The Hamnet Players debuted the concept of Internet Theatre, a participatory performance art forum, in December 1993 with a production of "Hamnet," an 80-line version of "Hamlet," which was repeated in February 1994 with Ian Taylor, of the Royal Shakespeare Company, in the title role. Shakespeare's 430th birthday, on 23rd April 1994 was marked by the world première performance of "PCbeth: an IBM clone of Macbeth," a 160-line pastiche which pioneered the use of visual images in the form of so-called JPEG files, offered by the producers for those participants who had the ability to receive and display them. PCbeth was re-staged in July as a "Festival" production, with some VIP guest stars and audio effects. Moving away from Shakespeare (but still not managing to be totally original), the Hamnet Players next stole a plot from the American playwright Tennessee Williams, for their production "An irc channel named #desire." This was also staged twice, in October 1994 and February 1995.
"Actors" for these six productions have been entering their lines from many parts of the planet. London, Tel Aviv, Durban, Slovenia and Oslo are some of the regions that have been represented in addition to many places in the USA. True to the concept of theatre, the production is presented in real time with live performers and audience, with all the opportunities for spontaneous genius and imminent disaster that entails. The debut performance of "Hamnet" was interrupted by a thunderstorm which cut the producers' online access; the play had to be restarted after the producers logged back on via Taiwan. The second performance was enlivened by a "bot"* which accidentally killed Hamlet halfway through the production. Notwithstanding disaster, all four productions were received with enthusiasm by participants and audience alike.
The technique is based on use of Internet Relay Chat (irc) software and world-wide links. Each line of the full script is numbered in sequence. After casting, actors are given their own lines and cues, approp- riately enough, by e-mail, and no rehearsal is allowed. Thus, nobody but the production team understands the full script until it unfolds on the net. In previous productions inventive performers, delivering their lines via keyboard, have found ways of not only suggesting theatrical emotion, but adapting (even improving on) their lines.
The Hamnet Players have had a remarkable amount of attention from the conventional media for this emerging art form, but they are still playing to rather modest-sized immediate audiences. The type of obscene pastiche they have performed so far has proved a winner with the irc audience so far, laced as the genre is with in-jokes and Internet jargon. The Hamnet Players would like eventually to get just a little bit more serious, with longer scripts developed specially for the medium, and Internet equivalents of every phase of theatrical production: casting calls, auditions, call- backs, rehearsals, promotion, performance and, finally, critical review. Most of those phases have already been replicated in a playful way.
*bot: short for "robot," a specially-written computer program that behaves like an irc user, frequently with malevolent intent.