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Rapid Eye Repertory Announces Season of AI-Authored Plays

A groundbreaking new effort promises to combine generated text with live performance.

MILPITAS, CALIF.: Rapid Eye Repertory, a Silicon Valley theatre company founded last year in a unique partnership between forward-thinking tech developers and innovative theatremakers, has announced its debut 2023-24 season, which will include five new plays authored entirely by Rapid Eye’s own proprietary AI program, RETina.

“At its essence, theatre is nothing more than words and performance, which is why we are thrilled to launch this experiment at the intersection of the newest frontier of text creation and one of the world’s most ancient art forms,” said Hunt Carbondale, artistic director and lead developer of Rapid Eye Rep. “We think these five new plays, created by our groundbreaking RETina program, showcase an astonishing new dramatic voice that points the way to the future of theatre.”

RETina, developed from language learning code previously designed to write warning labels for hair products, reportedly spent most of a recent afternoon absorbing the entirety of Western stage literature, from Euripides to Lynn Nottage—“kind of like a crash-course virtual MFA,” as Carbondale put it—and began to generate prospective plays almost immediately. Its initial efforts were derivative and wildly variable in quality, Carbondale conceded, but these deficiencies were offset by subsequent coding that incorporated Grotowski, Viewpoints/Suzuki training, and ComedySportz.

The season will kick off in September at Rapid Eye’s newly built Čapek Theatre with Echoes in the Canyon, an unsettling drama about a group of friends, reunited after decades apart, who confront their past by playing a deadly game of Spin the Bottle.

Next, in November, is Breaking Bread, a poignant comedy/drama about a family of immigrants from an unnamed Latin American country who gather in a major Midwestern city in the U.S. for the funeral of their much-loved and much-hated patriarch, where they rediscover the bonds of family and the power of food to bring people together.

The potential of AI to mix and match genres will be showcased by Rapid Eye’s holiday offering, Mad Lib Carol, in which Dickens’s classic Christmas tale will be staged in the styles of film noir, Caryl Churchill, and Balinese shadow puppetry.

Kicking off 2024 with a bang will be The Intersection, a powerful interrogation of race, gender, and class in contemporary America, designed to be enacted by one actor and an audience volunteer who will be selected randomly just before each night’s performance.

The season’s final announced offering, opening in March 2024, will be a collaborative improv experiment called Love Language, in which theatregoers will collaborate live via their devices with RETina to crowdsource a script mashing up their various prompts, with a troupe of six actors on hand to cold-read the results on the spot.

A final spring show has yet to be programmed, but Carbondale suggested that it could be Rapid Eye’s boldest experiment yet.

“We’re working on a play in which not only the script but the design and direction will be created by AI,” he said. “There is still, for the time being, a need for actual human beings to do stage and house management, and to act in the plays, but our programmers are working on an AI solution for that too.”

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