Granted, I've always secretly wanted to – I mean, who wouldn't growing up in the era of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope? The movies can take you to a galaxy far, far away. Or right next door. The medium fascinates. And now the concept of virtual reality, with its technology now as tangible as a smartphone, the narrative impact can be so much more than traditional cinema.
But I didn't set out to explore a new medium through a cinematic lens – I looked at it through my high school English teacher glasses and thought, "Wow, if I could have had this when I was teaching – how much more could my students have seen, have felt, have experienced, in the literature we were reading?" For me, the literature is a means to explore our common humanity – our fears of failure and rejection; our hopes for love and acceptance; our confusions and our wonderments and our unbridled joys. To recognize this in the literature, to share this recognition as a class, and to find those same Truths within the self – this then, I believe, helps us connect more to each other. In short, literature helped me prompt my students to wide-awakeness (Maxine Greene's term, not mine). But, as visual technology became more affordable, it took longer and became harder to pull my students toward wide-awakeness. So when I heard what Baylor's FDM department was creating with the Odyssey, immediately I wondered what my students would have thought if after we read House on Mango Street and they had created their own representation of the street, they could experience, if only for a short while, what it is like to play on a street with four skinny trees – or to stand in the Globe, on its stage, before beginning their work with Romeo and Juliet. I don't know if such a cinematic virtual experience would help digital natives (Prensky's term), but I think it will, and the studies I've looked at so far indicate that it should. It's impact on their relationship with literary analysis, with reading in general, with their life beyond the classroom, is for another study, but my experience tells me it will be a positive one, regardless its size.
To get to that study, though, this one needs to be made. My initial thought was a camera in the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Salon and then voiceover – but that was quickly rejected as boring and inauthentic as the room is a recreation in a museum and not the real thing. Though the point is not to give students the real thing, the point is to give students a sense of who this poetess was – what was she really like. And the more I read, the more fascinated I became with this woman who, at 40, risked (and suffered) her father's banishment in order to marry for love. A mentor suggested a party as the medium and I concurred; my director suggested I make the viewer Elizabeth's son's girlfriend and so I have; my audio designer confirmed she could manipulate the sound enough to allow me to write concurrent scenes to give the viewer options for where to listen and so that is what will happen. And, like that, we have a movie.
Or the beginnings of one. This week we start rehearsals and the idea that was in my head will be in my team's hands. I cannot wait to see – more, I cannot wait to share – what they create. I hope you can't either. Thank you for joining us on our journey. In peace & possibility - amg