There were only 16 people in the audience for tonight’s show, The Emperor of the Moon, a rollicking farce by Aphra Behn, the first professional woman playwright almost 400 years ago. They all loved the show and applauded vigorously, which pleased the actors. Most of the audience were over 60. I didn’t bother telling the actors that when they greyed-out in a few years anyone that might come couldn’t pay enough for our power bill.
None of us got paid and we all worked at day jobs that allowed us to eke out a living and still do theatre. I didn’t know if there were other theatre companies producing live shows in America, but it didn’t really matter if we were the last. The tremendous jump in robotics and A.I technology in the 2030s led to the creation of android actors, male, female, young, old, sexy, scary. After a few years of fine tuning they became so impactful on the big and medium screens that they quickly replaced human actors, most of whom were of limited talent so they weren’t missed.
The various performance unions protested loudly for a while, sponsored strikes with picket lines, but they were small and of no interest to the public. Their lawsuit to ban nonhuman performers went all the way to the Supreme Court. The decision that nowhere in the Constitution is it stated or implied that actors have to be human, ended what had become a respectable profession to some. Fortunately for many in the entertainment world, the android actors still needed directors, designers, techs and other personnel to produce film, programs, ads and other visual content. So only part of the profession was wiped out. Of course, their future was questionable if the art and science of robotics continued to advance.
The funniest aspect of this to me was when the androids were programmed to behave like stars off screen, with fan clubs, imitators, romances with other stars, personal appearances and scandals. The public loved it and forgot human actors. Except for a few. These diehards kept us going. They weren’t like audiences past, eager to see new, exciting plays and demanding classics. Their lives had become so difficult that they couldn’t tolerate tragedy, or challenging plays like ‘Waiting for Godot’, or ‘Look Back in Anger’.
So we mostly produced carefully prepared productions of classical comedy, mostly farce. Yes I yearned to direct Hamlet, the Scottish play, The Iceman Cometh, but that was a fantasy. We performed accessible Moliere, Aristophanes, some Shakespeare and Restoration comedies that pleased audiences. Our audience wanted cultural participation, diversion from the present and escape from the android reality of our times.
I didn’t tell the company that when we were evicted from the vacant store that had been our home for almost a year we probably wouldn’t find another space. That would be the end of our theatre venture. One of our younger actors suggested we do street theatre, but that was impossible these days when we couldn’t get a permit. Guerilla theatre was meaningless without a cause and no matter how hard we agitated they weren’t bringing back human actors.
So our only option was to keep performing as long as we had a theatre space and an audience. I wasn’t sure what I would do after that . I wasn’t connected to the new system so I couldn’t get work as a director. I never wanted an academic career so teaching the classics at a university was out. If I was a little younger I could get a remake and try to get work as an android actor… I had to laugh at that. My puny human body couldn’t survive interaction with powerful robots. All I could do was enjoy my work as long as I could and not look ahead to an uncertain future without human theatre.