Written for players of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for Dream On!-a performance of new work responding to William Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on 23rd April 2016; the 400th anniversary of his death. The performance was conducted by Michael Francis, and directed by Graham McLaren.
The last time I read Shakespeare was at the age of 18, as I was studying Hamlet for A Level English Literature. I enjoyed it, but I haven’t gone back to Shakespeare since (until now). Upon being asked to write this piece, what started out as a hard look at my personal relationship with Shakespeare’s work turned into a hard look at the wider public’s relationship with Shakespeare in the internet age. The internet has given a platform to anyone with access to it to voice critical opinions; the effect of this which in a way takes some of the power and influence over public opinion out of the hands of more traditional cultural gatekeepers is something I find really exciting.
In addition to the orchestra, the piece features a recording of Theseus’ ‘The Lunatic, The Lover and the Poet’ monologue from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ read by David Tennant presented alongside a choir of computer generated voices, singing responses to the lines being read, collected from sources such as YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, and various news websites. I wanted to show the massive volume and complexity of these voices through this piece, and how whilst the freedom of the platform is empowering, making your individual voice heard or achieving unity with others can be tough.
I think it’s really important to be constantly re-evaluating and questioning how we elevate particular cultural figures to the status of ‘greatness’; in particular who decides what is ‘great’. Now we’re in a situation where the established structures for deciding upon ‘greatness’ is coming undone; it brings about the question of do we actually need to listen to someone else to decide what resonates with us personally? To me, the internet and its structures provides an environment for personal discovery of art that allows for a much more diverse range of ‘greatness’ with less influence from cultural establishments and institutions –but perhaps that’s a bit utopian. Nevertheless, even though it seems this can be a bit daunting at times, I believe this increasing democratisation of cultural opinion and response is a really important and healthy development in our broader culture and the personal relationships we form with art.
The text used in the piece (which was also displayed in a visual accompaniment to the piece by BA Interaction Design students from the Glasgow School of Art) was developed in collaboration with Lindsay Jacobs and Vlad Butucea (MLitt Playwriting and Dramaturgy students at the University of Glasgow). The full text can be viewed here.
A full recording of the performance (‘Map-Makers…’ is the first piece featured in the recording) alongside additional documentation can be found here.