Welcome to Robot Theatre where you will find information and discussions about robots as performers and dramatic characters on twenty-first century stages. You might be wondering what robots are doing on theatre stages. The answer is, quite a lot actually.
Robots are appearing in all sorts of contexts today, and not just in factories: they are in homes, museums, hospitals, schools, on roads, in the military, in space, on television, in films, amusement parks, and also on the stage. We are on the cusp of what Hans Moravec, renowned futurist and researcher of robotics and artificial intelligence, has called ‘The Age of Robots’. In his paper, Moravec predicted a future in which robots move from being primitive, literal-minded slaves to entities that ‘learn like mammals, model their world like primates and eventually reason like humans’ (1993). Whereas Moravec’s proclamation may have seemed the stuff of science fiction at the tail end of the last century, advancements in robotics in the twenty-first century now make it sound prescient.
Robot characters first emerged on dramatic stages in the twentieth century but they were always performed by human actors; robots never performed themselves. Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. gave dramatic birth to the robot in 1920. Much later in the century, robot characters started reappearing on stages more frequently (in the West, at least). However, in all these works, human actors performed the robot characters. Today, robots are increasingly performing character versions of themselves.
What are the implications for plays and theatre of robots performing certain roles, identities, and characters? What might their presence mean? What sorts of pressure might they put upon our conventional beliefs about drama, theatre, and even ourselves as human beings? As characters and performers, robots put a mirror up to the human form and prompt us to doubt ourselves. They make us wonder: what is thought? Might robots be able to think? Do humans think? What does it mean to be alive? And when the robot finds humanlike form, the question becomes even more specific: can the robot become a human?