5th Wall Theatre is continuing its tagline as “theatre beyond boundaries” with their new play Uncanny Valley which premieres September 11th.
By definition, the theory of the uncanny valley is when something human-like is created, it also creates a feeling of revulsion amongst the public. The valley is referring to the graphed responses of observers against the level of similarities the being has to humans.
It’s why computer generated people, no matter how impressive, still appear less human. Check out the video below for a visual explanation:
With the upcoming play, Uncanny Valley causes the audience to delve into this theory head on.
The protagonist is a scientist in charge of developing an android. The director of the play, Morrie Piersol, was immediately drawn to the story because of its unique nature.
The itch to put on the production arose last July during the annual Contemporary American Theatre Festival in West Virginia where he and Carol Piersol (his wife and 5th Wall Theatre Co-founder) first saw the show.
“We saw this last summer [during the festival] and we really wanted to do it. It’s a unique piece, and that’s what really interested me about it,” he said.
It is possible that playwright Thomas Gibbons may have been influenced by other artificial intelligence-centered works such as Ex Machina a film that centered around the similar idea of developing human-like robots.
5th Wall is known for pushing boundaries and giving audiences the full experience, and this concept is a new one for Piersol. Once the idea was introduced, his opinions about the future of artificial intelligence changed because of the questions the production poses.
What is artificial intelligence? What is consciousness? What is human, and what is not?
“It’s like everything else,” he said. “Once you become aware of something, things start looking different to you because you’re thinking about that question.”
The loose narrative of the play centers on two people, and while difficulties can arise when dealing with such a small cast, Piersol insisted that he has gotten the best people for the job. Jacqueline Jones and Alexander Sapp are portraying the leads in the play whom the director said are, “Two great people who are bringing a lot to it… that aspect isn’t particularly a challenge.”
Piersol said that the real challenges have surrounded the technical aspects of the show.
Over the course of the production, the audience will see the step-by-step construction of a man. The end result is an android that has been downloaded with the information and knowledge of a different person.
Typically, stories regarding the process of man-creating-man end in the destruction of the creator; think Frankenstein or Ex Machina. But Piersol said that this story will give viewers an opportunity to think about the situation in a different way.
The question the audience will be posed with by the end is: what has this creation ultimately become?
“It’s an interesting vehicle he used to discuss the subject,” he said. “It’s a rather interesting question.”