Musical Theatre is an industry that thrives on the creativity of individuals in order to bring one’s wildest dreams to life. In an effort to save money and try a new wave of innovation, some theatre artists have started relying on AI in order to make new art. Through this essay, there will be an exploration of how this technology is already being used in the industry, how it’s looking to advance, and the potential of where it could go. People deserve art that is true to the theatre artists creating it, rather than being subjected to what technology thinks they need. Art is supposed to be real and raw, and AI gets in the way of that. Artificial Intelligence, or AI, negatively impacts the theatre industry by taking out the true creative process and risking theatre artists’ jobs for a cheaper and less artistically fulfilled product.
AI is already nuzzling its way into the Theatre industry, specifically with the production aspects of shows being where it currently shines the most. Natalia Toczkowska, an author well known for their articles on this technology, writes “AI has a significant role in the production aspect of theater. It is used in lighting design, where it can analyze the script and suggest appropriate lighting changes. AI can also control the timing of these changes, ensuring a seamless transition between scenes. Additionally, AI is used in sound design, where it can generate sound effects and music cues, enhancing the overall auditory experience of the performance. The use of AI in theater is not just limited to the production and scripting aspects. It has also found its way into the performances themselves. AI-powered robots and holograms are now being used as performers, creating a unique blend of human and artificial performers. These AI performers can adapt to the live environment, respond to human actors, and even improvise, creating a dynamic and interactive performance.” Because of this, AI already runs risks for people’s careers. As this technology advances, and there’s less need for anyone to oversee it, lighting designers and sound designers alike are running the risk of being out of jobs because of these technological advancements. Even if this technology does need oversight, it’s not fair to the designers themselves as this puts them more as babysitters for the technology rather than designers for the shows themselves. As if that wasn’t bad enough, performers themselves are also being replaced with AI alternates. This creates a seemingly exciting and new performance for the audience, but in reality cheapens the performance value and takes away what makes theatre magical; the people bringing it to the audience.
Artificial Intelligence is a tool that seems to be advancing everyday. 3x Tony-winning Broadway Producer Brisa Carelton writes “I asked ChatGPT how AI would impact the Broadway industry. Here’s what it said…AI-powered tools can enhance the creative process for Broadway producers and writers, helping them to analyze audience preferences, identify emerging trends, and generate new ideas for shows. For example, AI can analyze social media data to determine which types of shows are resonating with audiences and then use that data to inform productions that will be more likely to succeed.” Now, AI is currently being used as an effective tool to nudge artists into their new ideas and give them new ways of thinking in order to expand their creativity. This tool’s effectiveness is that reading an audience’s preferences can be tricky as to whether or not it’s aiding the theatre industry. With using AI for this reason, one is almost guaranteed to have a successful and profitable production. The contrary side of this is that artists will be far less likely to take creative risks that have potential to either fail, or spark the next “big thing” within the industry. Playing it safe is only so sustainable in this constantly changing industry, and if people begin to rely too heavily on this technology, this industry has the potential to shrink significantly. Artificial Intelligence is already invading television in the way that it can create brand new episodes of off air shows. On Stage Blog writes, “Training an AI program on an older hit TV series, and creating an additional season. FAMILY TIES, for example, has 167 episodes. An AI program could easily be trained on this, and create an eighth season. We only shot seven. AI has to be addressed now or never. I believe this is the last time any labor action will be effective in our business. If we don’t make strong rules now, they simply won’t notice if we strike in three years, because at that point they won’t need us” (Griffin). The way in which AI is able to replicate people and manipulate their footage into brand new circumstances. This effect can easily shift over into the theatre industry and allow for actors to be brought to life on stage without them ever going near the project itself. Frankly, this takes out any “live” aspect of “live theatre” and has the potential to take down the industry completely.
Who’s to say where AI will go within the theatre industry? Author Theo Bosanquet writes, “The robots it uses are “evocative of fossils or prehistoric creatures”, explains Hart, “and move around in sand during the performance… they don’t look like the robots you might typically imagine”. The robots use machine learning to respond to the other dancers, the audience and their surroundings, and one of them can be operated remotely. On the question of whether robots are displacing human artists, Hart says she can see “arguments in both directions”, but points out that “person-to-person connection” is “fundamental” to live performance, as well as the fact that “all these algorithms rely on human innovation and hard work.” This topic has people split due to the heavy list of pro’s and con’s that come with it. The highs appear to be so amazing and convenient, while the negatives are so obviously dangerous to the future of this industry. This brings up the important point of balance within anything. AI can be a great and convenient tool for the creative process, and can be a useful aid to designers and actors alike. Designers can use AI to easily execute ideas they have, creating an efficient and less stressful work environment. Actors could use this technology as a rehearsal tool, and could potentially have it to fill in for people when they’re sick or for any reason not at the rehearsal. But by replacing actors and designers alike, the show loses a part of its spark. Specifically by replacing actors, the audience no longer has the privilege of watching real people with the chance of messing up their performance right in front of them, which is what people pay for. AI can be programmed to sound any specific way, and can conform to whatever the creative vision is, but humans must train, and in instances be genetically blessed in order to fit what a creative team is looking for. Now, this paragraph is supporting hypotheticals to show the potential of this technology in theatre, but some of this has already started to play parts at a smaller scale, where there have already been shows executed with mainly just Artificial Intelligence. While it seems cool and exciting now, it’s important to remember that later down the line it will seem regular and boring, and therefore is not worth cutting humans out of this creative art form.
To conclude this essay, Artificial Intelligence negatively impacts the theatre industry by taking out the true creative process and risking theatre artists’ jobs for a cheaper and less artistically fulfilled product. People don’t need art that is cultivated to what technology “thinks.” they need. People need art that is new, exciting, and true to the people creating it. People need art that allows them to feel their emotions which is truly only plausible without it being heavily dominated by Artificial Intelligence. While it can be a new and exciting tool, an overuse of this technology overtime will take out the human factor of theatre, which is what makes this art form so impactful. While it may be more cost effective down the line, this investment makes an objectively worse experience for the audience and anyone involved in the process of creating it. Ultimately theatre artists should be artists, not AI assistants.
Carleton, Brisa. “I Asked Chatgpt How AI Would Impact Broadway. Here’s What It Said…” LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-asked-chatgpt-how-ai-would-impact-broadway-heres-what-carleton. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.
“Rage against the Machine: Is Ai in Performance an Opportunity or a Threat?” The Stage, www.thestage.co.uk/long-reads/rage-against-the-machine-is-ai-in-performance-an-opportunity-or-a-threat. Accessed 20 Oct. 2023.
Staff, OnStage Blog. “Ai and the Future of Theater.” OnStage Blog, OnStage Blog, 22 May 2023, www.onstageblog.com/stage-directions/2023/5/22/ai-and-the-future-of-theater.
Toczkowska, Natalia. “What Is the Role of AI in Modern Theater and Performances?” TS2 SPACE, 16 Sept. 2023, ts2.space/en/what-is-the-role-of-ai-in-modern-theater-and-performances/.