First Year Seminar 2016

Our show is just about ready…The theme is the Technological Singularity: When artificial intelligence meets (and then exceeds) human intelligence. The robots take their place in our society, and these skits demonstrate how the students envision the future.

The show will take place on October 1, 2016, at 2:00 PM in Theatre B of the Theatre Building. The show is appropriate for people of all ages, and is free to attend.

The Final Day: Week 5

Today was the final day of our ‘Storming the Castle: Robot Theatrics’ class. Over the last few weeks, we’ve learned how to create, test, debug, and polish all of our scripts. Now, the final day, is when we put it all to the test. When class first started, two of us had already finalized and submitted their presentations, and decided to help with the other groups’ presentations.

I was one of the two who finished my presentation early. The week prior, I came in during office hours to get a bit of work done (ended up staying 5 hours). During this time, we worked on finishing my presentation. We were also able to work on some of the basic movements for the other groups to use if they fell short on time.

I don’t actually know if any of the groups used the actions we made last week; I was mostly focusing on helping my partner work on his presentation. My presentation was simply a dialog with a random arms loop, but his- his was a whole marching band routine with dancing, music and instrumental (imaginary) performances. Needless to say, a lot of testing was needed for this.

Eventually class came to a close. Most groups, if not all, were either complete, or near-complete with their presentations. More likely than not, some people are going to drop by the office hours to do their presentation polish. The only thing now to do is wait and see how things go on Saturday.


Performance Info:

The University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts presents:

Robot Theatre

October 1, 2016

Saturday   2:00 PM

University of Iowa

200 North Riverside Drive (Theatre B, Theatre Building)
Iowa City, Iowa


Tickets: This event is FREE and open to the public.

Categories: Performing Arts

Robot Theater: Week 3

For the third meeting of robot theater, we brought in our skits that we wrote and read them to the group. Not everyone had their skit on hand, but because only half of us could work on our skits at a time, it wasn’t too big of a problem. After reading the skit, we split into pairs to put them together in Choreographe. We had to first get the robot’s lines copied into the Choreographe speaking blocks, then we had to get the robot to listen for certain words, as my skit was a conversation between a robot and a human. To get the speaking cues right, we had to time the activation of the robot’s cue and when it actually began to speak. After getting it right for the first blocks, it was simple to get the rest in the program. However, since there is a lot of back-and-forth between the human and robot, it was very tedious work. All of this, plus some discussion of how to improve the skit as a whole, took most of the meeting, and left little time to work on the robot’s actions. Luckily, there isn’t a big need for motion in the skit, so work on movement can be done quickly.

Overall, it’s been great working with these robots, but it’s a shame we don’t have more time to work with them. I’d love to see all that these guys can do.

Robot Theater in Portland

After our workshop and performance in Palo Alto, we packed up the robots and drove north to Portland, OR.  We held a workshop at Broadway Rose New Theater on Sunday, August 14, 2016.  We created some skits that involved movement and speech inflection, and talked with people involved with local theaters about holding the summer programs in 2017.

On Monday, we took the robots to Portland Center Stage.  The facilities were really cool, and we worked on creating some new skits and polishing up some old routines.  It will be really exciting to bring the robots back to Portland to put on some shows.

We picked up some Voodoo Donuts on our way out of Portland, and began the long drive back to Iowa City.  We are happy to be home, and are now focusing on our upcoming first-year seminar; classes start Monday!

I’d like to return to Portland in May, 2017 to give presentations to local schools and get the word out about this project.  I’d like to connect with K-12 teachers and university faculty members interested in getting involved in this project.  If you are affiliated with a school (as a parent or educator), and would like to help me connect with the administration, theater and computer science departments to arrange a visit to your school, please e-mail me.

My goal is to be able to offer a series of summer programs for 5th – 12th grade students in 2017, and in order to do that, I’ll need some help with finding the following:

  • students interested in participating in the camps
  • people to help staff the camps and bring their expertise to the project
    • undergraduate/graduate students
    • K-12 educators
    • performing artists
    • playwrights
    • university faculty

Fortunately, we have started forming partnerships with local theater groups!


Robot Theater in the Bay Area

We held 5 workshops in Santa Cruz, on the UCSC Campus.  These were small, hands-on workshops where participants learned the basics involved in programming our NAO robots.  The workshops were flexible, allowing people to explore the particular aspects of a robot’s capabilities that matched their interests.  Several participants were graduate students in, or alumni of, the Digital Arts and New Media (DANM) program at UCSC. Some people investigated the text-to-speech functionality, others wanted to create skits that involved human-robot interaction and robot-robot interaction with speech recognition.  One person wanted to work with the sensors on robot and understand balance and movement.  I always learn something new when I introduce the robots to a new audience.  Fresh perspectives and interests lead to new ways of thinking about the role that these robots can play in theater.

During these workshops, we talked about the overall vision of the program: to bring the robots to Santa Cruz for a series of summer programs for elementary, middle and high school students in 2017.  In order to make this happen, we need the following:

  • students interested in participating in the camps
  • people to help staff the camps and bring their expertise to the project
    • undergraduate/graduate students
    • K-12 educators,
    • performing artists,
    • playwrights
    • university faculty
  • local theater organizations to partner with us to put on performances.

As you can imagine, this project is extremely interdisciplinary in nature!

After our workshops in Santa Cruz, we drove over the hill to hold a workshop in Palo Alto.  The participants there wrote a program to have a robot function as an MP3 player, using the sensors on the head to serve as the controller.

In the evening, we gave a short presentation which included a few skits that were created over the past 4 years, and also a few that were created during our recent workshops and summer programs.  It would be great to offer a series of summer camps in Palo Alto, and we hope to start making connections to make that happen for 2018.  Palo Alto residents might want to participate in our 2017 Santa Cruz summer programs, given the closeness of the two communities.

I hope to return to the Bay Area in January and March, 2017.  I’d like to connect with local schools (in Santa Cruz and Palo Alto) to give short assemblies and presentations, and connect with teachers interested in getting involved in this project.  If you are affiliated with a school (as a parent or a teacher), and would like to help me connect with the administration to arrange a visit to your school, please e-mail me.

On the Road

We are taking the robots on the road!  We will be traveling to the west coast in August, to offer several 3-hour programming workshops.  These workshops will offer participants the opportunity to work directly with NAO humanoid robots and learn more about their capabilities and how to become involved in the project.

We will be in Santa Cruz, CA August 9-11, 2016, and Palo Alto August 12, 2016.  We will then travel to Portland, OR to offer workshops August 14-15, 2016.  To learn more about our robot theater project, check out our previous blogs, and visit the University of Iowa’s Computer Science Department website:

Registration for these workshops is free, but space is limited:

Feel free to contact us for more information:


Robot Theater 2016 JSI

We spent 5 days working with the NAO robots.  Starting with speech, then movement and conversation, we had the robots telling bedtime stories, having conversations and arguments, and even dueling with swords!  We had a few technical difficulties during the final presentations, but the audience was impressed with what the students were able to accomplish in such a short period of time.  We are looking forward to offering more opportunities to work with the NAO robots in the upcoming year.