Over the past year, 398 audiences of up to 2,000 people witnessed an octet of colorful lampshades perform an airborne choreography during Cirque du Soleil’s Broadway show Paramour, which ran until April 20th. The work behind the design and choreography of the flying lampshades, which turn out to be self-piloted show drones, bears the signature of the Swiss high-tech company Verity Studios.
But how novel is it really that robots have appeared in theater? Since Karel Capek’s science fiction play R.U.R. (short for Rossum’s Universal Robots) introduced the word “robot” to the English language and to science fiction almost 100 years ago, the technical challenges of incorporating robots into live performance and theater have been difficult to master. Before these Broadway drones, nearly all theater robots were remote-controlled puppets, relying on humans hidden off-scene to steer their movements and provide their intelligence.
Since April, a troupe of eight flying machines has been performing in a Cirque du Soleil Broadway show called Paramour. This group of quadcopters has now completed its first 100 shows in front of a live theater audience, without a single incident. Giventhestringofrecentsafetyincidentswithdrones (there’smore), this begs the question: How was this accomplished?
If you thought “SPARKED” – the new short film by Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios – is too real-looking to be CGI, you were right. But why go to all the trouble of using quadrotors to get those lampshades dancing in the air for real? We asked Bill Keays, Science and Technology Advisor at Cirque du Soleil, to give us an insider’s perspective about Cirque’s motivation for the film and how it came together.