Professor Neil Randall, associate professor in the department of English Language and Literature at the University of WaterlooNeil Randall, an associate professor in the department of English Language and Literature and director of The Games Institute at the University of Waterloo.

A team of Waterloo professors are hoping a new app that allows students to virtually stage their own productions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will inspire young people to see the play live.

“We’re hoping people who get this app will play it, and then mercilessly bug their parents to take them to the actual play,” says Neil Randall, an associate professor in the department of English Language and Literature.

Help name the game

Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare’s most widely studied plays in school, will open at the Stratford Festival on May 1. The Stratford Festival is holding a naming contest for the new video game that has the working title, Staging Shakespeare.

Randall, who is also the director of the Waterloo’s Games Institute, says the new app, aimed at middle school students, was designed by a team including Waterloo drama professor Jennifer Roberts-Smith and himself. It has been developed by a local gaming company, Industry Corporation, for mobile devices. 

Who killed Romeo and Juliet?

A second game, “Who Killed Romeo and Juliet?” was designed by renaissance literature professor Katherine Acheson’s first-year Shakespeare class and will be developed next. The University of Waterloo team has been working with the Stratford Festival’s executive director Anita Gaffney.

“We got together through a bunch of strange and awesome connections,” recalls Randall about the Stratford collaboration.

After students and professors brainstormed several apps, a final product is set to launch in late May.

All the world’s a stage…

Romeo and Juliet appLeft to right: Jennifer Roberts-Smith (Drama & Speech Communication, uWaterloo); Andrew Matlock (CEO, Industry Corp); Anita Gaffney (Executive Director, Stratford Festival)

The app allows theatregoers to act as directors and stage key scenes of Romeo and Juliet (including the balcony and tomb scenes) on actual Stratford stages.

Roberts-Smith, who acted as the app’s project leader, says staging elements are drawn from the theatre’s archival collections, and avatars speak in the voices of Stratford actors. When they’re finished creating their scenes, players can upload them to the Stratford web site, where they can also play the game in “critic” mode and review creations by fellow gamers.

“Staging Shakespeare” is the first of a planned series of game and gamification collaborations between the Festival and the Games Institute, says Randall.

Last May, Randall was awarded a $2.5 million SSHRC grant from the federal government to forge ahead on a research network called IMMERSe that will undertake an ambitious program of research focused on player immersion and player behaviour in games and game-related technologies.