I am writing on behalf of Matthew Lee’s production, Rivenscryr, which was created as his thesis project for the Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy (IML), a research unit with the School of Cinematic Arts. I was Matthew’s professor, and served as one of his two advisors for the project. As such, I am very familiar with this work and with the intensely focused effort that characterized its inception, planning and production. Rivenscryr is truly a remarkable piece that has captured the attention of many, both at USC and in the larger scholarly community.
Created in Second Life, the online virtual world, Rivenscryr animates Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from the point of the view of the absent character Sycorax. Matthew proceeded from the notion that theatre is the first form of multimedia and, indeed, this is a belief held by prominent media scholars, from Janet Murray (Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace, MIT Press, 1998) to Brenda Laurel (Computers as Theatre, Addison-Wesley, 1993). However that which these pioneers could only theorize, Matthew actually enacted in Rivenscryr. He made full use of the affordances of Second Life, a feat that has, to my knowledge, not been replicated before or since. Nearly all constructions in Second Life simply mimic the real world. Matthew, however, pushed its limits and created a piece that transcends the laws of physics, which took a considerable amount of programming to effect. But this effort required not only technical prowess, but also a great deal of conceptualization, and this is where I believe Matthew distinguished himself.
Using a virtual space to create one that adheres enough to the real world to give actors a sense of grounding, while also exposing them to new ways of traversing a stage, interacting with others, and enacting gestural language, is a delicate balance. It requires not only a re-examination of the confines of the real world even as it imagines what could be. Rivenscryr blurs the boundaries of the virtual and the real, anticipating new roles for participants. While constructing Rivenscryr, Matthew had to consider multiple rhetorical situations in which players might find themselves, due to the interactive potential of Second Life. He advanced a theory of avatars functioning as both actors and spectators—as “spect-actors”—which guided the experience. The space he created includes digital versions of extant Shakespearean text, but also reveals an excess of meaning and experience made possible by emergent technologies.
While I would not presume expertise with the tenets of directing, I feel that Matthew’s translation of The Tempest across multiple registers is remarkable.