Japan Society Kicks Off ROBOT THEATER PROJECT Tonight
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by BWW News Desk
As part of its Fall 2012/Spring 2013 Performing Arts Season, Japan Society presents Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University's Robot Theater Project, a double bill of one-act plays written and directed by Oriza Hirata. Co-presented with the Japan Foundation, this production plays three performances at Japan Society during a six-city North American tour. Performances at Japan Society (333 East 47th Street) are tonight, February 7, Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9 at 7:30pm (running time: 75 minutes including intermission).
Oriza Hirata, founder of Japan's celebrated Seinendan Theater Company, imagines a time in the near future when robots are commonly found in family households and function as much more than servants. This captivating, heartrending double bill of the short plays Sayonara and I, Worker was developed in collaboration with Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro, a leading international researcher on robotics and Director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University.
In Sayonara, featuring android and human actors, an android is bought to console a girl suffering from a terminal illness, but when its mechanics go awry, the meaning of life and death to humans and robots comes into question. This short play is performed by two human actors and Geminoid F -- a humanoid robot that looks identical to the woman it was modeled after, developed by a laboratory led by Dr. Ishiguro. A compelling fusion of theater arts and science, Sayonara was created in 2010. Its premier incarnation received honorary mention at the Prix Ars Electronica 2011 in the Interactive Art category. Since then, a new scene in which the android faces a new mission was added as a reflection upon the nuclear disaster caused by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Sayonara will be performed in English and Japanese with English subtitles.
In I, Worker, featuring robots and human actors, a husband's struggle to cope with the loss of his child is juxtaposed with the malaise of one of his robots, which has lost all motivation to work. Created in 2008, I, Worker is the first full-scale robot-human theater production born of the collaboration between Oriza Hirata and Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro. I, Worker grapples with the concept of 'work' and what it means to both humans - and robots. I, Worker will be performed in Japanese with English subtitles.
Seinendan Theater Company and Osaka University's Robot Theater Project features performers: Geminoid F (Sayonara), Bryerly Long (Sayonara), Hiroshi Ota (Sayonara and I, Worker), Minako Inoue (I, Worker and voice/motions of Geminoid F in Sayonara) and Robovie R3 (I, Worker).
Founded in 1983 by playwright and director Oriza Hirata, Seinendan Theater Company is recognized as one of the most progressive and acclaimed theater companies in Japan, with Oriza Hirata's "contemporary colloquial theater" sustaining great influence on the Japanese theater scene since the 1990s. Hirata's style of theater was a reaction against modern theater in Japan, with its long tradition of importing theater and performing techniques from the West. Seinendan's depiction of the quiet moments in daily life precipitated the Quiet Theater movement of post-bubble Japan. The theater of Seinendan reflects and distills the rhythms, subtle tones and ironies of postmodern life in Japan today. Seinendan has been invited by numerous international festivals and venues, including Festival d'Automne in Paris, La Bâtie-Festival in Geneva, Dublin Theatre Festival, Théâtre Les Tanneurs in Brussels, and Doosan Art Center in Seoul, to name a few. Japan Society produced Seinendan's U.S. debut tour in 2000 with Tokyo Note (Tokyo Notes), and another tour in 2006. In addition to performing works written and directed by Hirata, in 2002 Seinendan began the "Seinendan Links" program for apprentice directors in the company, offering them the opportunity to organize their own cast and crew from Seinendan's resources and present their own productions to the general public at the Komaba Agora Theater, where Hirata serves as Artistic Director. Through this program, numerous notable next-generation theater companies have emerged, such as Gotanda-dan, Sample and Mamagoto.
Oriza Hirata, director and founder of Seinendan, has earned great acclaim especially in France, where he has been invited for residencies to teach, direct and create new works, including those at Théâtre de la Ville, Théâtre de Gennevilliers, Centre Dramatique National de Besaçon, Théâtre National de Marseille, and Centre Dramatique de Thionville-Lorraine. In 1995, Hirata won the 39th Kishida Kunio Drama Award with Tokyo Note (Tokyo Notes). In 1998, he received the 5th Yomiuri Theater Outstanding Director Award, for his production of Tsuki no Misaki (The Cape of the Moon), a play by Masataka Matsuda. In 2002, he won the AICT (Association Internationale des Critiques des Théâtre) Critique Award for his book Geijutsu Rikkokuron (Arts as the Basis of a Nation), published by Shueisha, and the following year, earned the Grand Prix of the 2nd Asahi Performing Arts Awards with Sono Kawa wo Koete, Gogatsu (Across the River in May). He is recognized for groundbreaking collaborations with artists in France, Korea, Australia, Ireland, Canada and the U.S., resulting in acclaimed productions of Wakare no Uta (Songs of Farewell), Kashuson (Lost Village), Mori no Oku (In the Heart of a Forest), Sunato Heitai (Sand and Soldiers), Par-dessus bord and Tori no tobu takasa (Overboard), among others. Hirata is currently professor at the Osaka University Center for the Study of Communication-Design, and lecturer and special assistant to the principal at Shikoku Gakuin University. He serves on the boards of many important theater institutions in Japan, and holds positions including President of the Japan Performing Arts Foundation, Japan Commissioner of the BeSeTo (Beijing+Seoul+Tokyo) Theater Festival, Vice President of the Japan Playwright Association, board member for the Japanese Society for Theatre Research, among others.
Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro received a D.Eng. in systems engineering from Osaka University in 1991. He teaches in the Department of Systems Innovation in the Graduate School of Engineering Science at Osaka University, where he is the group leader of the Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR). His research interests include distributed sensor systems, interactive robotics, and android science. He has published more than 300 papers in major journals and conferences. Ishiguro has developed many humanoids and androids, called Robovie, Repliee, Geminoid, Telenoid, Elfoid and Hugvie. These robots have been featured in major media outlets such as the Discovery Channel, NHK and BBC, and Ishiguro received the Best Humanoid Award four times in RoboCup. In 2007, Synectics Survey of Contemporary Genius 2007 named Ishiguro one of the Top 100 Living Geniuses. In 2011, he won the Osaka Cultural Award presented by the Osaka Prefectural Government and the Osaka City Government for his contribution to the advancement of culture in Osaka.
Dr. Ishiguro directs the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University, aims to develop technologies that support future generation information infrastructures based on computer vision, robotics and Artificial Intelligence. With this goal in mind, the laboratory focuses on the research and development of two main platforms: Perceptual Information Infrastructure and Intelligent Robot Infrastructure. Through this research, the laboratory hopes to create robots that can successfully co-exist with humans. The Perceptual Information Infrastructure platform monitors and recognizes environment patterns through sensor networks. These sensor networks track people in real-time and recognize human behavior, providing rich information for understanding real world events and how people and robots can work together in actual situations. The Intelligent Robot Infrastructure platform is an interaction-based infrastructure. By interacting with robots, people can establish nonverbal communications with artificial systems. The laboratory's research on the coexistence of humans and robots is closely linked to the fundamental question of "what makes humans human?" The Intelligent Robotics Laboratory also conducts experiments on street corners and in hospitals to assess how robots might assist humans in everyday life. Applying research results in actual situations allows the laboratory to continue working to find a perfect model for the application of information infrastructures in near future society.
About the Robots:
Geminoid F (Sayonara) is a female type tele-operated android that resembles the person it was originally modeled after. Geminoid F is equipped with 12 motorized actuators powered by air pressure, which allows it to mimic human facial expressions. Geminoid F is more cost efficient and lighter weight in comparison to the other model, the Geminoid HI-2. With these features, the Geminoid F has potential to go beyond an experimental platform and become a commonly used robot in human society. Geminoid F made its theatrical debut in Sayonara.
Robovie R3 (I, Worker) is a life-sized robot invented to research communications between humans and robots. Robovie R3 was released in the market in April 2010 as the successor of Robovie-R ver. 2, a high-performance robot designed to perform daily activities. Robovie R3 was developed to be able to move over raised marks on the sidewalk (designed to assist visually-impaired individuals) and down slopes at the speed of 2.5 km/h, making it able to provide services such as accompanying and navigating in daily activities. Additional functions can be achieved by Robovie R3 by adding parts such as a wireless controller commonly used for home video games, a gripping-hand extension and an omnidirectional device that allows the robot to move in all directions. Robovie R3's theatrical debut was in October 2012, in the production of Three Sisters, Android Version, written and directed by Oriza Hirata.
Since the inception of the Performing Arts Program in 1953, Japan Society has introduced more than 600 of Japan's finest performing arts to an extensive American audience. Programs range from the traditional arts of noh, kyogen, bunraku and kabuki to cutting-Edge Theater, dance and music. The Program also commissions new works to non-Japanese artists, produces national tours, organizes residency programs for American and Japanese artists and develops and distributes educational programs. "At once diverse and daring, the program stands toe to toe with some of the most comprehensive cultural exchange endeavors today." --Back Stage.
Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.
Performances are Thursday, February 7, Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9 at 7:30pm* *Thursday, February 7 performance followed by MetLife Meet-the-Artists Reception. *Friday, February 8 and Saturday, February 9 performances followed by Q&A with Oriza Hirata & Dr. Hiroshi Ishiguro.
Workshop: Exploring Naturalism: Acting Workshop with Oriza Hirata
Robot Theater Project six-city North American Tour:
Pictured: "I, Worker", Wakamaru, Hiroshi Ota. Photo Credit: Osaka University & Eager Co. Ltd.