Robots are becoming commonplace in many areas of society — from manufacturing to medicine to our homes. But now, a robot has taken to the stage, in a British play called Spillikin, where a humanoid robot plays the male companion of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease.
The “Robothespian,” as the droid is being called, plays the lead in an unconventional play.
“It’s a story about a robot maker. All of his life he builds robots, and he develops degenerative illness in mid-life,” Jon Welch, the writer and director, said. “And realizes he’s not going to live to remain a companion to his wife. His wife, by now, is developing early Alzheimer’s, so he builds his final creation, his final robot be a companion to his wife.”
British actress Judy Norman plays the woman with Alzheimer’s. During the performance, she mostly talks to the robot but also shares a kiss.
“When he looks at me, I know this going to sound weird, but he is very affectionate and I like him, I really like him,” Norman said.
Welch said the concept for the play came from a real robot maker.
“The idea for the play started with the robot maker approaching us and offering us the use of one of his incredible robot creations to use in a play,” he said. “He’s seen one of our plays before, he liked us as a local theatre company, and he’s been making robots for ten years. And you find him in science museums all over the world, but he’s never really had one of his robots as a character in a play.”
Norman has found the experience interesting.
“This show has proven to me that really working with a robot is seriously not that different than working with a normal actor,” she said.
What is not so normal is the time it takes to make sure the Robothespian is in sync during the one and a half hour play. The robot is connected to a cord that goes to a control room with a laptop.
“We have pre-programmed every single thing the robot says and every single thing the robot does — all the moves,” Welch said. “There’s about nearly 400 separate queues but they are made up of other files, all stuck together so there’s probably a couple of thousand cues in reality.
“So the robot will always say the same thing and move the same way, depending on what queue is been triggered at what particular time,” he said.
Spillikin is on now tour in Britain.