Publications - Relating to Robots

'The Posthumanist Character of Naturalism'
Invited research paper delivered at the University of Lincoln’s Performing Arts Centre, 27 June 2018, as part of the Centre’s Critical Encounters series

Abstract

At its inception, Naturalism was a strange posthumanist experiment. The Naturalist's dramatic stage was, at its birth, a laboratory of humanity, open to every experiment. As this paper shows, far from being a psychologically coherent individual and maker of history, in possession of rational self-awareness, Naturalism's character tended to be a social animal - a hybrid figure formed of parts, complexly and precariously formed and cast in an ongoing process of undoing and remaking itself. The Naturalists' posthumanist experiment continues into the present day in new dramaturgical forms. 

This paper starts by summarising the kinds of human and character forms that appear in the drama and theories of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Émile Zola. It then moves to examine its contemporary forms on stages populated by robots.

'Robot Performers'
A paper delivered at a TaPRA Interim Event, held by the Performer Training working group, hosted by the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York on 22 May 2017

Abstract

In what ways do robots challenge conventional assumptions about 'the performer'? By engaging with three different examples of robot performers at the same time as moving through an historical trajectory from gimmicky, home-made robot, to sincere and highly realistic mechanical puppet, before finally focusing on a robot performer that is really autonomous and therefore really challenges humanist assumptions about creativity, I ask: How can we get audiences to believe in, and care about, robot characters? 

'Believing in Robots'
A paper delivered for a research seminar in the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York on 3 May 2017

Abstract

Why are robots cast in plays? What sorts of characters do they perform? What identities do they conjure? And how do their robot forms as performers interact with the fictional android characters they are cast to play? Prompted to investigate questions such as these, my research has led me to identify and interrogate, in particular, the role played by the audience in engaging with stage robot forms, especially in relation to the production and workings of affinity and empathy, the uncanny, and belief. In the process of my research, I have come to recognise the inherent theatricality bound to human-robot interactions and the research potential that arises from positioning the social robot as a performer.

 

Motivated by such questions and assumptions, this research seminar will reflect backwards to some of the work I have conducted in the last year or so, which pertains to my performance work with Baxter the robot as well as met analysis of a range of stage plays featuring robot characters and performers, including Heddatron (2006) by Elizabeth Meriwether; Three Sisters: Android Version (2012) by Oriza Hirata; and My Square Lady (2015) by Gob Squad. I will also draw upon some of my more recent work on, and conclusions arising from, my interrogation of Masahiro Mori’s theory of the uncanny valley, a theory that posits humans as feeling enhanced affinity for artificial objects that are humanlike, but not too humanlike. The methodologies of theatre, as I will show, open up structures underpinning human-robot interaction, which are bound to human perception, meaning, and belief. Questions I will consider include: can we ‘believe’ in a robot as a character? What is the nature of that belief? What are the (theatrical) structures that make such belief possible? What can the robot conceived as a performer teach us about theatre? And, finally, what might be the implications of my findings for real-world human-robot interactions?

'Performing Robots: Some Reflections'
A paper delivered at the TaPRA Interim Event, Performing Robots, hosted by Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, on 2 March 2017. This event can be watched on Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton's Facebook page, in an entry dated 2 March 2017.

Abstract

As I move towards exploring, understanding, and possibly contributing to the forms that sociable robots will take in the world in my capacity as theatre researcher, I outline, in this paper, a series of reflections and questions pertinent to such a trajectory. My proposition is that robots are performers and that as they are given form in sociable roles and scenarios - as companions or carers to the sick and elderly - they need to be carefully cast and directed. Robotics research can extend and nuance its understanding of robot forms, identities, and capacities to engender audience affinity and belief by considering the possibilities and implications of performance. Meanwhile, from my research context in theatre, analysing stage robots works to challenge common-sense assumptions about the nature of performance. 

‘"Thinking Something Makes It So": Performing Robots, The Workings of Mimesis, and the Importance of Character' (final draft copy)
A chapter in Twenty-First Century Drama: What Happens Now, edited by Siân Adiseshiah and Louise LePage (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016): pp.279-301.

Abstract

Responding to a distinctively twenty-first century phenomenon – plays that cast robot performers as character versions of themselves (as opposed to being performed by humans) – I explore the question, ‘What do robots have to do with theatre?’

I find that, more than their novelty, robot performers fascinate audiences for what they reveal about being a human today. Also they have significant formal implications for new millennium drama, in particular, naturalism. Analysing the work of Three Sisters: Android Version (Tokyo, 2012), written and directed by Oriza Hirata, I argue that dramatic character and theatrical structures are more important than species identity in engendering audience empathy and belief, as the performing robot becomes a humanlike individual that audiences can believe in.