Screens as Anthropomorphic Interfaces: How AI Changes Shakespearean Theatrical Publics  

Shakespeare Bulletin 41.4 (Winter 2023): 529-553  :::  DOI: 10.1353/shb.2023.a920571 

When AI goes to theater with humans, it changes the dynamics of the social space. This article examines a case of audiences using an AI app on their phones to translate a sign language performance.

     Whom does the screen interface serve, and how do artificial intelligence (AI) tools affect theatrical publics across both the playing space and the playgoing space? Screens are a site where cultural and performative meanings are generated and negotiated.

     This article draws on interface theories to analyze the roles of screens in regulating publics’ access to performance, producing new ambient conditions of theatergoing and changing the publics’ relationships to themselves and to performance.

     Screens in All the World’s a Screen, an Irish Sign Language production, served and became co-spectating theatrical publics. The organizers encouraged the theatergoing public to use an AI app on their phones, their anthropomorphized “machine guests,” to obtain auto-captioning based on pose analysis of the actor and to receive retail suggestions that the AI deemed relevant.

     Operating both within and beyond the fabula of the performance, screens as anthropomorphic interfaces create multiple theatrical publics through an imperfect spectatorial proxy.

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