How do you create interactive theater in an age of isolation? That's one of the challenges faced by Seattle's Dacha Theatre, which specializes in what it calls "devised, immersive and playful" theater experiences. The company has risen to the moment ingeniously with its highly amusing new online show :robot_face:, a mock reality-TV competition show centered on designing realistic artificial-intelligence chatbots. Instead of trying to ignore or work around the inherent limitations of online theater, Dacha cleverly puts technology front and center.
Audience members serve as either spectators or contestants in :robot_face:'s show-within-the-show, called The Digital Dialogue. The contestants, divided into four teams, work on Zoom with actors playing programing assistants; together, using a web app that Dacha has created, they craft simple coding that serves as the basis for the dialogue that will be spoken by actors playing the four teams' AI chatbots on the game show.
Meanwhile, the spectators watch the results on Twitch; via chat, they root for their favorite chatbots, interact with actors playing hosts and judges, and help determine the course and outcome of the game. Most of the show is, inevitably, improvisational, as the chatbots—in full AI deadpan—deliver the often ridiculous things they have been led to say by their programmers. Little dabs of plot for the supporting characters, such as running tensions among The Digital Dialogue's creators, give the proceedings a hint of added dramatic interest.
Directed by Nathan Whitehouse and Nick O’Leary, :robot_face: lasts more than two hours, but it doesn’t drag, which is a testament to the appeal of both the concept and the execution. The run ends with four shows this weekend: On Friday at 10pm EDT, Saturday at 5pm and 9pm EDT, and Sunday at 5pm EDT. (Show times are half an hour later for spectators.) Tickets are on a pay-what you-can scale, with suggested ranges of $10–$20 for spectators and $25-$35 for contestants; as of this writing, only a handful of contestant tickets are left.
With any luck, Dacha will bring :robot_face: back for more episodes in the future. It's a diverting experiment in intelligent artifice.
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