Live or virtual? — that is the question. In a cast of 10 actors appearing in The Tempest at BAM's Next Wave Festival this month, four are live, and six are seen as projected images. Directed by multimedia designers Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon of Montreal's 4D art, in collaboration with French-Canadian theatre director Denise Guilbault, this version of Shakespeare's final play takes the bard into high-tech territory he might have embraced had he lived a few centuries later.

At the time The Tempest was written, the use of lanterns with candlelight had just been introduced into the theatre in France, and Lemieux supposes that Shakespeare had heard of this invention. “It gave you the possibility to have actors appear and disappear from the darkness on stage,” says Lemieux. “This play was definitely written with that in mind.” This 90-minute adaptation goes one step further, using video to make the larger-than-life characters appear and disappear as if by sheer magic, along with the swirling special effects of the opening scene's storm and shipwreck.

“We decided to keep the costumes and language in a classical vernacular, yet mix them with the most contemporary technology and illusion to link the past and the present,” says Lemieux. “This is a new way to interpret The Tempest and not create just another museum piece. There is a state of wonder and amazement embedded in the text, and the video helps bring the spirit world alive.”