Imagine an original Charles Dickens manuscript as a mixed reality immersive experience. This is the ambition of a new piece of research led by The V&A together with immersive theatre company Punchdrunk Enrichment and creative technology studio, The Workers.
The aim is to develop a pioneering prototype, with the aim of ‘testing how digital technologies, when blended with the dynamics of group interaction and performance, can add value and quality to museum displays for a young, demanding audience’, as the project site explains.
Funded through AHRC and EPSRC‘s Immersive Experiences Partnership Call, a 2017 call for fresh immersive cultural experiences, the research will tackle the challenge of making literary manuscripts accessible to a teenage audience.
We have selected one of the more challenging objects in the V&A collection – a Charles Dickens manuscript – as the focus for Immersive Dickens, our AHRC funded research into next generation immersive experience. The project asks, How can we bring digital technology, performance and curatorial practice together to give young people a sense of creative agency when encountering a historical object?
Why is a manuscript such a challenging object? It can’t be handled or viewed in full; it’s full of complex handwritten revisions and not easy to read; it doesn’t have immediate visual impact and the connection with the rich imaginative world of Dickens’s fiction isn’t always obvious. But the manuscripts are the best evidence we have of the creative process of one of the UK’s most important and renowned authors, whose work has continuing relevance. Dickens was an observer of urban material culture and life in a period of rapid technological innovation and widespread financial insecurity, a writer who explored themes that still resonate today.
We want to involve the next generation in the development of a ‘next generation’ experience. We have chosen a demanding audience, in the shape of teenage students. By helping them discover and understand Dickens’s creative process, we aim to inspire young people’s self-expression. We want this experience to have a life beyond the museum for the young people involved – and hope that it will make a lasting appeal to their creative spirit.
By prototyping an immersive experience, centred on the manuscript, we will explore how digital technologies can augment immersive theatre techniques to create a performative environment, one that doesn’t necessarily rely on performers. By interrogating the latest technologies with our peers in the creative and tech industries, we hope to shape and drive innovation in this area. And by identifying relevant methodologies, we aim to forge new creative practice, within the museum and beyond.
By October 2018, we plan to consolidate our findings in a case study and toolkit for others to understand, experiment with and exploit new technologies to turn object-based narratives into new immersive experiences. And, in the meantime, we look forward to sharing our journey through the project blog.
As the Immersive Dickens site concludes, “This practical research project will see the partners informing each other’s practice in working towards a new model for participatory modes of display. A comprehensive case study and toolkit will inform and potentially empower museum professionals, creative technologists, theatre practitioners – and others – to create more effective immersive experiences for young people. Student and teacher participants will benefit from engagement with the partners, taking back ideas to apply in an educational context. The research feeds into two related VARI projects, Show+Tell+Share and Digital Dickens.”
The project was one of 32 projects funded by AHRC and EPSRC as part of the £2m Research and Partnership Development call for the Next Generation of Immersive Experiences.
The call supports the development of early-stage research partnerships that will explore the creation of new immersive experiences addressing three key themes: Memory, Place and Performance.
Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum