Algorithmic Theater: A Piece of Work

By Bryn Mawr College (other events)

Friday, September 9 2022 8:00 PM 9:15 PM EST

With post-performance reception!


“Mesmerizing, maddening, and agreeably peculiar”
—The Village Voice

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason. How infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like angel, in apprehension how like a God! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals — and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

Mixing live performance with algorithms and interfaces, A Piece of Work (2013) flips the switch between human and technology. It’s a machine-made Hamlet for a post-humanist age.

Using Shakespeare’s original text as data, a computer program constructs new scenes, songs, scores, and visuals. The algorithms are simple — they skip, sort, replace and sequence according to the frequency or infrequency of word patterns in the source material. The algorithms don’t know what they say, or what they said before. They don’t know what grief is, or revenge, or an entrance, or an exit. They make decision after decision, over and over, generating a non-stop flow of effects without causes, and causes without effects.

A live actor performs alongside computers, automated lighting systems, sound and video that have all been programmed to generate a new production of the play each time it is performed.


Director/Concept: Annie Dorsen
Performance: Scott Shepherd
Systems Programmer: Mark Hansen
Associate Programmer: Dylan Fried
Scenic/Video: Jim Findlay
Sound and Network Design: Greg Beller
Lighting Design: Bruno Pocheron/Ruth Waldeyer
Additional Programming: Scott Shepherd/Paul Calley
Associate Video Design: Ryan Holsopple


A Piece of Work is a co-production of BIT Teatergarasjen (Bergen), Black Box Teater (Oslo), Brooklyn Academy of Music (NYC), brut (Vienna), On the Boards (Seattle), and Theatre de la Villette (Paris).

It is a House on Fire project, developed with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union. Additional support provided by the City of Vienna, and by On the Boards through its Performance Production Program.

A Piece of Work was developed in part at Live Arts Bard, the commissioning and residency program of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College.