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PROPOSAL - Rossum's Universal Robots

Rossum's Universal Robots by Karel Capek. 

Directed and adapted by Brandi Douglas with the assistance of Google's Gemini

Vision Statement

Rossum's Universal Robots, or RUR, was written in 1922. A play ahead of its time, it's left a mark on the world and science fiction, in particular. RUR introduced us to the word 'robot' and laid the groundwork for sci-fi classics like Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, and the Westworld TV series. In the original play, the robots turn on their human masters. They kill all but one, dooming humanity. 

In this adaptation, I wanted to explore what RUR could be with some modernization. Specifically, I wanted to introduce artificial intelligence. AI, just like robots, was once only regulated by sci-fi. Now, AI is slowly becoming a part of our daily lives. From chatbots like ChatGPT to digital assistants like Alexa, AI is no longer a dream but a reality. An ever-changing reality. AI has been utilized in education, healthcare, cars, finance, security, entertainment, etc. Because of this, this play would be performed at the perfect time as AI continues to be implemented into our lives.

This adaptation of RUR asks what happens as AI continues to embed itself deeper and deeper into our daily routines. It introduces you to Domain, the CEO of AiTopia, and his willingness to push technology to its limits and beyond it. The decisions Domain makes will have the audience questioning if technology is a helper or hindrance in the human pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. The main themes ask what it means to be human. And is there a line between man and machine? 

I'm passionate about the play for a couple of reasons. 

1. As someone who works in higher education, I have been intrigued by using AI as a tool for education. I imagine a world where artificial intelligence becomes so advanced that there's no need for educators like myself. There's a part of me that finds that joyful and a part of me that finds that world terrifying. I feel like this play gives a glimpse into both of those emotions. 2. I first came across this play during the pandemic, and I loved the themes it highlights. For a play over 100 years old, thematically, it stands up very well. I want to breathe new life into it and show that Capek's questions about humanity are still relevant today. 

I have a minimalist approach to staging. I believe this play would work well on the main stage because using projections, lights, and sound would bring in the futuristic element the play calls for. The set will be a wall built to look like a wall of television sets. It will be made out of wood and muslin or a thin white fabric. I can find furniture within the warehouse that would fit a retro-futuristic aesthetic. I plan to work with the costume designer to bring this aesthetic to the costumes. Whatever she cannot create, I am confident we can find it thrift shopping.

The play choice lends itself to being very open and imaginative about the casting. There are some characters who do need to remain within the binary. Specifically, Domain and Helena. In the original play, they are married by Act 2 and the dynamic is patriarchal. My hope is that in the adaptation, we show that Domain and Helena are adversarial but not to the point of oppressive. The other character that needs to remain in the binary is the Narrator for reasons I can explain once you've read the play. All other characters can be gender fluid. Even Christina and Arnold who are Synthetics. Racially, outside of Domain, the characters can be of any race. Because of the system that the fictional AiTopia is under and how it operates, it makes sense for Domain to be a white man. The production will reflect a space of dialogue, creativity, and vulnerability. Those are the aspects I bring to any creative art I am involved in.

A production about AI adapted with the assistance of AI could be attractive for new audience and current audience members alike. I realize that this play is not well known, but its legacy is, and that is the draw the Majestic could make. Whenever I share my vision about this play, RUR is the foundation where shows like Westworld or movies like Blade Runner built their creations. Lastly, AI affects us all; why not imagine the joy or terror it could cause for a couple of hours?

Any links for the PRC to look at? (For example, a Pintrest board you've been keeping, a video that inspired you, sketches of costumes or sets, etc)


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