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A Robotic Performance?


The Iowa Robot Theatre company

April 2017

"Robotic" is usually not a positive way to describe a performance of Romeo and Juliet — until now.

St. Ambrose students are working with the University of Iowa's Robot Theater Company to present Romeo and Juliet (Abridged) Friday in the Galvin Fine Arts Center's Studio Theatre. A dress rehearsal starts at 3:15 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. formal performance. There is no charge to attend either performance, but seating is limited to 50 people.

Robot Theatre is a troupe of autonomous humanoid Nao robots that are 58-centimeters tall and can move, hear, speak, see, respond and reproduce human behavior. The University of Iowa is working with students in Shakespeare Honors 102, computer science, and theatre to produce the play.

Last week, the SAU honor students condensed Romeo and Juliet into a 15-minute script, then sent it to the University of Iowa. When the robots arrive on campus at 9 a.m. Friday, they will already be programmed with the scripted dialogue. However, they will not be programmed for movement. That's where students come in.

Students involved in the project, as well as anyone on campus, are invited to help block the scenes and learn how to program the robots for movement. Those who would rather not participate in a hands-on fashion are still welcome to come and watch, he said.

Rairdin-Hale co-teaches the first-year honors class with English Department Chair and Professor Nancy Hayes, PhD. The students who were involved in creating the script said it was made easier by some guidance they were given on the limitations of the robots. They also placed themselves into a robot "frame of mind."

First-year honor student Victoria Roth said they had to pinpoint the most critical events in the play and include those. Her classmate, Jeremy Smock, said they also had to keep in mind the original cast size vs. the number of robot performers: seven. 

He described the experience of condensing the script as "interesting," and invites the campus to experience a performance.

"It is going to be Romeo and Juliet performed on different platform than ever before," he said, adding the play will be easy for students to follow and understand. "With the addition of robot performers, the play is geared slightly to being more comical.

"I think they will enjoy it," Smock said.

A video by the Robot Theatre troupe announces the upcoming performances at SAU.

The educational opportunity presented to students and the campus-wide performances are part of the St. Ambrose College of Arts and Sciences Shakespeare Project Series. The 400-year legacy of the Bard is being honored this academic year through variety of Shakespeare-related events including theater performances, concerts, lectures, film series, and conferences, which demonstrate the relevance of his work across the disciplines and into our everyday lives.

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