Glashelder is an interactive theatre play preceded by a transmedial theatrical game in the weeks before the show. Based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet but set in the politics of a modern era western country, including populism, spin-doctors and back-door politics. It was performed once in its entirety for an audience of around 80 people. The production received quite some acclaim, most notably by Yvonne Franquinet (artistic director at ‘Huis aan de Werf‘ at the time) calling it “an exciting new form of experience theatre I have never seen before”.
The experience started with a fake newspaper distributed around local theatre venues claiming prime minister Hamlet was dead. We aimed specifically at a theatre literate audience and killing Hamlet before the play had even started was a deliberate choice to get them interested and throw them off the beaten path. This paper was followed by an online subscription and a test which assigned the player a minister (a character from the play Hamlet) he or she would be spin-doctoring for. The game officially started a week later with an official letter explaining the player had been assigned to a character and giving the player access to an online control terminal which was their main interface for the game.
The game continued over three weeks with daily interactions on the forums, via e-mail, and via the core game mechanic which required players to buy and trade information, and send specific information to the newspaper to be published the next day. In this way the player could influence the media to bring shame upon rival ministers or glorify their own (though players could of course go against their assigned character if they wished to do so).
The game advanced the story on a daily basis via the information and additional articles in the daily newspaper. Added to this were forum interactions with the characters and between the players and occasional live events and other media (like a recorded in game talk show). Players who dug deeper could find a conspiracy to kill Hamlet by other ministers and even interact with someone claiming to be Hamlet’s spirit. They could also attend live events and solve puzzles to gain additional information.
This all culminated in the night of the theatre play, were all players and characters would be in the same room for the first time. The stage was designed to allow a clear division as to when the actors would be acting out scenes and the players should watch (though they did cheer or boo at certain characters) and when the players could commune and use files they acquired in the game to influence the play. Between acts, the play would cut to a live feed of the talk show players had encountered earlier in the game, which would summarize certain aspects to link them to earlier events in the game and act as “the media” during the play. This talk show was shot with a live audience next door. Players soon noticed this and hacked into the show to refute accusations about their minister and disparage others.
The players influenced which characters would die in each act by publishing information and accusations and manipulating public opinion. Eventually though, all characters would die only to find that Hamlet had put his own death in scene to escape a planned assassination. Hamlet runs out onto the stage when the last member of his cabinet dies a tragic death. Fortinbras, leader of the opposition, is given control of the country by Hamlet.
The script and text of the play were interactive because it was undecided beforehand which scene would be played with which characters, every combination of characters had their own type of scene for each act. We also used direct quotes and lines from players in the acting scenes.
The play started with a recap of the events of the last weeks (video in Dutch).