Digital pilot will take visitors ‘inside’ William Shakespeare’s lost home

A pilot Extended Reality (XR) project will give visitors their first chance to see virtually inside Shakespeare’s New Place — 260 years after his grand family home in Stratford-upon-Avon was demolished.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is working with artificial intelligence and immersive technology specialists AiSolve and Coventry University’s Centre for Postdigital Cultures on the first of a series of digital experiments exploring the application of emerging technologies at the charity’s Shakespeare heritage sites in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Visitors to Shakespeare’s New Place will use a coin- and contactless card-operated viewfinder to watch the house re-emerge against the live backdrop of the site as it is today, before being invited inside by one of the family’s servants to have a 180-degree look around the Courtyard, Hall and Long Gallery.

Envision is the XR product designed and developed by AiSolve’s location-based entertainment experts. It creatively combines Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in a simple-to-use machine that looks and functions in a similar way to the observation binoculars popular at scenic locations. It combines a live-action camera, stereoscopic 3D footage and 3D game engine features to generate visually rich experiences that offer a portal into the past, present and future.

William Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597 and it remained in his family’s ownership until the death of his granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard, in 1670. The house was then extensively remodelled and eventually demolished in 1759.

The Shakespeare XR project is part of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s new creative programme that is being developed with support from Arts Council England.

Paul Taylor, Acting Director of Cultural Engagement at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said, “The Extended Reality project presents two firsts for us: it gives our visitors the chance to virtually step inside Shakespeare’s New Place for the first time since it was demolished in 1759 and it is the first digital visitor experience that is specific to one of our heritage sites. This is the start of the next phase of our digital journey as we get to work with a range of creative practitioners to explore different ways of sharing Shakespeare with the world, using all forms of digital technology.”

Devi Kolli, Chief Executive Officer at AiSolve, added, “We couldn’t have chosen a better partner than the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to pilot our latest product. Shakespeare’s New Place is a perfect venue to demonstrate the power of story-living experiences using modern-day technology because the building doesn’t exist anymore. Our creative and location-based entertainment experts are constantly striving to push the boundaries of creative technology by introducing meaningful applications that connect with visitors’ emotions by giving them a virtual tour into past and future destinations.”

Dr Jacqueline Cawston, Co-director of the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, said, “We all believe this will add to the experience of visitors to Shakespeare’s New Place, but what we aim to discover as researchers is why and how? We are on the cusp of exploiting this location-based immersive XR technology where the opportunities for culture, heritage and education are boundless.”

Read more about research into Shakespeare’s New Place here.

Photo caption: New Place’s virtual Long Gallery.