First Android Actress Stars in a Play

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Geminoid-F is the creation of Japanese robotics-genius Hiroshi Ishiguro. The android–a copy of a real woman in her 20s with long dark hair–can smile, frown and change facial expressions. Geminoid-F is being used as part of a theatrical experiment called the “Android/Human Theater” project, which is a collaboration between creator Ishiguro and Japanese director Oriza Hirata, who wrote and also directs the play “Sayonara” (“Goodbye”), in which Geminoid-F currently stars.

The 20-minute play “Sayonara” also stars a more traditional actress (meaning the flesh-and-blood kind) named Bryerly Long. Long portrays a young woman who has a fatal illness, and so her parents buy her an android to keep her company.  The play touches upon philosophical and existential questions such as what the concepts of life and death mean to humans, and what they mean to robots. Director Hirata says the play will “alter the audience’s images of robots and humans”.

How does it work? Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain. An operator/actress controls the android from a soundproof chamber off-stage, in a sort of “motion capture” technique, where Geminoid mirrors her movements. When the actress/operator moves, the android copies her. Cameras capture the actress’ facial expression, which Geminoid duplicates on stage. A microphone picks up the actress’ voice which is transmitted to the android’s mouth.

So far, the android’s mobility is limited and it can’t walk. The robot performs the play in a permanent sitting position, but movements above the waist are fully workable. The performance is described as “a bit mechanical” but since Geminoid-F is playing the role of an android, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Is this the future of acting?