Robot Opera

Performers in Robot Opera

Long the domain of popular science fiction, robots increasingly permeate every aspect of society. How will this impact the creative and performing arts? This research strand, initiated by the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre (CROMT) and supported by Knowledge Exchange in Media, Arts and Humanities, the Sussex Humanities Lab and the Centre for Research in the Creative and Performing Arts, explores the ramifications of robot presence through encounters with music, words, movement, image and operatic performance.

We launched this project in June 2017 with a mini-symposium featuring researchers from Sussex, and continued in 2019 with a practice based project Robot Opera – What's Next?  For the next stage, in June 2021, working with a Cleo Mesmer robot manufactured by Engineered Arts, we will be exploring human-robot interaction, hybridity and otherness.

Banner saying Robo-po, Robo-op

Robo_Po /// Robo_Op

We are creating a series of short studies exploring otherness and creative engagement with embodied AI. There will be two work-in-progress performance events, each followed by a reflective panel discussion. These events will be hybrid in SHL / on Zoom (performers in person, audience / panels on Zoom). 

These events are free! Please register using Eventbrite.

Poster for Robo-op, Robo-po events

28th June 4pm - 5:30pm  Sussex Humanities Lab, audience to join on Zoom


a robot poetry reading / spoken word performance, followed by panel discussion. What does poetry mean from the mouth of a robot? What is explored through generative poetry? What is a reading?

Poets include, Kat Sinclair, Carol Watts, and others.

Panel includes Caroline Bassett (TBC), Charlotte Geater, Sam Ladkin, Kat Sinclair and Jo Lindsay Walton. Chaired by Carol Watts.

29th June 4pm - 5:30pm  Sussex Humanities Lab, audience to join on Zoom


a robot opera performance, a series of short studies exploring human – robot interaction and performance through music, movement and scenography, followed by a panel discussion.

Creative Team: Tim Hopkins (director); Evelyn Ficarra (composer); Janine Fletcher (choreographer / dancer); Carol Watts (words); Kat Sinclair (words); Loré Lixenberg (singer); Anton Lukoszevieze (cellist); Mike Oddhayward (programmer); Cleo Mesmer (Robot).

Panel: Will Jackson (robot designer / CEO of Engineered Arts); Elizabeth Jochum (Associate Professor of art and robotics, Head of Research Laboratory for Art and Technology (RELATE) Aalborg University, Denmark); Cath James (Artistic Director, South East Dance); Annette Mees (Director of Audience Labs, Royal Opera House); Ron Chrisley (Reader in Philosophy, Informatics, University of Sussex); chaired by Nick Till (Professor of Opera and Music Theatre, Director of the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre). 

For further information contact Evelyn Ficarra.

For ways of engaging with the project.

Primary Research Questions:

Robots and Performance - what happens if we put a Robot on a stage? How does an audience 'read' its presence? Is puppeteering the most relevant model, given the current state of embodied AI? Clearly the robot does not ‘know’ it is performing, or could you say that on some level a robot is always performing?

Embodiment - computer music has a long history involving artificial intelligence and creativity, and we already have computers that can improvise / compose / play music. If a robot is essentially a computer that can move around, how does embodiment affect or change the acquisition / expression of these skills?  

Vocality  - how would a robot sing if it sang like a robot rather than being programmed to sing like a human? i.e. what about its physicality would provoke / create sound? What does it ‘mean’ for a robot to sing? 

Read a news story about this project, featuring a clip from ‘Opposite of Familiarity’, a 5 minute opera for two Nao Robots, cello and piano by Professor Ed Hughes.