Bristol audiences to be part of a pioneering project on theatre magic and how it works

If you are a passionate about theatre and become totally immersed with the action on stage, the Bristol Old Vic and a team of neuropsychologists want to know why. A ground-breaking project to capture audience experience – from tears to laughter and all the emotion in between – the Bristol Old Vic has joined forces with academia to find out why we react the way we do when watching live theatre.

Bristol Old Vic said the research will reveal in real time the hidden responses our bodies give when we are immersed together in a live theatre experience. This will be used to help the theatre to develop its on-screen experience for audiences to have that same connection.

Starting from 23 January for ten shows, some members of the audience will be spotted wearing wristbands which contain state-of-the-art sensors to measure physiological responses as they watch the production. Theatre goers who have been booking tickets to watch the new production ‘ Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of the Dead’, are being asked if they would like to be part of the research audience.

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Up to 140 audience members will take part over the ten shows and responses recorded will include whether they all have similar responses at the same moment during the play, down to whether their heartbeats have synchronised. Little is known as to why we become moved by a performance.

These responses will be compared to a second stage of the project with on screen viewings taking place on 7, 9 and 11 February. For this research, theatre goers can choose to watch the broadcast version in the Bristol Old Vic or in their homes.

Those who choose to go to the theatre will wear wristbands, while those watching from home will be monitored from a link to their laptop. The research is being led by the University of Bristol with teams from Bath Spa University, University of Bath and University of West England and funded by the MyWorld Program.

Leading the project, Iain Gilchrist, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Bristol said : “There is something unique about all sitting together and sharing in a story, we don’t really know what that is – so we’re trying to unlock that collective experience when we forget about everything else that’s going on in our lives and we’re all in the moment together.

“Storytelling has been part of human culture for as long as we know, something happens in the brain when we tell stories and it’s fascinating to begin to unlock why that has endured,” he said. His past five years of research has focused on what happens to people when they are immersed in a creative experience.

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Charlotte Geeves, executive director at the Bristol Old Vic said : “Presenting theatre shows on screen is still a relatively new and very exciting medium. We have spent the last few years learning how to translate our stage work to screen in order to engage audiences in a different way. It involved a lot of experimentation to get to where we are today – generating industry-leading, high quality filmed theatre distributed across the world.”

To take part in the research, places for the live shows have sold out, but there are still places available for online live broadcasts, visit : What’s On at the Bristol Old Vic

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