Delving into the questions of what makes us human and the nature of consciousness, coupled with the collaboration involved in the project, made the science-fiction production of “AreUR?” thought-provoking, captivating and enthusiastically received by audiences and cast members alike.
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Department of Theater and Dance (DOTD) worked with various SIUE departments to present the play adaption, according to director Chuck Harper, DOTD chair and professor.
“AreUR?” was presented on SIUE’s Dunham Hall stage from April 24-28. It was an adaption of the Czech playwright Karel Čapek’s “R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).” The play revision was conceived by Eric W. Ruckh, PhD, associate professor of history and director of the University Honors Program; Igor Crk, PhD, chair and associate professor in the Department of Computer Science, and Harper. Ruckh, Crk, Harper and DOTD students wrote the adaptation.
The success of “AreUR?” was lauded on KDHX.
“This was by far the most collaborative project that I have worked on since I’ve been at SIUE,” said Harper, who has been at the University for 16 years. “Dr. Ruckh and Dr. Crk proposed the idea, because they co-teach the class for the Honors Program. All 17 of our cast members participated in the Honors Program class. We also had two music student composers, and one mass communications student who did the video work.
“We rewrote the play and reflected on the contemporary study of what scientists are saying about how we define consciousness and self,” continued Harper. “Where does consciousness and selfhood lie? We look at the idea of what happens when robots gain consciousness, and what is human consciousness and how does it work? We all worked a little bit out of our comfort zone. It was a team effort all the way around.”
Audiences were treated to seeing the play in four different genres, according to Harper. “The first scene was based on a Steve Jobs/Apple product release event, the second was a game show, the third was an abstract horror movie and the fourth act was a choral Greek tragedy.”
“We also had a good response during our Talk Backs after the show, which was a Q&A with cast members, writers, production crew, and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Greg Budzban,” he added. “I hope audiences enjoyed themselves and came away with reflecting on what it means for artificial intelligence, as well as human beings, to gain or have consciousness.”
Photo courtesy by Valerie Goldston:
SIUE students (L-R): Jacob Wiseman, Kayla Bush and Tristan Davis perform in “AreUR?”