We use archival collections to inspire creativity

We use archival collections to inspire creativity

UoB Theatre Collection: Making a Scene

We designed and produced an AR theatre careers app for a mixed reality educational loan box for University of Bristol Theatre Collection and Bristol Old Vic.

Our AR theatre popup book transforms designs and documents from the Bristol Old Vic archive into 3D sets and lets young people explore technical roles and theatre careers.






3D models


Minute workshop


We were one of fourteen recipients of the 2021 Museums Association Digital Innovation and Engagement Fund in collaboration with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Thanks to University of Bristol Theatre Collection who we worked with to create photogrammetry scans of 15 model box pieces for our AR theatre app, and to Bristol Old Vic who led the workshop creation and facilitation.

Careers Behind the Curtain

Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world. As well as offering first-class theatre performances, they run one of the largest youth theatres in the UK, offer behind the scenes tours and host annual work experience weeks, but many people don’t realise that Bristol Old Vic has the most complete theatre archive of any 18th or 19th century theatre.

The University of Bristol Theatre Collection is one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre history and Live Art, and holds over 1000 boxes of designs, documents, photographs and financial records for the Bristol Old Vic Company.

This includes miniature cardboard models of sets, made by designers to show the worlds they want to build onstage to the director and other technical staff. These ‘model box pieces’ are often discarded by theatres or repurposed by designers for other projects, making them a rarity as well as fragile.

We were challenged to give young people insight into the breadth of theatre careers beyond the curtain – from lighting technicians to costume makers – and to design an AR theatre app that lets young people get hands-on with fragile collections objects.

From Page to Stage

Christmas shows and pantomimes are some of the most technically complex productions a theatre produces all year. With larger than life costumes, whacky props, and sets that need to transform from castles to dungeons to forests and more, there’s plenty of work to do.

We were inspired by the Bristol Old Vic production of Babes in the Wood (a reimagining of the classic Robin Hood story), featuring Bristolian legend Chris Harris. The extravagant colours and the wealth of design material for the show at the Theatre Collection were perfect assets to view in AR and showcase backstage theatre careers.

We worked with Digitisation Officer Sarah to capture photogrammetry scans of 15 model box pieces and digitise over 80 2D designs and documents for the AR theatre app.

Next our developers built an iOS app which allows you to choose different sets, costumes, backdrops, lighting, and special effects, and to arrange them in any composition. In this way, users gain insight into the technical world of theatre, and face the challenges of budgeting and timescales. 

Although the AR theatre models initially appear in miniature, you can scale them up to be medium or even full-sized, meaning those who use the app in the Bristol Old Vic auditorium can see the models as they would have appeared onstage.

AR is fun and using tech for stage planning is really fun and helpful...It makes archival content VERY accessible."

Drama students from the University of Bristol

AR is fun and using tech for stage planning is really fun and helpful...It makes archival content VERY accessible."

Drama students from the University of Bristol

Inspiring the next generation of theatre-makers

The 3D models are beautiful and creating a scene feels like playing with an AR dollhouse, but the app isn’t just a fun way to view digitised archival material. The project was designed to encourage people who’ve never engaged with theatre to consider making it their career. 

Aimed at 15-25 year olds, Making a Scene puts the power in your hands. Your designs are made reality; your decisions have an impact on the overall show; your choices affect your teammates – and budget! It’s an opportunity for people to test ideas and discuss the reasons for designing something in a certain way.

We supported trial workshops hosted at Bristol Old Vic and in schools during the app development, observing how students interacted with the AR theatre content to guide our user experience design.

Following the project’s completion this summer, Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre Collection plan to host workshops for young people from under-represented communities and deprived areas of the city within non-formal education settings and out-of-school experiences.

The hope is that by experiencing archival content in this immersive context, students will feel empowered to visit archives in person and feel more familiar with theatre environments. Who knows, maybe we’ll inspire a new generation of dramaturgs, designers and technicians!

Hear more about the project from Bristol Old Vic’s Heritage Participation Producer Harriet here, here and here, from Theatre Collection Digitisation Officer Sarah, or from our project manager Amy.

Get in touch to discuss how we could improve access to your archive with AR, or to learn how to use augmented reality as an education tool.