Monday, March 27 2017

Robot Dispatch #2

Artistic Director's Notes, General
Photo by: Matt Edgerton

Sometimes I can’t quite believe this is my job. We’ve just spent a week playing with robots, joysticks motion capture technology and even a laser! Six year old me is well impressed!

This is our second week-long creative development on our new show My Robot and the show is taking on clearer form each day. We’ve taken the fourth draft of Finegan Kruckemeyer’s script into the week, which means we can focus our time on design. How will the set function? And how to bring our robot to life?

By now we know that our robot will be built from a typewriter (his name is Olivetti) and a bunch of junk. We even have a tiny prototype, Odd Eyes, to test controllers. Olivetti will look completely different to Odd Eyes, and he will also have to do an enormous number of things that Odd Eyes can’t. How will he navigate around the room? What voice will he have? And how will he send things flying with his suction and magnet robot arms?!

To help answer these questions, this development brings together a stage manager, two actors, a puppeteer/roboteer, set designer, lighting designer, robot builder, robotics expert, writer and magician. Regardless of the outcome, you know it’s going to be a fun week!

Photo by: Matt Edgerton

Isla Shaw, our set designer, is an incredibly quick and intuitive artist and although her final set model isn’t due for months, she brings in a draft design of the set that we work from. Designers often work from a model box – a kind of miniature version of the stage where they can experiment with architecture without having to build the real thing. During the week we shape and reshape the space as each theatrical challenge calls for a slightly different configuration of doors, walls and windows.

A live feed of the stage from above, to help our robot navigate

A live video feed of the stage from above, to help our robot navigate

Halfway through the week we realise we will need to build a soundproof booth onstage for Sarah Nelson, our robot-controller. A great discovery. We also realise that the swift costume changes will be incredibly challenging for St John Cowcher our male actor. There isn’t really a solution for this: St John will just have to get used to being sweaty.

Photo by: Matt EdgertonSteve Berrick, our robot builder/designer, brings in an amazing array of technology. This includes the prototype robot Odd Eyes. We explore various joysticks for controlling the robot. Voice distortion software allows us to test various robot voices. Sarah and Steve even experiment with controlling the robot through motion tracking of Sarah’s head movements!

Richard Vegas, our magician-consultant is full of illuminating ideas. I won’t mention what we discussed in case I break the magician’s code and get trapped in a hall of mirrors. But there are lots of exciting things to explore…

And of course the actors. Theatre is nothing without actors, and Arielle Gray and St John Cowcher add a phenomenal amount to the process, throwing themselves into their characters, suggesting solutions to tricky bits and squeezing the joy from Fin’s hilarious script.

I can’t wait for the next development in July when we put it all together!