New Albany News

Robot theater spurs collaboration among acting, science students

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Seinendan Theater Company playwright Oriza Hirata (left) and director Takenobu Chikaraishi (right), along with translator Michael Lea, give New Albany High School students some pointers Feb. 1 about how to produce a successful robot theater production. New Albany students from the actors studio and robotics classes are preparing their own annual robot theater production in May.

New Albany High School's annual robot theater production is going to be very different this year since the star, Henry, speaks eight different languages and recognizes faces and objects.

"Last year, we used a different robot and if he fell down, maybe he could get up," said senior Molly Somerville.

Somerville said the actors were challenged in previous years to be ready for anything and to improvise on a moment's notice because the robot the school was using was somewhat primitive.

Last year's robot couldn't speak so the actors had to "show" the audience everything the robot would say, Somerville said.

"This year we're super stoked and feel lucky to have such a great resource," said senior Jeannette Newton. "We feel like we have more freedom this year and we're writing lines for a robot.

"The characters will be able to interact with (Henry) and we'll be able to flesh out his story."

Newton and Somerville are students in New Albany High School's actors studio honors course. Their class will write a script and students in the robotics class will use the script to program the robot for the performance.

Senior Lauryn Woodyard, who is in the robotics course, said Henry can be programmed to respond to key words and to answer questions.

"He has visual recognition of different objects and can be taught to remember them," Woodyard said.

As an example, she said, Henry can be programmed to recognize a red ball and to give a certain response when he sees the ball.

Woodyard said he has sensors on his head, hands and feet, which prevents him from running into other objects.

Junior Harrine Ramesh, who also is in the robotics class, said if Henry falls down, he can sense he's on the ground and get back up.

Newton said the students in the actors studio class are learning by writing, producing and acting in the production. But they also are making new friends with students in the robotics class.

Theater teacher Elliott Lemberg said that collaboration is important.

"This cross-curricular collaboration between my honors actors studio course and (David) Herman's Robotics II course is a perfect example of the authentic and innovative learning experiences the New Albany-Plain Local School District has been promoting in its annual goals and mission statement," Lemberg said.

Herman, the robotics class instructor, said the high school is piloting the Robotics II course, which includes the use of Henry and the more sophisticated robot theater performance, which has been scheduled as the "final or capstone project" for both courses.

The New Albany High School robot theater performance is scheduled in May.

New Albany High School's student-led robot theater gained national attention last year after being featured in an article by The New York Times.

This year, students from the actors studio and robotics classes were invited to the Ohio State University to learn from members of the Seinendan Theater Company, a professional robot theater troupe partnered with Osaka University in Japan.

The company visited the Ohio State University Wexner Center for the Arts last week. New Albany High School students were able to watch a performance on Jan. 31 and then work with artists in a master class Feb. 1.