Performing Robots

2019 Performing Robots Conference: Dialogues Between Theatre and Robotics


Robots are increasingly present both in our daily life and on stage. Theatre makers explore the possibilities of these new technological performers and investigate the possibilities and implications of a future of living with them. Also in daily life, the presence and behavior of robots raises questions that concern their dramaturgy and design: how do social robots address their human co-performers and afford interaction with them? What scripts do they follow? How to design and choreograph their appearance and movements?

Guy Hoffman observes that theater acting and other performing arts could serve Human Robot Interaction (HRI) as useful testbeds. Heather Knight identifies eight lessons about designing non-verbal interaction that can be learned from the theatre, and demonstrates the potential of comedy for experimenting with and testing out robot behavior and HRI. Elizabeth Jochum points to puppet theatre as source of knowledge and expertise about animating mechanical agents, and shows how theatre can be used to study interaction with care robots. Projects like Towards Corporeally Literate Social Robots (Petra Gemeinboeck) and the Pinoke Project (Deakin University) use expertise from the field of dance and interaction with dancers for new approaches to developing movement for robots.

This conference takes stock of interactions between theatre and robotics so far and looks at possibilities for future collaboration. What do the performing arts have to offer as inspiration, model, and test-case for the development of robots and for human-robot interaction? How might collaboration between the performing arts and robotics contribute to further development of social robots, as well as to critical understanding of what it will mean to be living with them?

Three days with more than 25 presentations and demonstrations. Keynote addresses by Peter Eckersall (CUNY), Maarten Lamers & Peter van der Putten (Leiden University), Petra Gemeinboeck (UNSW) & Rob Saunders (Falmouth University/University of Sydney), Kris Verdonck (A Twodogs Company) and Stefan Kaegi (Rimini Protokoll).

Access the full programme here & see below for our documentation of this conference!


This video, filmed by Tamalone van den Eijnden and Yotam Shibolet, gives an artistic overview of the events and encounters that took place in the Performing Robots Conference of 2019. Click here to watch the clip.

Stefan Kaegi, photo by Irene Alcubilla Troughton

What do ‘similarities’ mean then, when we are building a thing, a robot, a replica or ourselves? What elements of ourselves are we abstracting in order to extrapolate them into things? Is this the uncanny valley? The timelessness of the image that we are? This blog post by Jose Hopkins B reflects on such questions through his blog post inspired by the 2019 Performing Robots conference.

Gido Broers reflects on questions that were raised in 2019 Performing Robots Conference. Do we learn from robots what it means to be human? And why is this a relevant question? Why do we empathize with a robot that is obviously a programmed machine that can be easily distinguished from a human being? Can we dehumanize robots while they are still created by human beings? Read his blog post here.

See here for a collection of photos taken by Anna van Kooij and Irene Alcubilla Troughton, featuring panels, demonstrations and workshops during the Performing Robots conferece.