The overall purpose of The THEATRON Project was to apply emerging multi-media technologies, and in particular the potential of VR modelling, to explore new possibilities for effective teaching. Focusing initially upon the history of European theatre, the Project has developed a prototype multi-media module, which allows a new and more effective means of teaching than has previously been achieved.
Scholars, teachers and students in the area of historical performance face the fundamental challenge that the object of their study is a fleeting one; the polysemic theatrical event ceases to exist once the curtain falls. Teachers need to instil in their students a sense of what performances in the past were like; to develop as accurate as possible a mental image of what the theatrical event looked like and what it might have meant to a contemporary audience. By combining 3D visualisation technologies with traditional theatre-historical research and teaching, hitherto inaccessible aspects of past performance can be simulated.
After conducting a user survey, and drawing on continuing feedback from user groups, a consortium of European theatre historians used 3D visualisation technologies as the basis for an interactive multi-media module for the teaching of theatre history at University level: the Theatron Module. The Module represents an innovative approach, both in its pedagogy, and the manner in which it integrates multimedia elements and associated functionalities, and uses technology which became generally available for the module's intended users during the lifetime of the Project.
Fig. 1 Theatron Module interface with real-time navigable
model in main window and high-detailed model in inset window
The core of the application is some fifteen 3D digital models of selected historical stages and theatres.
- Temporary Stages
- Greek comic stage
- Roman stage
- Fairground booth
- Medieval Pageant Wagon
- Odeon of Pericles, Athens
- Theatre of Dionysus, Athens
- Hellenistic Theatre, Epidaurus
- Theatre of Pompey, Rome
- Italian Renaissance Theatre, Sabbioneta
- Globe Theatre, London
- Court Theatre, Drottningholm
- Festspielhaus, Bayreuth
- Theatre du Vieux Colombier, Paris
- Festival Auditorium, Hellerau
- Schaubuhne am Lehninerplatz, Berlin
These models are augmented by an extensive variety of scholarly, explanatory and illustrative material in a manner that allows users interactively to investigate the individual theatre sites. Users can read critical studies of the spaces by the academic partners but, crucially, can also access and evaluate for themselves the evidence on which the 3D reconstructions are based.
Fig. 2 Theatron Module interface with accompanying historical
documents in inset window
Within the program, users can:
- sift through primary research materials - letters, critical descriptions, architectural texts, sketches, drawings, paintings
- read and view a selection of secondary sources - scholarly texts and commentaries, previous drawings and depictions of the site
- examine 2D depictions illustrating the structural components of a theatre building - ground plans, cross sections, diagrams explaining such things as the iconographic program
- study informative contemporary materials - pictures of the present site, reports on archaeological digs
- consider the relation of the theatre to its surroundings - where was it located in the city? was it a public or private theatre?
- examine the theatre's layout, structuring and interdependence of primary space - stage, auditorium - and secondary spaces - stairways, foyers, backstage areas
- where appropriate assess the decorations and meaning of the iconographical scheme and décor
- analyse the structure terms of references it makes to different types of architecture and/or previous periods of theatre history
- for some sites, such as the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens, for which three models were prepared, viewers can compare and contrast how the space evolved over a long period of time.
The materials relating to each of the theatre sites will be updated or modified as newer versions of these are created. The thinking behind Theatron and a full account of its contents and functionality are presented in this issue by Peter Eversmann, Department of theatre Studies, University of Amsterdam in a revised edition of the Consortium's Theatron Guide to Good Practice.
Fig. 3 Theatron interface with hypothetical reconstruction of
Lycurgan skene in main window and Hellenistic skene in inset window
The 3D Visualisation Group has refined a number of the models, and has successfully experimented with substituting more highly detailed real-time navigable models for the current versions, which significantly improve their textures and impression of realism. We hope to continue research and development on Theatron from October 2005, when the Group will become part of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London.
Richard Beacham is Professor of Digital Culture and head of the 3D Visualisation Group in the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King's College London. He was the coordinator and director of the Theatron Project.