Royal Shakespeare Company to Monitor Heart Rates at ‘Titus Andronicus’

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Tom McCall, left, and Stefan Adegbola in Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Titus Andronicus.” “Pretty much every night there’s somebody who faints or is sick,” said Becky Loftus, the R.S.C.’s head of audience insight. “We want to see how the audience reacts physically to the production.”

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Helen Maybanks/RSC

Is a screening of a play just as powerful the play itself? The Royal Shakespeare Company plans to use heart monitors to try to find the answer.

Starting Wednesday night, the company is to monitor the heart rates of 10 selected audience members at its blood-soaked production of “Titus Andronicus” in Stratford-upon-Avon, and then do the same for a cinema screening of the production in August. The theater’s aim is to measure the emotional experience of each viewing method and explore whether Shakespeare still shocks modern audience members, who are perhaps desensitized to violence onscreen.

Becky Loftus, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s head of audience insight, said that “Titus Andronicus” lends itself particularly well to this experiment, given the intensity of scenes showing the title character Titus’s hand being chopped off and the aftermath of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia, another character.

“Pretty much every night there’s somebody who faints or is sick,” she said in an interview. “We want to see how the audience reacts physically to the production.”

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