• 02.05.16

Computers Writing Broadway Musicals Is The Next Phase Of The Inevitable Robot Uprising

More like Android Lloyd Webber. This musical premiering soon on London’s West End was written by a computer program based on other musicals.

Computers Writing Broadway Musicals Is The Next Phase Of The Inevitable Robot Uprising

They say if you gave a thousand monkeys a thousand typewriters and an infinite amount of time, eventually one would produce the collected works of Shakespeare. Things move a lot faster now, though, and nobody has that much time or that many monkeys. And besides, apparently it only takes one computer program to produce the next Sondheim.


Musical fans on London’s West End are about to find out whether machines have caught up to man in the elaborate theatrical production department. Beyond The Fence is the first show completely written by a computer program. Don’t know whether to laugh or cry, do you?

The new musical, which was commissioned by Sky Arts and is slated to run from February 22nd to March 5th at the Arts Theatre in London, is based on a statistical analysis of what makes a Broadway hit. The team at Cambridge University’s looked at all the variables from a wide range of hit Broadway shows to come up with a scientifically accurate formula for success. According to the authors of Shocked But Connected: Notes On Laughter, James Cameron had a similar process for his early films, analyzing the elements of the 10 most profitable films of all time to create a formula for himself.

A lot of inter-university collaboration was required for the project. Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London teamed up their ‘What-If Machine’ with another computer called PropperWryter, used by Dr Pablo Gervás of the Complutense University of Madrid. The two machines together devised the premise and plot of the show. The team then brought in Dr Nick Collins of Durham University to created a computer composition system for making the music. The resulting device is fittingly enough entitled Android Lloyd Webber.

The finished musical, Beyond the Fence, is set in 1982 ad involves a woman torn between doing what is best for her daughter and staying true to her ideals. Perhaps it will give the Family Guy manatees a run for their money in random creativity generation.

[via The Daily Mail]

About the author

Joe Berkowitz is a writer and staff editor at Fast Company. His next book, Away with Words, is available June 13th from Harper Perennial.