ChatGPT wrote a Dublin play and the result was comedy gold

10 Mar 2023

The PL-AI performance at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. Image: Leigh Mc Gowran/Silicon Republic

While ChatGPT won’t win any screenwriting awards, the PL-AI performance was heightened by the adaptive cast and audience inclusion, creating a truly unique experience.

ChatGPT took on a new role this week, becoming the AI screenwriter for an improvised play to showcase the advanced chatbot’s capabilities.

Taking place in Tallaght’s Civic Theatre yesterday (9 March), the immersive experience gave creative control to both the AI and the audience, letting people suggest prompts to guide the live performance, which were then fed into ChatGPT.

Created by Irish playwright Niall Austin, the performance – called PL-AI – was designed to show the audience the capabilities of ChatGPT, while giving them an insight into the process behind play development and storytelling.

“By putting the audience in control of the play development, we’re allowing them to gain a deeper understanding of how story-arcs are formed and how a play evolves over time,” Austin said. “With the help of AI we can create a performance that’s both unique and educational.”

The performance was definitely a unique experience and helped showcase some of the capabilities (and writing limitations) of the AI model.

Before the play began, the director and moderator Davey Kelleher explained that the AI has certain biases, which can impact its responses (such as not being able to accept certain prompts).

This was shown throughout the performance in many ways, as the chatbot had a tendency to end multiple scenes in similar ways.

Poems created by the chatbot tended to have a “come one, come all” line at the end, while short plot ideas usually ended with characters becoming devout friends ready to face the world together, even if they had only just met.

The chatbot also got confused occasionally. One prompt featured the names of three people from the audience – including a person who likes to walk his dog. The AI created a scene where one of these characters was a dog. When ChatGPT was asked to rewrite the scene, it instead turned this character into a talking dog.

ChatGPT also had the occasional moment of unprompted comedic irony, such as one scene where it created a Steve Irwin impersonator. When the AI was asked to give this character a “dark secret”, the play revealed that this impersonator had a criminal record for animal abuse.

Human-centred AI takes centre stage

The climax of the performance came in the second half, where the AI was asked to create a full play with a range of characters, multiple scenes and an overarching plot, guided between scenes with prompts.

Here, the chaos and magic of the performance truly shined, with the AI creating sudden twists only to wrap them up a moment later.

One character was stuck in a loop and said “We need to be careful, we don’t know what we’re dealing with” around nine times total – sometimes in very close succession.

The result was a brilliant chaotic mess of an experimental performance. But the real magic of the PL-AI wasn’t ChatGPT, it was the five actors who were able to adapt to a confusing script they had seen for the first time.

The second half in particular was a light-hearted masterclass in improvisational performance, with the actors doing each scene in different styles, accents and mannerisms based on the rapidly changing decisions of audience prompts.

In recent AI predictions for 2023, Adonis Celestine of digital feedback provider Applause said AI systems simply can’t function properly without “a human perspective”.

He argued that there will be a greater focus on “augmented intelligence”, which has been defined as a design pattern for a “human-centred partnership model of people and AI working together”.

In that regard, PL-AI proved this concept correct, as the capabilities of the chatbot were brought to their full potential with the help of a talented cast tugging its strings throughout.

This isn’t the first time ChatGPT has moved into a creative medium, as publishers of online magazines have faced a wave of AI-generated stories flooding their inboxes.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic