HERB-Drama: Robot Theatrical Performance

In Spring 2014, the Personal Robotics Lab at CMU collaborated with the School of Drama to develop, produce and stage a live theatrical performance on April 30, 2014 at the Purnell Center for the Arts in Pittsburgh. HERB, the butler robot, and Olivia Brown performed "Sure Thing" by David Ives in front of a live audience.

The work was a collaboration including Katie Correll, Yuyang Guo, Laura Herlant, Michael Koval, Siddhartha Srinivasa, Hui Jun Tay, Pras Velagapudi, Aaron Walsman, Don Zheng, and Garth Zeglin.


We have prepared HERB to act in a play. HERB, the butler robot, performs opposite a human actress in a one-act play in a conventional theatrical setting, working with a director and actress to develop the part. Of course, HERB has a lot of help in rehearsal from his human team to translate directorial feedback and on-stage interaction into variations in dialogue delivery and movement in order to convey his part in the story.

Our focus on rehearsal has encouraged us to support as much improvisatory skill as we can so that HERB's behavior can be quickly adapted. Working with an experienced actor and director has helped us to inhabit the conventions of the theater and understand the language and discourse of story-telling using a physical body.

Our ultimate aim is not to replace actors but to understand how body movement and prosodic speech create an understanding of intention within a narrative. We believe this will guide us toward techniques for infusing the practical motions of everyday robot life with expressive gesture which conveys the intention of the robot. That way, our robots will not only perform daily tasks such as cleaning our houses, but move in a way which conveys the narrative of their purpose.


This work has been developed in collaboration with Kevin Lenzo from RI and LTI; Sam French, Olivia Brown and Kyle Wilson from the School of Drama; and the 'bowtie' team from the ETC: Rachina Ahuja, Kwong Fai Lew, Ruobing Li, Michael Lotze, Juan Ramirez, Jiahao Xia, and Xiaoyi Zhang. Special thanks to Jiahao 'Simon' Xia for his extra effort on performance animation.




The full performance video cannot be shown due to licensing restrictions on the script. Below is a brief trailer showing a few of HERB's dramatic poses.