What you Will : A step into digital theatre

Making, Theatre

The Shakespeare Ensemble presents:

What you Will


The Shakespeare Ensemble is international. Members of the Ensemble live all across the globe and before Lockdown even hit we had been wondering how and where to make our next piece of work. Restrictions of funding and consciousness of the environmental impact of transporting at least 1/3 of the ensemble halfway around the globe, were all challenges and considerations. And yet the question remained, how do we collaborate internationally?

A map of Illyria. Artwork by @patrice.moor design by Antonia Weir

What you Will is our first response to that question. We saw what other theatre was being made online and asked what we could do that was captivating, engaging, and used the medium of ‘digital boxes’ as a strength rather than a hindrance. The result was What you Will, a character exploration of the different players in Twelfth Night. Who are they and what are they like off-stage? Nine members of the ensemble and nine outside eyes (offering facilitation and collaboration) met weekly to devise and create character threads that were then streamed live at three different points of the day (to cover all timezones) on the 8th August. The audience was given an interactive map of Illyria. They were able to journey with each character for as long or as little as they chose.  The result was an infinite number of journeys. Each viewer finding a different experience. I found particular joy in being able to sit with the characters who may not be on stage that much in a show of Twelfth night. Dan Beaulieu’s performance of Sir Toby delved into a man who we know as a buffoon to explore the depths of addiction. we had two performers playing Maria, Amba Suhasini Katoch Jhala playing from Dehli, and Xdzunúm Trejo Boles playing from Canada.  Their separate threads developed Maria’s ambition and opportunism, the day to day of serving, and the glee in upturning order.

Maria: ambition and opportunism. Artwork by @patrice.moor design by Antonia Weir

The necessity of audience interaction enabled engagement with and ownership over the piece which I think digital theatre has been missing. Moving work online is certainly not a replacement for live performance. It cannot be that however hard it tries. However, this project demonstrated for me that we can make work that is exciting and live, challenging, and beautiful, together at a distance.

Illyria now exists in its digital form and if you have 45 minutes to spend it is here.

To find out more about the project or The Shakespeare Ensemble visit their site.

What You Will, 2020