What Can Drama Bring to Computer Science?

Yesterday, a bunch of Greg Wilson’s grad students had dinner at his place.  We got to meet his wife, his daughter, and eat some pretty amazing food.  It also gave his new grad students an opportunity to say an official “hello”, and introduce themselves to everybody else.

After introducing myself as having had an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Drama, somebody made some remark about what an interesting combination that is. Greg replied by saying something like “That’s why I chose him”, and told a story about how one of the best programmers he ever knew was originally training to become a Rabbi, and got into Computer Science because he was working on some translations of ancient texts.

This got me thinking.  When I started focusing on both Drama and Computer Science, I remember always finding ways where Computer Science could help Drama.  I can easily rattle off a bunch of examples:

  • Better, more flexible sound cueing software (QLab is nice, but I think we can go deeper)
  • Communication tools for production teams, to help coordinate stage managers, directors, production managers, etc
  • Interfaces for movement artists to communicate with computers with their bodies in real-time, which in turn can drive things like sound/lighting cues, or other stage effects
  • Tools for doing cool, advanced projections – check out Lighttwist for example
  • Programming environments / domain specific languages for production crews who have to program lighting, sound, and video cues.  We used Isadora at the UCDP, which is like PureData with more of a GUI.  But…again…maybe we could do better.

So, while I was at the UCDP, all of these ideas rattled around in my head. I’ve now come to the realization that this has been completely one-sided.

So let’s switch it around – what can Drama bring to Computer Science?

The easy one is presentation/communication skills.  A CS student might be brilliant, but that doesn’t mean they can present or communicate.  And if an idea can’t be communicated, it’s worthless.

But what else?  Any ideas?  I’m going to think about this for a bit, and I’ll see if I can come up with any more.

UPDATE: So here’s what I found…

8 thoughts on “What Can Drama Bring to Computer Science?

  1. Blake Winton

    Movement/awareness of your body.

    One of the things I noticed you doing last term that I never figured out until I got old, was taking some time to stretch every now and then, and making sure your posture was at least not horrible.

    I also wonder if there could be some UI/UX stuff, perhaps relating to emotions and how we express them.


  2. Veronica

    My 0.02 cent, and when I think if CS (I think software engineering, HCI), and when I think of drama (I think Cirque =D)

    – creativity, that is not to say that CS in and of itself is not creative work, but there’s something about theater and drama–the perceptive environment is non-restrictive
    – emotional design, and how that pertains to UX (like what Blake is saying); we’re moving past interface design with the new social paradigm and need to figure out how to translate emotional experiences to software
    – there was a talk about innovation parkour at Idea2009 like 2 hours ago: in training the body to think, we let the body strategize. There’s a lot of on-the-feet, real-time thinking, improvisation in the wild/environment

  3. Cam Gorrie

    Mike, great blog post! I think that it’s really important to explore the links between everything you’re interested in, and being interested in drama and computer science as yourself I’m very interested in your thoughts on this.

    I did a lot of self-reflection over the summer, and this came up a lot. There were parts of the summer where I found myself interested more in things that weren’t computer science, to the point where I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue pursuing CS. What I ended up with by the end of the summer was a solid foundation of what makes me enjoy working in this field, and what’s interesting is that these exact same things make me interested in sociology, drama, and visual arts.

    For me, drama ends up lending to CS many things.
    – a dramatic production has several different stages, and the first ones tend to feel under-organized (even if they aren’t) and without a lot of pay-off. this doesn’t really even need translation to apply to software engineering!
    – dramatic productions also have clear division of labour and a clear hierarchy, which is useful to avoid too-many-chiefs syndrome in CS projects.
    – in drama, if you’re not having fun during the project, the end result suffers.
    – and of course, you mentioned self-confidence and communication. It’s paramount in drama, and it’s a ridiculously good thing to have anywhere in your life.

    Even though these aren’t so specific to CS, I would have to say that CS seems to be a very general field. We’re solving any kind of problem, we’re just using a specific tool to do it.


  4. Jorge Aranda

    I’ve been convinced of a harmony between drama and software development for a while — a great book exploring this issue, tangentially, is “Artful Making”. I have a copy, if you’re interested…

  5. neil ernst

    There is a connection to social organization in companies, and how we translate that to modeling requirements. i*, for example, uses the term actor to reflect multiple viewpoints in a problem model. Actors ‘play’ roles, have intentions, etc. This is probably also reflected in the multi-agent systems paradigm.

    If you study drama, and great plays, I would think you would quickly get a good sense for internal motivation and intentionality (cue “to be or not to be” joke …)

    welcome to the software lab!

  6. Mike

    Thank you all for your comments!

    You’ve given me plenty of fuel for thinking. Expect another blog post on this topic soon!



  7. George

    Although it is possible that studying drama could give one useful insights that would be applicable to computer science work, that would be true of almost any field of intellectual endeavor, be it musical performance, physics, or philosophy.

Comments are closed.