We attend live theatre performances because we love and appreciate watching the human body in motion. We never know what will happen. We risk danger and mistakes and anxiety in creating and witnessing the live performer — as the preplanned sometimes implodes into ingenuity, compunction and disaster.
What, then, are we to make of Android Actors taking to the live stage?
Seated on a chair throughout the performance, the human-sized Geminoid F carried out conversations and monologues, dressed in a dark, scoop-necked shirt and dark pants.
Her eyes blinked and her chest rose and fell as if she was breathing even as she spoke, smiled and looked surprised, though her faced lacked the depth of expression of a real person.
Her voice and gestures were created by an actress in a soundproof chamber behind the stage whose head and body movements were detected by a camera and replicated by the android. Microphones were used for her voice.
Geminoid F was produced by Hiroshi Ishiguro, a renowned robot designer at Osaka University in western Japan, whose usual androids come with a steep $1.2 million price tag.
Do we really want android actors parading around a live stage? Yes, Disney has been doing that for years, but to what end — are they creating social realism or just pecking forward an oddity to sell tickets?
Are we that far away from Real Dolls on stripper poles and Reborns renting infant intensive care crib time in hospitals?
Replacing actors with dead people and robots is certainly in our future entertainment path for live performance and I discussed that economic reality in my July 12, 2006 article — Are Actors Necessary: Negotiating Future Dead Rights — and Android Actors are the next, logical, step in the false manufacturing of human drama:
We will then have the best actor for the best part and not the actor that best fits the suit. Through computers we will analyze actor tendencies, facial expressions, vocal intonation and even the essence of the spirit that made them great. New actors will only work if they can match the talent and the ability of those who have already marked the path. The dead actors become the Praetorian Guard against uncouth, untrained new talent. There will be no lack of dead talent for producers to hire.
There will be no egos to massage. There will not be any need to provide on-set perks for mouldering stars. Movie producers will negotiate fees for “re-characterization” of the dead actors with the appropriate estates. If Marlon Brando’s estate fee is too high for re-characterization, then they’ll just saunter over to Humphrey Bogart’s estate to make an even better deal for his services. Soon the performance fees will be determined by the neediest estate and not the best actor for the role.
I fear for my theatre — and know this: Sometimes change is not always a good thing. A live theatre performance without breathing, human, bodies is a dead freak show, and you couldn’t pay me to sit there and watch and pretend to be entertained by a motorized computer.
It surely seems that way if you watch the Star Wars films starting from the original 1977 release and going forward to the more recent ones, you can see a trend toward more robotic and less real acting — some would say things were better when the aliens were goofy looking puppets instead of CGI replacements.
Yes, we’re putting our faith and interest in the virtual, Gordon, and the real and the human become lesser and lessened every day. When the live theatre becomes a robot show — will we still think we have a live performance or not?