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Shakespeare Unlimited podcast

Hamlet 360: Virtual Reality Shakespeare

Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 119

You don’t need a ticket to see the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s most recent production of Hamlet. You don’t even need to leave your house. All you need is a virtual reality device. Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit is an hour-long virtual reality adaptation of Shakespeare’s play that puts you in the center of Shakespeare’s tragedy.

We asked Commonwealth Shakespeare Company director Steve Maler and cinematographer Matthew Niederhauser of the virtual reality company Sensorium about creating the experience. They talk about the joys, challenges, and opportunities that come with adapting Shakespeare for virtual reality. How can VR augment the experience of watching Hamlet? What makes watching Hamlet in VR different from watching the play onstage or on your TV? Can VR make Shakespeare’s plays more accessible? Maler and Niederhauser are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit is a co-production with Google, and was created in partnership with public television station WGBH in Boston. Watch Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit at or on YouTube.

Listen to Shakespeare Unlimited on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Sticher, Soundcloud, and NPR One.

From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast. Published April 16, 2019. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. This podcast episode, “I Am Thy Father’s Spirit,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, Kevin O’Connell at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston, and Larry Josephson and Ben Ellman at The Radio Foundation in New York.

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MICHAEL WITMORE: Could this really happen? You’re sitting at home, but for all intents and purposes, you’re also at the theater—sitting on the stage, in the middle of the play. Could you do that? Well yeah, kind of.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I’m Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director. Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston did a performance in January 2019 in partnership with Google. And I want to give you a sense of the experience of watching it.

You’re in your bedroom. You slip on a virtual reality helmet and push a button. . .  

[CLIP: Music from Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit.]

WITMORE: . . . and you’re on a stage. All around you there are props. You can look 360 degrees, all around. In 3-D. A rocking horse. A giant water tank. A car. All around you. The lights start to blink. . .

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit. Jack Cutmore-Scott is Hamlet.]

Angels and ministers of grace, defend us!

WITMORE: And slowly it dawns on you that you’re not just watching Hamlet. You are part of the action.

[CLIP continues. Jay O. Saunders is the voice of the Ghost.]

Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee. I’ll call thee “Hamlet,”
“King,” “Father,” “Royal Dane.” O, answer me!

Mark me!

WITMORE: You’re the ghost. Hamlet is talking to you.

[CLIP continues.]

Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.

HAMLET: Murder?

Murder most foul, as in the best it is. . .

WITMORE: There’s mist that rises up every time you respond. It’s your ghostly essence. You are part of the action.

[CLIP continues.]

’Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard,
A serpent stung me. . .

WITMORE: This production is part of a new wave for theaters: producing works to be viewed by individual users through the medium of VR. We invited in Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director Steve Maler, who directed the production, and cinematographer Matthew Niederhauser, from the virtual reality company Sensorium, to talk about the experience of creating the adaptation and where they see this approach to theater heading in the future. We call this podcast episode: “I Am Thy Father’s Spirit.”

Matthew and Steve are interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

BARBARA BOGAEV: Well, before I put my headset on and experience your Hamlet, since this whole project started with you, Steve, I would like to know what made you want to make a VR Shakespeare experience?

STEVE MALER: At Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, our mission, really, is to democratize Shakespeare. You know, we wanted to use this extraordinary technology to really scale the mission that we have on the Boston Common every summer, which is bringing excellent Shakespeare to everyone. We serve about 50 thousand people in the summer, but we thought it would be quite amazing to be able to really serve the world.

BOGAEV: Okay. Well, what originally did you imagine, though? Was it always going to be Hamlet?

MALER: We actually started the conversations about two years ago with Google. At that point, we were sort of looking at a, kind of, greatest hits approach to Shakespeare, where we would do, say the balcony scene. We would do Lear on the heath. We would do Oberon and Titania’s first meeting in the forest. But as the conversations evolved, we all became more interested in something that had a narrative arc. And that’s how we finally, kind of—Hamlet was on our list, of course, of things we wanted to do—but when we decided to go all in on one text, Hamlet was sort of, for us, the obvious choice for many, many reasons.

BOGAEV: What are those reasons? Because I was thinking, Hamlet, you can cut the play so that it mostly takes place all in one, you know, all in Elsinore, all in one place. It has this kind of hermetic feeling to the play that might suit itself to this medium.

MALER: Absolutely. Also, to me, it’s one of the most interior plays. We’ve done it on the Boston Common and it was a really an interesting challenge to think, how do you scale this intimacy to 10 thousand people on the Boston Common? So, for me, Hamlet was the obvious choice and I think—

BOGAEV: Well, wait. When you say intimacy, do you mean because of this. . . expand on that. What do you mean by the intimacy, and why that suits itself to a virtual reality 3D treatment?

MALER: It’s so interior. Yeah. I think the play is so interior. He’s looking inside of himself and asking profound questions inside of himself. This is an intimate play. It’s a play that asks, you know, Who am I? Why am I? To me, that intimacy made perfect sense for us to use this very intimate medium to tell this story.

BOGAEV: Intimate in the sense that you can get right up, you know, in Hamlet’s face? [LAUGH] Using this technology?

MALER: Yes. Absolutely. And intimate in that these are the most private and complicated questions that people are asking. Literally, do I want to continue living or not? I see this story very much as a father and son story, and we really leaned into that in terms of this adaptation of the material. That intimacy between father and son is something that I thought would really translate well into the medium.

BOGAEV: Oh great. I’m glad you brought up “To be, or not to be,” because we’re just about to go there. I’m going to put my headset on in a moment, but first, I want to bring you into the conversation, Matthew, just with a very basic question. How familiar were you with Shakespeare and Hamlet when you came on board this project?

MATTHEW NIEDERHAUSER: I fortunately was quite familiar. I was part of the King’s Crown Shakespeare Company at Columbia University, and was brought on for small roles like the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. I actually acted as the Gravedigger in Hamlet my senior year of college.

BOGAEV: Oh, that’s fantastic. So, help us understand how this technology lends itself to a different kind of storytelling.

NIEDERHAUSER: Yeah. It’s really a new medium, and you can’t really just backend a cinematic approach to it. Thinking about the presence of the actors, especially this much more. . . And rethink blocking and staging, almost so that you are playing it out for an ideal audience member of one. We had to come up with a lot of new interesting directions to make it really feel like you are present within the play.

BOGAEV: An ideal audience of one. I think that’s a good cue for me putting on my headset now, actually, and helping our audience experience this Hamlet a little bit. By the way, the headset is not this very big, bulky thing. It’s rather compact. And it goes right over your head pretty easily. And there’s some straps. Wait, I have to take my glasses off. So, I have my headset on. I have my earbuds plugged into it. That’s how you hear the dialogue. And now I’m picking Hamlet, which I’ve queued.

[CLIP: music from Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit]

BOGAEV: Okay. Very good. So, I’ve powered up my headset. I’m going to pause it for a second because this is really fascinating. So, I’m at the “To be, or not to be” scene, and what I can see, is—I can turn my head to the left, to the right, all the way, 360 around me is a stage that virtually everywhere I look is full of props. Chairs—there’s, I imagine, Queen Gertrude’s bed. There’s some bicycles, a tricycle. And I’m looking at Hamlet, and Hamlet is in a bathtub. . . fully clothed in a three-piece suit, it looks like. He has a vest. He’s in the bathtub and—oh, I am the ghost and I can see a mirror, and I see an image of myself looking at Hamlet in the mirror. Okay. This is wild. So, I’m going to hit play.

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit. Jack Cutmore-Scott is Hamlet.]

That is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And, by opposing, end them.

BOGAEV: “Against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.” Oh. And now Hamlet’s going underwater in the bathtub and suddenly I am also underwater.

[CLIP continues. The sound of water.]

To die, to sleep—
No more—and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to—

Wow. I’m sitting. It’s like I’m sitting right on Hamlet’s chest and I’m right up against his face and I can hear his voice. I’m right in front of Hamlet as he’s under the water in this bathtub, and I hear his voice in my head seeing the monologue, and it feels like I’m suffocating. I’m suffocating with him, and now he’s sputtering. He’s leapt out of the. . .  

[CLIP continues. Hamlet surfaces, coughing, sputtering, and splashing.]

To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

BOGAEV: Out of the bath. Hold on. Okay, guys. Thanks for bearing with me there. Wow. Okay. So, I’ve taken my headset off because I want to talk to you guys about this. You do feel like you’re underwater with Hamlet making this decision. . . do I want to die? And you feel, I really want to get out of this bathtub. I’m suffocating.

MALER: It’s very claustrophobic, isn’t it? Yeah. It’s incredibly claustrophobic, isn’t it?

BOGAEV: Incredibly. Yeah. Yeah. It truly is an experience. I mean before I got in the bathtub with Hamlet, I was just kind of standing on the stage looking around at a lot of stuff. And that seemed more a visual experience, but once you’re in that bathtub, it does feel immersive. Let’s talk about this. First of all, the props on the stage. Matthew, can you tell me about this idea behind the set, why everything is on the stage around you and all the time. Why there aren’t separate scenes and separate sets.

NIEDERHAUSER: Well, we went with this open set design because, I mean, we’ve already been speaking about the interior nature of this experience, but in some ways, it’s playing out in this interior realm of the dead father’s ghost. We wanted it open so that you could sort of understand the world as you moved around between these different scenes. You sort of get an idea of the entire layout. And as you are taking part as Hamlet’s dead father’s ghost, you sort of warp around the stage. You get a sense of being able to project yourself to different locations.

BOGAEV: Yes. There’s a kind of, in between scenes, there’s this mist. And you have mist emanating from you as the ghost. You kind of see it under your, you know, under your nose. That ghostly essence kind of comes off of you. Steve, tell me about that. That idea of embodying, or, you know, giving people a sense of being a ghost and how you wanted them to experience this setting.

MALER: Yeah. That was actually one of the critical artistic decisions that we made along the journey of workshopping the piece first. We did a workshop of it with young actors that we work with here in Boston and filmed it in 360. Matthew and his team came up. But we looked carefully at the point of view.

One of the core questions we asked all the way along was, why are we telling this story in virtual reality? As Matthew said, VR is a new medium. It’s not theater. It’s not film. It’s not a proxy for theater. One of the questions we wanted to address in this piece was why we would use this new medium.

And in the workshop, essentially, we were placing the camera in cool places and seeing the scenes from an unexpected perspective. But we never really had a rationale, from my mind, about why we were where we were in any particular scene. That’s when we came to the decision that we should be experiencing the piece through the eyes of Hamlet’s dead father. And really, the whole series of production decisions cascades from that decision.

BOGAEV: It’s very interesting for many reasons, but mainly, for me, because I’ve always thought of it more in terms of Hamlet, it’s a mother-son story. Even though I know Stephen Greenblatt, he’s written a whole book about Hamlet’s ghost, I have to confess, I think very little about the ghost [LAUGHS] when I’m watching Hamlet.

MALER: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. I mean, certainly, that is a very powerful thread in the play. And you know, the extraordinary Brooke Adams gives such a wonderful performance. But for us, that just became the window through which to see it. That you see this man who’s in purgatory. He’s suffering. So, it was, for us, a prism through which to see the play that made sense for the medium, really. Really, the whole adaptation was all tuned to that narrative and that point of view.

BOGAEV: Well, it’s true. I mean, now I do get the ghost, and I get the anguish. Actually, I get the emotional thread throughout the play, which it really does situate you in a different place. And when you first enter into the experience—

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: My Father’s Spirit. A rumbling sound crescendos, then gives way to Hamlet, speaking. A piano plays quietly.]

O, that this too, too sullied flesh would melt,
Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew…

BOGAEV: —Since it’s so new, you’re really curious and maybe a little distracted in a good way. I looked around. I turned around a full circle and looked at everything on the stage. And I noticed the bathtub, and I noticed a very large, rectangular, glass-sided water tank.

[CLIP continues]

Fie on ’t, ah fie! That it should come to this:
But two months dead—

BOGAEV: And before the play ever started, I thought, oh boy, I bet we’re going to go underwater with a character. Maybe it’s going to be Ophelia in the drowning scene. So, I don’t want to give too much away, but do tell me a little bit about how these water props came into play and how you made those decisions about what parts of the play you would stage in order to take advantage of the VR technology.

MALER: Yeah, so obviously water is a very, very powerful metaphor, I guess, in Hamlet. You know, Ophelia drowns. So, for me, it was something that I wanted to explore and think about how that fit into this world. I had a very strong image from the beginning of this idea of Hamlet in a bathtub delivering “To be, or not to be” and trying to drown himself. And that kind of became the launchpad for these other explorations. One of the things that’s really exciting in watching people experience the play is that they literally shout out and exclaim out as things are happening in front of them. They duck when the swordfight is happening.

That’s, I think, the power of the medium, is that we can put every single viewer in the best seat in the theater, and that’s something that theater can’t do. Yet at the same time, it has the self-curation experience of theater that film doesn’t have. Film, it has been decided for you what you are going to see on a frame-by-frame basis. With VR, you still have that, sort of, theater-like experience where, if you’re more interested in watching Ophelia in a scene versus Hamlet, you can make that choice.

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit. Jack Cutmore-Scott is Hamlet. Flora Diaz is Ophelia.]

HAMLET: I did love you once.

OPHELIA: Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.

HAMLET: You should not have believed me. I loved you not.

OPHELIA: I was the more deceived.

HAMLET: Get thee to a nunnery.

BOGAEV: It’s really exciting when you’re watching a scene, you can turn away and catch a glimpse of someone who’s not even in the scene, like Gertrude lying on her bed.


BOGAEV: Watching the scene. And it brings the play alive. It kind of explodes the play out of the theater into a kind of reality.

MALER: Well, and that was sort of this dreamscape experience that we started from. These objects that you’re seeing are all of these shards of Hamlet’s memories. You know, that little rocking horse is maybe something he played with when he was a kid, you know? But that’s the thing that’s so rich about this visual field is that every single object that you see in that space was brought in and stage to give you that just extraordinary visual field to watch within.

BOGAEV: Matthew, help us understand the technology a bit more, starting with the camera. Because I’ve seen different ones, and some look kind of like a disco ball. They’re globes that have these lenses positioned all around them. And others that I’m seen are just like flat discs like a frisbee. What does the camera look like that you used here? And how do you position it? And how much does it move?

NIEDERHAUSER: I think some actors on set referred to it as a UFO. It sort of does have this flying saucer-type appearance. It’s actually 16 lenses in the round and one pointing up. And you’re synchronizing 17 different camera feeds at the same time in order to complete a 360-degree image. And we came up with a way of using the footage in post-production, where we were doing these transformations, which made you feel like you were either warping across the stage and landing in a place.  Or even having these smaller motivations, where it felt like you were slowly getting closer to the subject or even lunging in some places.

BOGAEV: Yeah. That’s complicated to visualize, I bet, for people listening to us, but it’s really interesting here. You know that a scene change is kind of taking place. It has that feeling. And in front of your eyes, sometimes there’s this kind of misty, warp-y, white swirly stuff going on. And then poof, you’re in another scene.

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: My Father’s Spirit. Faran Tahir is Claudius]

CLAUDIUS: Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.

[A rumbling and the sound of wind. Music plays. We are in a new scene, where the Player (Scott Barrow) rehearses with Hamlet (Jack Cutmore-Scott).]

Thoughts black, hands apt, drugs fit, and time agreeing—

HAMLET: Speak the speech, I pray you…

NIEDERHAUSER: All of that was meant to, you know, reinforce your role as the ghost.

BOGAEV: Oh yeah. And I should say, that that kind of warp-y feeling happens within scenes as well, when you’re kind of moving from being far away from Hamlet, say, in a scene, and then, whoosh, mist, mist, mist, and then all of a sudden, you are right behind his head, or you are, you know, right under the action. Or you’ve taken a different position. Because I should make it clear to people listening, when you have your headset on, you cannot move closer, but. . .

NIEDERHAUSER: It’s a fixed perspective. It’s a fixed perspective.

BOGAEV: Yes. Thanks, Matthew.

NIEDERHAUSER: And even though it is a fixed perspective, we still work to make it feel like you’re there the entire time.

MALER: Yeah. Moving the camera in VR is very disorienting to the viewer—can be very disorienting to the viewer because you’re not just changing their perspective. You’re changing, physically, where they are located in the space.

BOGAEV: And that’s what makes people kind of seasick or get motion sickness, right? Which was a big fear, kind of, earlier in the VR.

MALER: I think so. I think there were also some technical issues with how quickly the image would stitch as you turned your head. But certainly, you know, it’s very easy to put you into spaces in VR that make you very nauseous very quickly. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted people to feel that the movement of the camera was organically connected to the storytelling moment.

BOGAEV: Now, Steve, this production is a little more than an hour long. So, tell me about some of the directorial decisions you had to make and the cuts and how you made those cuts. I assume they’re flowing from this idea of having intimacy with the actors in this technology.

MALER: Yes. Certainly, for that and the point of view, generally of this as a, as I said it earlier, a father-son story. But I also think, too, what I was very mindful of as I was adapting—and I’ve done the play twice at least now, once with my own company on the Boston Common and once in Japan with a Japanese actor. And actually, once at the American Repertory Theater. So, I’m very steeped in the play, obviously, as we all are who love this material. But I wanted this to be an entry point for people to experience Hamlet. And I wanted the piece to have a completeness and a wholeness in and of itself.

So, I wanted to be very careful in the adaptation that I didn’t raise issues that weren’t addressed in the piece itself. So, for example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are woven throughout the entire play. To have one scene of them, or to have just a tiny fragment of them here and there, felt like it would be creating expectations about who those characters are, why they’re there, what they’re doing there, that I couldn’t address in 60 minutes. So, we made a lot of very, you know, hard decisions. It’s the greatest play ever written and you’re cutting it to shreds. It’s a horrible thing to do.

BOGAEV: Well, Matthew, did Steve or the other actors come up with any ideas in the process that you had to just step in and say, “Well, actually, that just won’t work so well?”


BOGAEV: [LAUGHS] Like what?

MALER: I’m sure there’s a long list [LAUGHTER].

NIEDERHAUSER: No, there was nothing major. Sometimes we had to come in and intercede. Like if they’re going to be coming in too close to camera, they’re crossing light. So, we were definitely there as pre-visualizers. A lot of it is about making sure that, you know, that you’re really feeling the presence of the actors and that they’re not sort of obfuscating each other.

BOGAEV: Can you give me an example of something that you had to kind of call?

NIEDERHAUSER: Oh, I mean, it’s not that bad. I mean. . .

MALER: The Ophelia drowning. Remember, we wanted to do that in a very different way?

NIEDERHAUSER: Yeah. Totally. I mean. . .

BOGAEV: What happened with Ophelia drowning?

NIEDERHAUSER: Oh, the camera just kicked out on us. I mean, so we were. . .

MALER: But we actually had a different approach to it initially. We were going to try to sort of, I don’t want to spoil it too much, we were going to try to take and sort of tile the image around you in a way that you would see multiple iterations of that moment. If you looked to your right, you’d see a different iteration of it. If you looked behind you, you’d see a different iteration of it. But I think what we ended up with was so much more compelling and more immersive.

BOGAEV: Steve, were there ideas that you had before you went into this and then when you got into rehearsal, you figure out, “Oh, that won’t fly at all?”

MALER: I think the main thing was trying to understand point of view. I love actors. I love story. And I always am intensely focused on the technology, whether it’s moving scenery or lighting or sound effects, being there to support the actors to be able to support the words. I think that was the thing I was most concerned about going in is that this would be cool, but that we would lose the power of the language. The power of, you know, performance.

BOGAEV: Is there an example of that? Where you were so enamored of the technology, where you thought, “Oh, it would be cool—I could put the camera anywhere! I could put it inside a tank. I could put it inside Yorick’s skull,” or something.

MALER: Well, in fact, that was exactly one of the things that we talked about, was putting the camera inside of Yorick’s skull. We did that in rehearsals. And again, it was cool. It was interesting, but it was like, how is this telling our story? Are we Yorick? So, I think that’s, you know, where technology in the theater is so helpful, is when you have a clear point of view of why you’re using that technology; and again, how that technology is advancing narrative. With this project, to be able to use this, you know, incredibly powerful technology that gives you a sense of presence that is hard to describe until you actually put on a headset and experience something.

It’s a whole new landscape. It’s like, when, you know, photography was invented and people thought painting was going to go out of business, but, you know, painting, of course, thrives today, but it is a whole new field.

BOGAEV: Well, you were talking earlier about how you decided the through line was this father-son story that goes to the heart of it and everything was organized around that. And that really makes sense when, at the end of the play. . .  

[CLIP from Hamlet 360: My Father’s Spirit. Jacob Fishel is Horatio.]

Now cracks a noble heart.

BOGAEV: As the ghost we’re, again, we’re looking through the eyes of the ghost all throughout this play, but at the very end. . .

[CLIP continues]

                            Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.


BOGAEV: Our perspective rises up to the top, kind of the ceiling of the theater and we’re looking down, and then we can see the ghost moving among the carnage. And it really does make you see the ghost recognizing that Hamlet’s father played a role in causing this carnage. You experience that.

MALER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BOGAEV: Yeah. And that change in point of view, it really changed how I looked at the play. It gave me this other, again, insight into the play.

MALER: Yes, so I think the ending is something that we struggled a lot with. We really, you know, not to say we didn’t know how we were going to end it, but honestly, that ending is something we discovered on the set, and it’s pretty frightening to be five days—You have five days of shooting and you’re discovering the ending on day four.


MALER: But, you know, I wanted that sense of the wasteland that had been created, the destruction of all of these people. When we step back out of that, I think it does give you such a powerful perspective on the ghost’s culpability and his awareness of his culpability in that destruction.

BOGAEV: So, Steve, when you’re thinking of the future, what do you imagine? Where do you see this kind of technology leading? Because it is always a question. New technology, very exciting, but will it take us further way from live theater? Something, you know, everyone working in theater just prizes so much, and it’s so dear to your heart.

MALER: Yes. I’ve thought very, very deeply about this question. That latter question, I really can’t address. Who know what the future holds? I think it’s a very powerful medium. I think great artists are finding it and exploring in it. For me, there’s a couple things that I think about. You know, we’re so thrilled that we have 10 thousand people show up on the Boston Common on a Friday night, but there’s so many people who don’t get to experience this work. And there are two things I’ll focus on. One is, you know, I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and at that point, we didn’t have a Shakespeare company there. There is one there now. I think it’s very hard to bring excellent productions of Shakespeare into high schools to animate the classroom with this kind of material. So, for me, the ability to bring these performances, portable, into a classroom is profound. And I think that is something that I hope will inspire people to love literature, to love Shakespeare, and yes, to love live theater.

The other community that I think is really interesting is, you know, every summer, we do a matinee on the Boston Common. And it’s hot. And we have hundreds, thousands of elderly people and mobility-impaired people who are out on the Boston Common because being out on the Boston Common at, you know, 8 o’clock, 11 o’clock at night is very, very challenging. So, what I’m very excited about as we continue to explore this project is how we extend people’s engagement with theater, with Shakespeare, with literature as they age and as their mobility decreases. It sounds counterintuitive that, you know, one’s grandmother is going to be strapping on a headset and experiencing VR, but it’s actually not at all unexpected. So, I think there’s a way of creating a lifelong experience with literature, with Shakespeare through this technology. I think we’ll see, you know, theater companies start to experiment with ways of using this simply as a marketing tool, as a way to say, here’s an experience of what you’re going to have. Here’s what you’re going to experience inside the theater, so come see it. We need to be cautious and thoughtful about how technology is changing and affecting our lives, no question. But I also think we need to embrace the technology and see what tools it gives us to deepen people’s engagement with these great works of art.

BOGAEV: Well, Matthew, Steve, I cannot wait for your next experience. I love this one so much. And I really enjoyed talking with you two. Thank you.

MALER: Thank you so much for having us on today.


WITMORE: Steve Maler is Artistic Director of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston. Cinematographer Matthew Niederhauser works with the Brooklyn-based virtual reality company Sensorium. They were talking about Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s Virtual Reality production, Hamlet 360: Thy Father’s Spirit. They were interviewed by Barbara Bogaev. 

In addition to being a co-production with Google, Hamlet 360 is a partnership with public television station WGBH in Boston. You can watch Hamlet 360 online at  Commonwealth Shakespeare Company says the experience works best using a VR device, such as the Google Pixel phone with Google Cardboard or Daydream View.

This podcast episode, “I Am Thy Father’s Spirit,” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster. Ben Lauer is the web producer. We had technical help from Andrew Feliciano and Evan Marquart at Voice Trax West in Studio City, California, Kevin O’Connell at the PRX Podcast Garage in Boston, and Larry Josephson and Ben Ellman at The Radio Foundation in New York.

We hope you are enjoying Shakespeare Unlimited. And if you are, please consider rating and reviewing this podcast on whatever platform you get the podcast from. When you do that, it helps us get the word out to people who haven’t heard it yet. We’d really appreciate your help.

Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world’s largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find more about the Folger at our website, And, if you find yourself in Washington, DC, please come and visit us on Capitol Hill. Take in a performance in our Elizabethan theater and come face to face with a First Folio—the first printed edition of Shakespeare’s plays. We hope to see you here.

Thanks for listening. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I’m Folger Director Michael Witmore.