Acting Robot in Play Spillikin RoboThespian

Spillikin – RoboThespian: The Star in Stellar Show

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Seriously Good Actor

So, RoboThespian has finished in his role, as robot actor,  with Pipeline Theatre in the beautifully directed play “Spillikin”.  As the Spillikin tour has come to an end, we thought now was a good time to reflect on what a success it was.

In producing a play, with a full-size humanoid robot actor, alongside human performers with real emotional weight and credibility provides many unexplored avenues. A great example of this is the real relationship between RoboThespian and his co-star Judy Norman, and the attachment she formed with the robot. “When he looks at me, this is going to sound weird, but he is very affectionate,” she said. “And I like him, I really like him.”

Spillikin was performed 74 times over 48 different venues around the UK, to enthralled audiences and great critical acclaim. It also gained international media coverage, for its technical marvel and futuristic theme.

Reliability, Versatility

“We have pre-programmed every single thing the robot says and does — including all the movements. There are nearly 400 separate cues but they are made up of other files, all stuck together so there’s probably a couple of thousand cues in reality.   So the robot will always say the same thing and move the same way, depending on what cue has been triggered at what particular time.” This hectic schedule and time-critical performance needed a rock solid platform to work from. RoboThespian was perfect for the role. With 12 years of development, and now in it’s 4th iteration, we have continually refined the mechanical, electronics and software elements, to enhance the robot actors abilities and reliability.   With over 100 RoboThespians working in public spaces worldwide, we have been able to use this experience as “rehearsals” for all new robots including Spillikin’s RoboThespian.


RoboThespian @ London Science Museum and in Spillikin Show - Robot Actor

A Marketer’s Dream


Because of the unique nature of RoboThespian being used in such a serious piece of theatre. The play caught a lot of attention, both from traditional and social media.    Some outlets included Reuters and BBC Culture. You can also see one video that grabbed over 50,000 views on Facebook. This was a real boost for the PR of the show. The robot was also used to secure the funding for the show.


Questions Anyone?


To the amazement of the audience. After the performance, RoboThespian was able to take part in a live Q&A session. Answering real and unpredictable questions from audience members. This was made possible by director Jon Welch switching over to telepresence mode. Donning a headset and laptop, he would “become” RoboThespian. Not only just able see and hear what he does, but also control where he looks, trigger content, and talk through him with automatic lip sync on the fly. We caught up with Jon Welch to ask him about the immersive experience of using telepresence. He said the sessions often started “…with the audience initially believing that the robot’s responses were algorithmic, as opposed to human… the robot responses would often become increasingly eccentric up to the point of revealing the technology being used, and/or the audience guessing) and also prompting questions as to the degree of sophistication (or lack of it) required to persuade members of an audience that genuine AI was in use.”  “people engaged both with the themes of the play and the robot. Basically, the audience got two shows – Spillikin and ‘An Audience with RT’. I call that value for money!”



Things we learned from the experience


The creators of Spillikin used Engineered Arts’ own “Virtual RoboThespian” software to animate the robot actor’s some 400 sequences.    In doing so they requested some additional features, which we duly added.   All of our customers benefit from these updates also.  Timing is key in delivering an emotional performance. This is true for both a human and robot actor alike. The timing of the cues was a big deal for this RoboThespian.  During rehearsals, Jon Welch, the Director noticed a very slight delay from triggering a cue to it actually playing on the robot.    In normal circumstances, it would be imperceptible, but in this case, the timing was critical to the quality of the performance. Our software engineers worked quickly to resolve this issue. As the Virtual RoboThespian application is web-based service, all of our customers automatically benefited from this instant response.


Own a Piece of Theatrical History


The unprecedented success of Spillikin has surely inducted that RoboThespian (rt-0085) into the stage Hall of Fame. Now that the tour has finished, the very RoboThespian is looking for his next role. Please contact us for more information and special pricing. RT-0085 is happy to continue the trajectory of his current career as a robot actor or to change job role to anything communication-based. “As long you don’t get me washing dishes, or tap dancing I’m happy…” As with all acting talent, RoboThespian comes with a rider.


  • A reliable wired internet connection
  • Some tasty compressed air
  • Electricity
  • “And please…no iRobot roles. I’m fed up of being typecast”

For more information on other RoboThespians, go here.

For more information on Pipeline Theatre visit the website.

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