Actors. They're so temperamental, so difficult. If only we could replace them with robots.
Well, here you are, Pittsburgh. Tonight is the first and only presentation of "Cyborg Cabaret," at the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Square East on the North Side.
"This is a technology talent show that explores the themes of humans, robots and cyborg relationships," said Dan Wilcox, who joined with Heather Knight to put it together.
Mr. Wilcox, who is originally from Huntsville, Ala., now lives in Lawrenceville and is attending Carnegie Mellon University, where he is pursuing a master's degree in fine arts. His background is in computer engineering.
At first, Mr. Wilcox was all about the computer and robotics side. Now, he's into the creative side of his brain.
"I'm learning a lot," he said, "getting a crash course in the art background. The different ways of thinking about things. I'm transitioning from making a lot of things into making a lot of ideas."
You never heard of Ms. Knight? Well, obviously you missed that article in The Wall Street Journal last week. So let's visit her website, shall we?
"Heather is conducting her doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute and running Marilyn Monrobot Labs in NYC, which creates socially intelligent robot performances and sensor-based electronic art. Founder of the Robot Film Festival and Cyborg Cabaret, Heather was on the 2011 Forbes List for 30 under 30 in Science."
Mr. Wilcox and Ms. Knight got together, got some funding, and got busy last year, creating Cyborg Cabaret.
"Heather and her robot, Data, who is named after Lt. Cmdr. Data [of "Star Trek: The Next Generation"], are the co-hosts," Mr. Wilcox said. Data is "a big doll, about 2 feet tall, worth $10,000. He's a research-grade robot."
"We go back and forth, introducing the acts," Mr. Wilcox said. "I'm wearing sort of a sparkly suit. I have a special outfit underneath for the Robot Rumble."
The Robot Rumble, you ask?
"It's a rematch between Honda Asimo and The Big Dog," Mr. Wilcox said. "We staged an event two weeks ago at Bakery Square and tonight they battle again.
"Honda Asmio is a humanoid robot that is being built to be like a butler. The Big Dog is a prototype robotic pack-mule, built for the military. It has four legs and the soldiers can load it down with gear and it will follow them."
They call this a wrestling match, but it sounds like computerized cow-punching.
"It's a battle of the legs, essentially," Mr. Wilcox said. "These robots have legs. All the other robots have tank treads or tires or they fly. The whole point is showcasing robots that already exist. They're real."
"The audience will be laughing," Mr. Wilcox said. "It's a mix between things that are melodramatic, things that are funny, and things that are poignant. It's a good mix."
The evening is pieced together through the efforts of 30-some creative people and seven created robots. There are eight acts, including a dance piece between a human, a robot and an angel.
"We have some robots and some fake robots," Mr. Wilcox said. "The show is more about the relationships."
Which explains the next act, which is "Honey, I Slept With a Robot."
The big finale is Cyborlesque, which Mr. Wilcox said presents "a cyborg doing a striptease, where initially she starts taking off her robot parts, but halfway through she starts taking off her skin revealing more robot parts. And then she's, you know, dripping oil on herself.
"It's a nice mix between the alluring and sexy and the other-worldly and grotesque."
And who isn't into that?
"At the end, maybe you'll think about robots and cyborgs in a new way. And you'll be exposed to things that you might not have seen before. There's a lot of interesting ideas floating around in the robotic circles, that don't really filter down except through movies and popular media.
"This is more about exposing the audience to real robots that actually exist. You'll be surprised. A lot of these things are a lot more advanced than you probably think."
The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $12.
This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to http://old.post-gazette.com/trypress/ First Published April 27, 2012 3:45 PM