Samuel Beckett in Augmented Reality for the first time

An inter-disciplinary team of researchers has delivered a creative experiment that enabled individuals to experience Samuel Beckett in Augmented Reality (AR) for the first time.

In this pioneering production of AR drama, Augmented Play reimagined Beckett’s ground-breaking theatrical text, Play (1963), for digital culture. The project reinterprets Beckett’s classic modernist text in a way that is engaging for 21st Century audiences, by using cutting-edge interactive digital media technologies.

Guests put on headsets, embodied interrogators and explored the narrative by confronting Beckett’s characters in AR. Pictured above, in the centre and from left to right are Dr Neill O'Dwyer, Professor Aljosa Smolic, and Professor Nicholas Johnson.

Guests activated the characters into speaking simply by looking at them. This technological artwork acknowledged the new condition of active audiences and recognised new opportunities for narrative, by affording audiences a central role in the story.

Assistant Professor in Drama Studies at Trinity College Dublin, Nicholas Johnson, said:

Samuel Beckett was not only a great playwright, novelist, and poet: he was a significant figure in the analogue media of the twentieth century – writing for radio, television, and film – always innovating and adapting his own works in each new field that he touched.

We honour his radically experimental legacy by continuing to research his works through contemporary creative technologies, and to explore what his ideas might mean in twenty-first century digital culture.

The characters – recorded using world-leading technology for volumetric video content creation, developed by V-SENSE and Volograms – were displayed using Magic Leap’s AR headset.  Augmented Play affirmed the maturity of this technology as a viable option for live action, immersive storytelling in VR and AR.

Science Foundation Ireland Research Professor of Creative Technologies at Trinity, Aljosa Smolic, said:

Volumetric video is a novel form of digital media that enables new forms of interactive and immersive storytelling, such as our reinterpretation of Samuel Beckett in augmented reality. The project allows us to explore the interplay between cutting-edge technology and immediate use for creative art.

Augmented Play is the third and final part of a two-year practice-based research trilogy, wherein the text has been reinterpreted for 1) webcast (Intermedial Play), 2) virtual reality (Virtual Play) and, now, 3) augmented reality (AR).

Augmented Play presented a ground-breaking milestone for V-SENSE, a leading computer science research group at Trinity; Volograms, a domestic SME leading VR, AR and Mixed Reality technologies for the creative cultural industries; and the Trinity Centre for Beckett Studies based at the Trinity Long Room Hub, whose partnership was pivotal in the production, translation and dramaturgical direction of Beckett’s play.