Imagine a performance of Ovid’s “Phaethon” at a public school—but not just any performance. In this version of the classic story, the actors are video game characters and the lines are voiced by the students. The action appears on a big screen—and the kids are more engaged in classic literature than you would have thought possible.
This amazing experience is brought to kids as part of the Pierrepont Machinima project. Machinima is an art form that uses video game graphics with voice-overs to make movies. (Hence the name, a mashup of “machine” and “cinema.”)
I first heard about the Pierrepont Machinima project when my family foundation got a proposal from the school asking for funding. I was intrigued from the beginning by the description: “Pierrepont Machinima brings classics to school audiences through live works of student-generated video game puppetry.”
It’s an interesting concept, to say the least. Students operate video game characters as if they were puppets and add their voice-over performances to present the classics. They then lead workshops with students from the audience so they can try their hand at it, speaking the lines in a “scene-by-scene reconstruction of the piece.”
Pierrepont Machinima was started in 2007 by Eddie Kim, the head of the theater department at Pierrepont School, a private school in Connecticut. Kim calls his particular take on machinima “Machinima Theater.”
The goal? It’s to “keep the classics present in a digital world.” Since 2007, Pierrepont students have performed live productions of Ovid, Shakespeare, and Yeats.
But it’s not just the audience members who benefit. Pierrepont students learn tons when they create and perform the machinima shows. “Students learn independence, how to thrive under pressure, improvisational techniques, and ultimately, how to deepen their appreciation for classical literature, while sharing their enthusiasm with others. Audience members from under-resourced schools gain access to transformative literature, which is too often unfamiliar or perceived as inaccessible and irrelevant.” In 2014, the program reached 400 students.
I applaud Pierrepont Machinima for being an example of how motivating, inclusive, creative, fun—and classical—digital learning can be.