Thoughtworks Arts

The Sentient Thespian

Residency Season: Fall 2018

Project Team

The Sentient Thespian is a film exploring attributions of sentience to robots, by humans, as a feature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the film portrays Puck, a four-legged non-humanoid robot exploring its surroundings.

The film is reminiscent of silent black and white films which explored the emergence of the mechanical age during the second industrial revolution. Building on this legacy, The Sentient Thespian explores issues specific to the transformation of our current age, including widespread adoption of artificially intelligent systems and associated cognitive impacts on humans.

Puck is played by a MekaMon robot, a highly expressive gaming robot provided by Reach Robotics in the UK. As the story develops, Puck interacts with Lysander, played by a 15 foot ABB IRB 6700 industrial robot.

Film crew setting up between shots in a robotics lab
Shooting on-site at the Consortium for Research & Robotics

The IRB 6700 robot, as well as the film set and scenery, are contributed by the Consortium for Research & Robotics, hosted by the Pratt Institute in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Sentient Thespian is the first of a planned trilogy of films featuring MekaMon, to be titled Golemopolis. Artist Adrianne Wortzel is working on the second film now as part of a residency in the Costa Rican jungle.

A grayscale video still showing a very small robot approaching a very large robot
A screenshot from The Sentient Thespian

Wortzel says of her work: “The playfulness of MekaMon has allowed me to emulate human emotions through gestures. This points to the potential for the creation of new social, dramaturgical and psychotherapeutic tools.”

“MekaMon, as Puck, attempts to create a transformative experience for the human and robots, only to realize that the synthetic emotion does not in the least resemble the parallel complex emotions of sentient beings like himself. It is a fascinating concept to explore and one that leapt directly from the advanced articulation of the robot itself.”

The Sentient Thespian previewed at Pioneer Works in 2019, was a part of the exhibition IN ABSENTIA - Digital pavilion at The Wrong Biennale and featured in FilmFreeway, TechSpark, and BUST magazine’s Poptarts podcast.