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This Japanese Theater Company Has a Robot Actress

No, it’s not Brent Spiner. It's an honest-to-goodness robot

Brent Spiner and his Star Trek character Data. Photo: Beth Madison.

No, it’s not Brent Spiner. It’s an honest-to-goodness robot.

Japan’s Seinendan Theater Company, currently touring the U.S. with its play “Sayonara,” features an incredibly lifelike android. A (human) actress sits backstage playing the android’s part in front of a video camera and microphone, while the android translates her speech and movement on stage. The play consists of a discussion between the android and another actress on the themes of life and death.

Jackie Mantey, writing for ColumbusAlive.com, said that the use of the robot in the performance is not merely a novelty—it heightens one’s experience of the play and adds to its meaning. The presence of the android, she writes,

helps highlight the humanity — for better or worse — of the other, flesh-and-blood characters and, ostensibly, the audience.

For example, part of the “Sayonara” plot involves the release of radioactivity at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after the 2011 tsunami. While considering the pain technology can bring us, audience members are simultaneously reminded of the groundbreaking things it has done as well….

Mantey also reports that the android, named Geminoid F., “looks so much like an actual human being, the company often doesn’t use photos of it in promotional materials for the stage production so as not to confuse audiences.”

Judge for yourself: the BBC did a report on Geminoid F.’s acting skills—and her effect on her fellow actresses—when the show debuted in Japan in 2010. And here she is talking to a group of people and posing for pictures:

The play isn’t Geminoid F.’s only gig, either—far from it. Like so many great actresses before her, she made an early-career appearance at a performance in a shopping mall:

More from Smithsonian.com:

Robots Get the Human Touch
Robots Inspired by Biology
Virtual Dinosaurs Come to Japan

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