Conducting Shakespeare

“Choose Your Own Adventure” Shakespeare is not new.  But what if you hooked up the audience to actual emotional sensors that tracked how they were responding, and then “conducted” the performance behind the scenes so they didn’t know how they were affecting the outcome?

Such is the experiment of Conducting Shakespeare, where several audience members will be connected to devices to measure their brain-waves, heart rate and so forth. The director/conductor, Dr. Alexis Kirke, will use the information in real time to splice together a sort of medley of Shakespeare scenes to create something that would, in theory, be different for every audience.

I love the idea, and would want to play along. I do have two thoughts on the subject.

First, it says that “4 out of 100” audience members will be connected up to the sensors, which I’m sure is a technology/budgetary consideration, and that’s fine. But that means that those 4 people are going to get a better show than the other 96, who might be on the opposite end of the scale when it comes to what they’re looking at.

Second, you may not like what you think you like. Funny coincidence, the mrs. and I were watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy recently where they’re doing this story arc about brain research. They connected some regular characters up to a machine that would monitor brain/emotional activity, then showed them pictures.  “Want to see the pleasure center?” asks the neural surgeon.  “Show her the picture of the kitten.”  Up comes the picture of the kitten, and all the anger zones fire in the brain.  “What, you don’t like cats?” he asks.  “Hate ’em,” she replies.

That’s what I’m imagining in a performance like this.  Your subject may have come in thinking “Woo! Hamlet! Greatest work of literature in the English language!” but in reality his brain is saying “Snore. I don’t understand a word of this.  This needs more twins, mistaken identity and girls dressed up as boys.”

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