Joanne Tompkins: Virtual Recreations of Historical Theatres: How VR Meets Theatre History

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Joanne Tompkins (University of Queensland)


Debates about exactly what the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre or the neighbouring Rose Theatre in London looked like in Early Modern England have raged through theatre and architectural circles for a good deal of the twentieth century. The discovery of the foundations of the Rose Theatre in 1989 suggested that many of the questions about this venue would be answered: exactly how big it was, how many seating galleries there were, what the shape of the stage was, exactly where it was positioned, and what the sightlines were for both actors and audience. Useful though the excavations were, they did not produce the requisite answers for all these questions. A virtual model of the Rose does, however, provide a much better sense of how this would have appeared and, most likely, how it operated.

This paper demonstrates models of two historical theatrical venues in London: the Rose Theatre and the Boar’s Head Theatre, built in Whitechapel in 1599. It suggests that tools such as virtual reality can be much more useful in dealing with core questions from theatre history than previously thought. Virtual models are much more productive than merely providing environments for games and entertainment.

This paper takes advantage of Ortelia, a virtual reality modelling project which creates 3D virtual reality models of real cultural spaces. While one aspect of Ortelia’s operations is concerned with creating absolutely accurate models of contemporary venues such as art galleries, museums, and theatres, another investigates the scope for re-creating cultural venues that no longer exist. The investigation of such spaces through a virtual lens can be a valuable tool in better understanding theatre spatiality, architecture, and history. Further, these models offer much more functionality and detail than do Theatron’s, the closest project working in roughly the same area.

About the speaker

Joanne Tompkins Joanne Tompkins has taught Drama in the School of English, Media Studies and Art History at UQ since 1996. She is currently Head of School. She researches spatial theory and theatre, as well as intercultural, multicultural, and post-colonial theatre. She is the author of Post Colonial Drama (with Helen Gilbert), Women’s Intercultural Performance (with Julie Holledge), and Unsettling Space: Contestations in Contemporary Australian Theatre. She has also produced Ortelia, a research tool to enable the analysis of theatre and gallery spaces through virtual reality.