Coming of age — the robot way

Students rehearsing for “It’s a Small World (Or the Robot Play).” Photos by Molly Burke / The Jambar

By Molly Burke

University Theatre will put on its third show for the 2023-2024 season Feb. 16 through 18 and Feb. 23 through 25 in the Spotlight Theater of Bliss Hall.

The play, “It’s a Small World (Or the Robot Play),” was written by Amber Palmer, a Youngstown State University alumna. The play’s story follows Cyrus, a coffee-maker-turned robot, and Anne, an engineer. Anne takes Cyrus on a road trip to return him to his creator in Disney World.

Palmer described the play’s themes and what the audience can take away from the storyline. 

“Both the characters are kind of going through a coming of age journey just in very different ways. I think the play ends up being about sort of how you build the life you want to live,” Palmer said. “What I hope pretty much anybody takes away from any of my plays is a greater sense of empathy or compassion for people that they might not think are like them.”

The play’s director is Todd Dicken, a professor in the Department of Theater and Dance and the Dana School of Music. Dicken said it’s rare to work with a playwright, but the collaboration allows him to better understand Palmer’s vision. 

“It’s rare that students get the opportunity to do something where they can actually meet the playwright,” Dicken said. “I think [Palmer is] nervously excited to see what influences I might bring into it.”

Auditions for “It’s a Small World (Or the Robot Play)” were held before winter break, and rehearsal began at the start of the spring semester.

While the audience will only see the performers on stage, Dicken said it takes a team to put on a play. 

“You’ve got the performers. Then you’ve got the designers that are involved in this. You have the crew that are going to be helping run it — from stage management to backstage crew — the wardrobe people, the lighting, the sound. There’s a lot of people that get involved,” Dicken said. 

The play’s costume designer is Katherine Garlick, associate professor of costume design and technology. Garlick said while most of the cast will wear modern clothes, Cyrus’s costume requires many unconventional materials. 

“There’s a lot of trying to figure out, ‘how do we make a human look like a robot and also a coffee maker?’” Garlick said. “We’ve been having fun playing with LEDs and battery packs.”

Cyrus is played by Aidan Holderfield, a fifth-year senior theater and psychology major. Holderfield said Cyrus gains sentience throughout the play, requiring an understanding of the character’s journey when bringing it to life. 

“The first thing I did … was look up AI voices. I looked up when Google Translate talks, what does that sound like; Siri, the voices in TikTok,” Holderfield said. “Then I had to learn how to make that sound less robotic so that I could sound more human as the show goes on … it’s a lot of that and trying to figure out where that sentience is at any point in the show.”

Opening night will be Feb. 16. Photos by Molly Burke / The Jambar

Palmer will attend the show’s opening night and teach a playwriting workshop from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 in room 122 of Bliss Hall. Anyone who wants to sign up can email Garlick at [email protected].

“It’s a Small World (Or the Robot Play)” will begin at 7:30 p.m. on its Friday and Saturday showings and 2 p.m. on its Sunday showings. Tickets can be purchased at ysu.tix.com or at the Box Office in Bliss Hall. Tickets are free for students and discounted for faculty and staff. 

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