Art of data

15. 778ARTSRobots can build cars, fly planes and even beat Garry Kasparov at chess—but when it comes to emotions and art they fail miserably. Or do they?

WAAPA playwright Travis Cotton examines the relationship between Shakespeare and the silicon chip in his debut play Robots Vs Arts.

In his dystopian future, robots have taken over the planet and vaporised most of the human race.

A small group of survivors—including Giles (Damon Lockwood), a former theatre director—has been kept alive to work the mines, extracting minerals that power the automatons.

Giles is eventually summoned to help the robots create their first ever piece of art—a play.

The bots think what they have is great but it is emotionally still-born—so can Giles teach them how to feel? And if he does, what then?

Perth actor Sean Walsh is Master Bot, the play’s producer, a mildly sadistic android.

“During the first rehearsal I tried the traditional robot voice, but it sounded cheesy and farcical,” he laughs.

“I wanted to stay clear of doing an Arnie in Terminator so I ended up doing a cold, sterile voice which I think is subconsciously based on Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner.”

Other robots oiling the stage include a German Integrator bot (Renee Newman-Storen) and a soldier bot/claw bot (Ben Mortley).

Walsh says the play, just over an hour long, has A Clockwork Orange-style sets—luminous white walls mingle with data tapes and 1970s technology.

Adding to the atmosphere are spacy sound effects and grainy propaganda footage, echoing George Orwell’s 1984.

Despite a varied 25-year career in WA theatre and TV (The Tempest, Taking Liberty, Cloud Street), Walsh found playing a robot challenging.

“It was actually quite difficult to avoid sinking into cliche,” he says.

“There have been so many famous androids and robots characters over the years, from HAL in 2001 to Data in Star Trek.

“I guess my version was an amalgam of all those famous characters, with a little bit of WA in there as well.”

Walsh, 39, grew up in Karratha before moving to Perth.

His career took off when he portrayed Alan Bond in Perth Theatre Company’s Taking Liberty.

Outside of his theatre work Walsh is one of Perth’s premier voice-over artists, adding his creamy tones to adverts for Powerball, Westnet, TAB and Ikea.

Robots Vs Art is directed by Philip Miolin and was nominated by The Age as one of the best plays of 2012.

“Computers and robots are now part of our daily life; but will they always just be utilitarian and soulless—a means to an end?” Walsh says.

Robots Vs Art is showing at The Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge from May 14 to June 1.

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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