The Stratford Festival is ready to unveil a brand new interactive Shakespeare experience this month as it expands significantly the educational resources available for students and teachers through its on-demand streaming platform.
Illuminated Text uses a combination of animation, calligraphy, and street art to help viewers explore the intricacies of Shakespeare’s work, starting with Hamlet. Actor Amaka Umeh, the most recent Hamlet in Stratford, is both a guide and a performer in the production, which was built with technology similar to that used by the creators of Bandersnatch – an interactive science fiction film released on Netflix in 2018.
“It’s really, really dynamic,” said Lois Adamson, the Festival’s director of education, adding that the experience – created and directed by Rob Myles – allows students to engage with Hamlet in a variety of unique ways, including through rhetoric, imagery, and sound.
Produced by Genna Dixon, Illuminated Text also features original design and illustration by Alice Mazzilli. Other members of its creative team include sound editor Thomas Ryder Payne and animator Tarnisha Harris.
Illuminated Text is a part of Classroom Connect, a new subscription-based educational resource launching on Stratfest@Home this month.
Aimed at intermediate, secondary, and post-secondary students and teachers, Classroom Connect provides access to a large chunk of the Festival’s digital content library – a full channel of new and classic plays, Indigenous work, Black storytelling, filmed theatre productions, dance performances, audio plays, podcasts, interviews and documentaries – all accompanied by lesson plans, study guides and other learning resources.
In the works for several years, Adamson said the new service “goes well beyond” Performance Plus, a similar educational tool that allows teachers and students to watch one of the Festival’s Shakespeare productions while seeing the play’s text at the same time.
Performance Plus was more popular than ever during the recent online learning boom, she added, making the launch of Classroom Connect even more timely.
“This speaks a little bit to the response we’ve gotten to Performance Plus over the years and at the same time, what we’ve been hearing from teachers and what we know from students – that they desire more than just Shakespeare,” Adamson said. “We’ve worked hard to build capacity in order to film productions beyond our … Shakespeare shows, to film other classics and new plays and then also to be a place to share work from across Canada and internationally.”
The Festival is offering Classroom Connect to educators, students, school boards, and institutions for $180. The cost covers up to 150 users over five months.
Educators can request access to preview Stratfest@Home and Classroom Connect by emailing email@example.com.
Feedback from teachers and students has helped determine the content the Festival offers on the service, Adamson said.
“One of the categories of channels under Classroom Connect is all backstage, behind the scenes work,” she said. “For so many high school drama programs that’s a huge part of it, the technical side of theatre, so for us begin able to share that virtually is something that teachers have been asking for.”
“We’re really curious to see how teachers and students respond,” Adamson added. “We want to hear their feedback. What’s nice about something like this is it’s a living, breathing thing, so we can be … pretty responsive as well.”