replace my lowly Arden smiles
With his over-born, glass-gazing visage.
Like a leech, he came to draw out my soul
To bite at secrets of inspiration.

Tell. How did you answer his entreaties?

At first I said naught, spilled over with spite.
Then I collected my cruellest curses
And gave him this gift…
You ask how ideas begin, you cur!
Demand to know? You cullion! You fop!
Hoping to bankrupt my hours of study
With your snake’s show of shallow flattery.
Prepare. For I direct you to a source;
My well of anger, disgust, fierce loathing,
In whose vinegary pail you will discern
Your own thin-tongued, vulture’s face reflected.
You sly sweeper-up of stray threads and hairs.
You bloodless scrounger of bold men’s banquets.
I will tell, but also command your ears
To wither under my full, righteous scorn,
And your tongue to gall from opprobrium.
True, some of my most prized rhymes and rhythms
Are sown from soft days beside the Avon,
Admiring soughing willows, dozing dogs,
Watching waterfowl dip for weed and wheat,
But not today, when anger is like the plough
That churns a golden field to blood-brown knots.
Aye, these ideas are as bone-strong knives,
Already sharp as flint and fit to plunge
Into an enemy’s fat, fetid heart.
Anger breeds anger until it fills out
The soul like foul cancer and must be felt.
When first we met, you saw air where I stood,
You had no talent for seeing talent,
Only for grubbing silver from fat purses.
But now that I am noted by noblemen,
You at last observe me as a thing opaque.
But even as you hoped to charm this wright,
In your haste, you shoved at the awkward maid
That stood ‘twixt your appetite and your meal.
Her body, which to you is a mere door,
Is to me the bearer of life and love.
Here you volunteer as my evergreen,
Renewing history in your favour,
You false, finical, coxcomb. You cuckoo!
You crave to ken what kindles me to scrawl?
Have this as satisfaction. It is you!
When I carve a criminal, a vile duke,
A putrid whoreson, empty but for low
ambition; when I smith a king of bawds
Then will I think on you and rage and write.
Your mark will be made, but as the fell fools,
The base, penny-proud, belchers and pukers.
I was a quill, a sail of smooth feather,
But here you have made a sword of my pen.

You said all this? His haste was warranted.
Your anger is a font of profane words
That I admire greatly. We must harness
This wellspring of righteous woe and sorrow.

‘Tis already begun.
Only when I have writ full this new play,
Will my ire be done.

Billy words and pictures by The Brothers McLeod
Billy animations on YouTube
Billy badges at the RSC Shop

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