What happens in a two-character play when one of the characters is played by a computer?
Claudio Pinhanez, a graduate student in media arts and sciences, has created a work which offers more than a "HAL" type computer character operated by special effects. In It/I, an experimental theater piece, a computer creates and controls an automonous graphics character on stage screens. "It" is an actual computer which monitors the stage through video cameras and interacts with "I," a human actor played by Joshua Pritcherd.
It/I, Mr. Pinhanez's first work as a director and playwright, was inspired by three works by Samuel Beckett: Act Without Words, Ghost Trio and Waiting for Godot. All of these plays, said Mr. Pinhanez, portray a detachment between characters which parallels the dichotomy between his human and computerized actors. It/I includes some of Beckett's ideas about structure and pace, Mr. Pinhanez said, but develops a very important contemporary theme -- the relation between technology and people.
Mr. Pinhanez's work at the Media Lab investigates art and technology by using computers in theater and performance. The play is part of a project in Professor Aaron Bobick's High Level Vision group at the Media Lab on integrating computers into theater through computer vision. Associate Professor Janet Sonenberg of music and theater arts co-advised the theatrical side of the project, which is sponsored by the Media Lab's Digital Life Consortium.
After watching the 30-minute play, the audience is invited on stage to interact with "It." Each participant can individually explore the universe of the play by taking the role of "I."
It/I plays at the Philippe Villers Experimental Media Facility ("The Cube," lower level of Building E15) on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 14-15 and 21-22 at 8pm; Sunday, Nov. 16 at 3pm; and Sunday, Nov. 23 at 3pm. For more information, call x3-0485 or see <http://www.media.mit.edu/~iti> on the web.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 12, 1997.