Exploring the potential of combining performance and digital research in a heritage context.

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Arts and Humanities


This is a collaborative impact project between Historic Royal Palaces, Brunel University, and Edinburgh University. It builds on the practice-as-research methodology developed by the PI (Professor Thomas Betteridge) and the CI (Professor Greg Walker), and Dr Wendy Hitchmough's research leadership role within HRP which is an international centre of excellence for innovative heritage research. Dr Hitchmough will also be a CI on the project.

The aim of the project is to build on and showcase the site-specific performance as research methodology of earlier AHRC-funded research projects and to use the Banqueting House to explore ways of combining digital technologies, in particular augmented reality, virtual reality and CGI, with performance as a method for conducting research in challenging heritage environments. As part of the Henrician Court Drama and Staging the Henrician Court projects, theatre workshops and plays were performed in the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace. This was practically possible because the dramas that these projects examined (court plays by John Heywood and John Skelton) required limited scenery. This project addresses a much more ambitious form of theatre, the Stuart masques created by the likes of Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones which were often performed in the Banqueting House. It will create the networks and relationships, intellectual, conceptual and institutional, for the development of a technology-led solution to the practical problems of performing plays in a fragile heritage space of national and international cultural significance.

The masques that Inigo Jones and others staged in the Banqueting House were spectacular, but the building's heritage status, and in particular its ceiling (which is the only surviving in-situ work by Sir Peter Paul Rubens), make it impossible to stage a historically accurate performance of a Jacobean or Stuart masque there using conventional sets and materials. The Banqueting House is a Grade I Listed Building and the preventive conservation measures that are integral to its management preclude the installation of, for example, Inigo Jones's ephemeral but none the less substantial theatrical sets. There is also archival evidence that torches and other special effects were an important part of Stuart masque performances and it would be impossible to restage these in the Banqueting House. Indeed it appears that the need for these kind of special effects is a possible reason why, after the Rubens' painting was installed in 1637, masques were no longer performed in the Banqueting House. The problems of performing in the Banqueting House are particularly frustrating given the relatively detailed records that exist in relation to, for example, Jones' designs, the survival of the performing space in very close to its original state, and the existence of full texts of many of the dramas. This project will combine an innovative performance experiment in the Banqueting House, facilitating two networking events that bring together academics, digital innovators and performers, and a detailed proposal to develop a digitally-based solution to the problems of using performance as research to specifically explore the production of court masques in the Banqueting House and more generally in fragile or highly protected heritage sites. In the process it will represent an innovative development of the performance-as-research methodologies deployed and developed as part of earlier AHRC-funded projects by the research team.

Planned Impact

Exploring the potential of combining performance and digital research in a heritage context will bring the benefits of Henrician Court Drama's performance-based research model to new user organisations, developing pathways to impact for new non-academic audiences and new collaborators focused on the cutting edge digital technologies. Historic Royal Palaces ( henceforth HRP ) have attested to the importance of Henrician Court Drama in developing the organisation's research and interpretative strategies. This follow on project is intended to expand the impact of the research methodologies developed by Henrician Court drama both in terms of developing new collaborations and in terms of the exploring new fields.

The PI and CI (Walker) have existing relationships with a number of heritage organisations and creative practitioners. In particular, the PI has a long standing relationship with Goat and Monkey Theatre Company and the CI ( Walker ) has an important developing relationship with Communicado Theatre. Greg Thompson is an established theatre director who has directed for the RSC and is currently working as a creative consultant at UCL. Thompson has also worked on a number of the PI's and CI's (Walker) research projects. HRP has extensive links with a range of creative practitioners and companies. In particular, Deborah Shaw, Head of Creative Programming at HRP, has a long standing relationship with the RSC. The PI and CI (Walker) have worked on research projects with Historic Scotland and English Heritage. HRP is fully engaged with the heritage sector and the CI ( Hitchmough ) has established links with a large number of heritage organisations. Timothy Powell, HRP Digital Producer, has extensive industry links and the PI has just been made Digital Champion at Brunel University. The project will fully exploit all these existing links to ensure that the people invited to take part in its activities, sand box events and symposium, come from a range of prestigious heritage, creative and digital organisations and companies.

A key element in the project's impact strategy are the sand box events and the symposium. In order to ensure that the sand-box events are success full they will be facilitated by Thompson and Catherine Jewkes, who is a leading digital producer. The workshop performance will have a considerable impact in terms of the participants in the project. The project team will also, however, open up this specific element of the project to a range of heritage and governmental stakeholders in the field of heritage. In particular, the project team will ensure that the location of the workshop in the Banqueting House in Whitehall will be exploited to encourage engagement by the government and NGOs.

The project's final report on possible digital solutions to the issues raised by conducting performance based research in fragile heritage buildings will be circulated to a range of stakeholders and in particular senior management at HRP. This means that the project has the potential to have a major impact on the research and interpretative strategies of a major heritage organisation. Longer term the work speculative and blue sky networking under taken by this project will form the basis for a major research project and grant application focused on the Banqueting House Whitehall and timed to coincide with a series of events planned by HRP to mark the building's four hundredth anniversary. The location of the project in central London, its relationship to Henrician Court Drama and the existence of a clear narrative of impact from this earlier project across a wide range of individuals and organisations means that Exploring the potential of combining performance and digital research in a heritage context has the potential to have a large impact on the AHRC's celebration of its tenth anniversary.


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T Betteridge (2016) Final Report

Title Masque of Augurs 
Description Performance of the Masque of Augurs 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Report presented to Historic Royal Palaces Research Strategy Board 
URL https://brad.brunel.ac.uk/viewobject.html?cid=1&id=123658
Title Performance of The Masque of Augurs, Ben Jonson, Banqueting House Whitehall 
Description This was a workshop performance of Ben Jonson's The Masque of the Augurs on the 10th May 2016 in the Banqueting House Whitehall. The production was performed with original music, re-created dances and the original text in front of an invited audience. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The key impact was the presentation of a report to the Research Strategy Board of Historic Royal Palaces detailing lessons learnt from the performance and from the project team's engagement with various creative and digital technologists. This report had a direct impact on HRP's research agenda in relation to the Banqueting House Whitehall. It has an indirect impact on HRP's more general approach to the interface between digital technologies and heritage and an indirect approach on plans for interpreting the Banqueting House Whitehall. It had a direct impact on HRP's emerging understanding of the ways in which the Banqueting House Whitehall operated as a performance space in the early seventeenth century. 
Description Obviously there are none as the project is not complete yet.
Exploitation Route Finishing the project will help take the findings forward.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Workshop at the Banqueting House Whitehall - results used to inform Historic Royal Palaces digital strategy.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Description Masque of Augurs Report to HRP RSB 27th September 2016
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact The report submitted to Historic Royal Palaces Research Strategy Board on 27th September 2016 had a direct impact on HRP's planning for the representation of the Banqueting House Whitehall and a more general impact on HRP's approach to digital technologies in a heritage context. Given HRP's status as an international leader in the field of digital heritage the longer term impact of the report has the potential to be considerable.
Description Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop at the Banqueting House Whitehall.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016