Robots as Theatre

The Robots as Theatre website analyses robots as actors and performers.

This research study draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives from sociology and performance studies to help to explore the ways robots act and perform in the world and with their human audiences and co-performers. The research also focuses on the important role of the audience in ‘reading’ and interpreting the robot’s appearance and behaviour. As well as being a repository for theoretical discussion about robots as actors, the website will also present a series of case studies of robots from  the visual and performing arts and from popular science and online media.

Theoretical Perspectives – Introduction

Robots are presented and ‘framed’ in a variety of environments and contexts. Some of these environments are overtly theatrical such as the performance of Honda’s ASIMO conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra or Hiroshi Ishiguro’s female android Geminoid-F acting in the Japanese play Sayonara or Louis-Philippe Demers’ robotic performers in Australian Dance Theatre’s (ADT) Devolution. However other environments where robots typically appear (for example, technology fairs, art galleries, museums and robot competitions) also have theatrical elements. And even in their everyday interactions with their environments and human interactors/audiences, all robots are in essence performers, they are designed to act in the world and are programmed (scripted) to perform certain routines.

Theatrical metaphors for human social interaction are a common theme, from Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players” (from As You Like It 2/7) to sociologist Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical description of the way humans act out social roles and present different versions of their ‘selves’ in everyday interchanges in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959).

In her book Computers as Theatre (1991), Brenda Laurel applies theoretical insights from theatre (drawing on Aristotle’s Poetics) to the design and analysis of human-computer interaction. In Laurel’s  theatrical view of human-computer activity, the computer screen acts as a virtual stage where the computational performance is enacted for the user (audience) with much of the technical action hidden “behind-the-scenes”.

While Laurel’s book focuses on the screen-based human-computer interaction, user interface design and VR,  in this research website I plan to specifically investigate the theatrical presentation of computational agents that leave the screen as robots to enter the world as actors and performers that can interact with human participants/audiences in the physical world.

Robots as Theatre Case Studies

The Robots as Theatre website will present a series of case studies of individual robot performers analysing the ABC’s of the theatrical aspects of the robot’s performance including:
•    Appearance (robot morphology, e.g. machinic, biomorphic, zoomorphic, anthropomorphic)
•    Behaviour (the robot’s movement and actions including its interaction with its environment and other ‘actors’)
•    Context (the performance context of the robot including aspects of theatrical mise-en-scene such as setting, props and lighting)


Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday.
Laurel, B. (1991). Computers as theatre. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.