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Should We Say "Sayonara" To Human Actors? Two Japanese Plays Make The Case

To be or not to be, indeed. | Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory, ATR

Don't bother with a standing O: In Sayonara and I, Worker, one of the actors won't notice: She's inhuman. Is this good for the arts? See for yourself as these internationally touring plays hit the U.S. for the first time, starting January 31 in Columbus, Ohio.

Pro: Short production schedule. It took one week to map the staging and two weeks to program the robot's movements and speaking parts.
Con: Short running time. How long will people want to watch a robot on stage? It's unclear—so Sayonara plays it safe at 30 minutes.

Pro: One less diva actor. The robot looks complex, but it's programmed to repeat tasks over and over—making it pretty simple to use.
Con: Stress for remaining actor. "If something wrong happens, that means the human made the mistake," says robot expert Hiroshi Ishiguro, who helped create the play.

Pro: Audiences are befuddled. "The android is so beautiful and humanlike, and I hope the audience starts re-thinking the human. What is the human likeness?"
Con: Audiences are befuddled. The android is devoid of emotion, and yet, Ishiguro says, the play brings some crowds to tears.

A version of this article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.