Robotic Improv Invades Long Center!

A mashup of Battlebots and Whose Line is it Anyway?, Bot Party 3.0 features integrated teams of humans and robots competing in comedic challenges based off of audience suggestions. Originally produced in 2015 as a Machine Shop series through Austin’s Fusebox Festival, ColdTowne co-founder Arthur Simone founded the group as a nonprofit theater organization. Collaborating with Red Sky Robotics and social roboticists from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas & MIT’s Media Lab, Bot Party’s robots have been featured in SXSW Create, Austin Maker Faire & East Austin Studio Tour.

Bot Party 3.0 is presented in association with ColdTowne Theater, Fusebox Festival and IEEE Central Texas from November 3-5. We spoke with mastermind Arthur Simone about the genesis of the show.

What drew you to working with Robots and AI in comedy? I had been doing improv with my dog Robin Goodfellow on a dare, anthropomorphizing his every move and endowing him as silent partner characters for scenes. Robin’s programming was pretty easy – food, water, cheese nibble resets in between scenes and bits. After that, I went through a Fusebox Festival Machine Shop program developing robotic characters for short form games, and I’ve relied on an entire community of roboticists, engineers and makers to build [Bot Party Robot] Annabelle.

What’s been some notable, weird, or incredible on-stage performance moments working with robots (or Dogs for that matter). If the battery’s weak or the network is slow the timing can really hit or miss, but convention floor events like SXCreate and Maker Faire have been great for a wide range of ages. The best interactions have been simple “Hey there’s” while dodging otherwise uninterested or too-interested groups of people. A subtle robot is a triumphant robot.

I’m surprised by the broader world of engineers and scientists you’ve become involved with. What kind of interesting advances have you learned about, and have you brought any of that knowledge into your other creative pursuits? I’ve always been interested in minimal theater and building from scratch. Here’s a ball! Call it a robot, why not? Where is the robot? Is it the ball or the machine system tracking the ball? Who makes decisions for this ball? Is it Big Brother or Skynet or Deep Blue? Maybe Etsy, is Etsy a robot? Speaking of, please visit my Etsy store or view my abstract expressionist oil paintings during the East Austin Studio Tour (I’ll be stop #31). Annabelle will be there too!

What’s your prognosis for Austin’s cultural climate moving forward? We’re f*cked! support local artists.

You’re also extremely politically active. What can working with robots teach us about politics, and what can politicians learn from robots? Robots have been in politics for some time already, right? Think about prerecorded, even heavily edited, robocalls to voters from easily-recognized public figures. At least some robots are capable of learning history!