November 24, 2007
Reading for November 27th, are now posted. Enjoy!

October 2, 2007
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May 24, 2008
This site has been archived and is no longer editable. Stay tuned for the next version, coming in the fall!

Midterm Project Proposal: Puppets for Theater Workshops

Project Members: 
Elisa Oreglia
Farley Gwazda
Seung Wan Hong

FOR THEATER WORKSHOPS (will create catchier name...)



We are
interested in theater performances and in particular in theater workshops where
everybody participates and interacts on a person-to-person basis. Our
particular area of concern is "Playback Theater;" workshops where one
participant listens to an other's tale, and then acts out what s/he thinks is
the essence of the story. We would like to explore ways to encourage
participants to express their collective feelings and opinions during the
workshops and to bring home a reminder of the workshop and of their newly-met


achieve this we will propose a TUI in the form of a hub-and-spoke system of
interactive puppets; small puppets that each participant uses to input their
opinions and one bigger 'master puppet' that acts as a relay and processor for
these opinions.


and Issues

To keep
our project grounded, we are thinking of a specific 'client' for our puppets: a
non-profit organization that runs theater workshops among migrant workers in
Beijing. This doesn't necessarily mean that our work will be adopted by them,
or that it will be tailored exclusively to their needs, but we find it helpful
to think in terms of a real situation, with specific needs, requirements and
limitations, in order to not be distracted by the technological 'magic' of what
we set out to create. 


order to guide our project we must keep in mind the goals of this
organization's activities, and the problems that it has achieving them. Our
client organization uses theater to build the self-awareness and expression of
low-skilled migrant workers. Our TUIs must be intuitive, and not require any
familiarity with computers. The workshops are a way for participants to bring
out and discuss different areas of their lives, from issues at work
(discrimination, sexual harassment, contracts not respected, etc) to issues in
their private lives (loneliness, but also friendship, courtship, love, etc).
Therefore the TUI must function to overcome social boundaries, to facilitate
the communication of private thoughts and feelings in a public setting, and to
counteract stage-fright. The workshops function psychologically - as therapy.
Therefore the physical interaction with the TUI must satisfy the urge to
instinctive, cathartic action. The workshops also function practically - they
provide a forum for debate about current issues in the workers lives. Therefore
the TUI must facilitate accurate communication. The workshops also function
emotionally - to build relationships and create a bond among people who see
each other rarely and who may be very lonely. Therefore the TUI must function
as a kind of social network and matchmaker. One of the more intractable
problems faced by the workshops is that they are short and therefore sometimes
do not have long-lasting effects. Therefore the TUI must enable the
participants to keep in touch after the workshop.


We are
also aware that with some minor adjustments in appearance and programmatic
function this system may be useful outside the situation for which it is
specificlly designed, especially with children and in other social therapy



small, portable, and do not necessarily have a human appearance so as to
discourage discomfort participants may have "playing with dolls." The
design should be kept very simple to encourage a generic experience and because
it does not take very much interactivity to start identifying with an object or
very much realism before we ascribe motivations to an object. All the puppets
would look mass-produced but may perhaps be personalized by their owners. This
puppet is used by the participants to express and communicate either negative
or positive emotions - this is the INPUT of the TUI. The negative (anger,
frustration, injustice, betrayal, etc) will be expressed by squeezing the
puppet - the interaction will not resemble a "hug" as the puppet has
a spring-loaded grip inside which is physically challenging to squeeze down
(the puppet may also make a negative sound that reinforces this - i.e. a squeal
or growl). Practically, the input will be sensed with a pressure-sensor. The
positive (happiness, approval, relief, excitement, etc.) will be expressed by
another action - i.e. turning a crank to light an LED in the puppet's nose
(which can also serve to generate power). (One of our goals is to avoid an
overtly sexual metaphor with this action...). The OUTPUTS of these puppets will
be the LED lights and a small speaker (which will be limited to simple
non-linguistic sounds). The third function of this TUI is that these puppets
will communicate via low-power wireless to the central puppet.


puppets would work both in synchronous and asynchronous scenarios. The emotions
transmitted to the puppets could be

immediately by the puppet itself when the owner is alone, or could be
transmitted wirelessly to the central puppet and expressed as the sum of all
participants emotions when used in a workshop.


Puppet -
we are
still developing the role of the central puppet. It would aggregate and express
the emotions and opinions communicated through the individual puppets. The
central puppet may be an actual puppet, similar to the individual puppets in
shape but bigger. We may choose to make this a virtual character displayed on a
screen to increase its versatility. In any case, its design will not be
gender-specific so as to avoid falling into socially predetermined roles or
being perceived as an authority. In fact it may be most successful if it were
an animal (some research into culturally appropriate animals need to be done).
This central puppet may also have a role outside the workshop setting, for
example by gathering daily input from each individual puppet and sending out
appropriate output (for example, if it received negative emotions from a
puppet, it could send an appropriate message to the owner's mobile phone, or it
could compare inputs from all individual puppets, identify similar patterns,
and make the owners aware of their 'soul (puppet) mate'). Some research needs
to be done into what level of technology is available, what people are
comfortable doing, etc. Will it be possible to plug the individual puppets into
a cell phone or will that level of complication discourage participation?


possible with these puppets (initial ideas)

To have
the audience express its approval or disapproval of a "character's"
actions during a scene in playback theater. The central puppet would receive
feedback from the small puppets, calculate whether the audience approves or
disapproves, and register this judgment with sound.


In the
same way, the central puppet could act as a character in some of the skits;
it's role reduced to nonverbal expressions of emotion as determined by group


central puppet could register people's interest in or willingness to talk about
a specific topic that may be hard to acknowledge in public - i.e. sexuality,
failed relationships, controversial political or social topics, etc. This will
enable discussion by bridging the gap between private and public.


If used
to tabulate and compute the results of a series of survey questions, the system
may be used to find matches for individual users; i.e. if the users of the
small puppets are asked a series of questions about their work life, the
computer may be able to use a simple algorithm to match people whose similar
experience may lead to them making friends or providing practical support for
each other.


We are
considering how to interface the small puppets with cell phones and a website
so that people can stay in touch with each other after the workshops.

small puppet plan.jpg84.32 KB
P1.jpg109.92 KB
P2.jpg106.94 KB


Observation - Nice job

Observation - Nice job understanding the context you are trying to develop for. It seems like you are trying to augment an existing practice with a TUI based system.

System -- The biggest thing to consider is that there are many different goals (voting, sharing, power-generation, etc.) all consolidated in one device -- it may be difficult to make the different types of interaction really clear and natural, especially as you also add social-networking type behavior. Be very careful to keep things clear, and perhaps consider paring down the set of interactions so that you can focus on the ones you think are most important. For instance, it's not necessary to mention that you can use this device for power generation since it really doesn't add to the interaction experience at all. It's very nice that the actions onto the puppet correspond to very familiar actions that are associated with certain feelings. More natural mappings between the input and semantic space is one of the goals of TUI.

Use-Cases - Your use cases seem to highlight that playback performances is an already complex activity and you are making the system a central part of this. It would be interesting to consider if you are disrupting and undermining the activity at all or perhaps creating something new and different. It seems you are familiar enough with this activity to consider these issues.

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