Idea for a Play: Generative Color Computer

(Every once in a while, I may post an idea for a play which I don’t think could be realized given current technology, or which is just a thought experiment.)

Audience members have a board in front of them with six buttons on it, much like a game of Simon plus two.  The buttons are red, yellow, green, blue, white, and black.Simon

Visual aid

Each board has a small indicator which tells the audience member what color s/he has currently selected.  At any time, the audience member can change their color of choice.

The play is a two character, improvisatory play.  Each character is given a detailed scenario by a playwright, which is rehearsed and drilled ahead of time: the given circumstances, the existing relationships, the secrets, and the ultimate goals.  At the core, the two characters want something which they cannot both have.

The improvisation is based off of the audience.  The colors represent emotional tacks, and the audience is divided into two halves, each “controlling” one of the two characters.  Each actor can see an indicator light of some sort which displays the averaged color as selected by that actor’s audience half.

There are multiple ways to go about it.  It could be left entirely up to intuition, so that some audience members may interpret blue as “sad” and others as “calm,” and the actors themselves may interpret the color as they feel.  Or, what each color represents could be discussed with the audience and actors beforehand.  (Which would be tricky, because there’s a very large number of colors possible once you take the averaging into account.)  Either way, the audience gets to “play” the emotional state of their character.

Mood Organ

It’s from the book, not the movie.  Which inspired this website.

The key to it all working is establishing the various levels of stakes.  If Character One wants the money, and possesses a secret that could be used to blackmail Character Two, Actor One will have to know exactly how far things will have to go before his/her Character is willing to resort to blackmail.  Without a stepladder structure like this, the scene will become either unrealistic in how quickly the characters jump to outrageous tactics, or boring because they run in circles.

The other key would be to have outside intrusions, planned ahead of time.  A third character, uncontrolled by the audience, could intervene at predetermined plot points or time intervals to introduce new complications.

The results could very easily be comedic.  They’re probably more likely to be funny the quicker the audience is able to change the color (now ANGRY!  now SLEEPY!).  If there’s a time delay of sorts, as there would be if the audience members are encouraged to only change their color choice when they really feel it, the emotional changes will ring at a slower, and more dramatically realistic, pace.  The best pre-written scenario would probably be one that would work equally well if it goes in a lighthearted or a tragic direction.

The idea behind this thought-play experiment comes from this application.

And the purpose behind this is to address two problems I’ve seen in some of the experiments that have been done with audience voting in plays.  One, every one I’ve seen has just been based on a simple majority plurality vote, and a plurality vote means that the audience is competing with itself to determine the most popular choice, whereas this Color Generative method averages everyone’s response equally. Two, the vote-based plays I’ve seen only insert votes at a few certain moments to “branch” the plot, whereas the Color Generative method is continuous.  The flipside is that it has to be largely improvised, so the scripting can’t be as complex per se (though it’s still important), but the increased deep audience involvement is worth it.

I don’t think this may ever happen and I have no plans of pursuing it myself, but the idea is fun.



  1. Scott Graves · · Reply

    Just replace the board with a mobile phone app. Very easy to implement :-) Instead of averaging to a color which the actor interprets, the output could be actions which the actors could then act (which would be based on the emotional color temperature). The “third man” could also be a computer directed actor.

    1. Apps! Apps rule the world! That’s a whole idea in itself there, an app-play. One of these days I’ll have a smartphone…

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