Stage Automaton Item in Manifold Sky | World Anvil

Stage Automaton

A stage automaton is a specialized application of dieseltech computing technology tailored towards the performance arts. Using belts of intricately punched programming gaskets, computational mechanisms operate cables and pneumatic actuators to make a lifelike mannequin move in a very specific way, performing music, dances, or acts of legerdemain. Some variants of stage automatons even feature limited interactivity, as is the case for automatons which are capable of playing Cube Conquest with crude, algorithmic skill.

Mechanics & Inner Workings

A stage automaton can be divided into three sections: mannequin, hardware, and props. The mannequin contains only actuators, joints, support structures, and sometimes gyros. A series of hoses and control cables are secreted along the body of the mannequin (often hidden under clothing or false skin) so that they can be linked back to the hardware section somewhere else nearby.   The hardware section is composed of a dieseltech or mechanical computer, which reads its pre-punched programming gasket to determine what actions the mannequin will undertake next, as well as any electrical power systems, compressors, or additional actuator mechanisms are required for the mannequin to move. Changing the behavior of the mannequin can be as easy as changing the programming gasket, though the format the gasket takes is determined by the general type of model (i.e. a game-player's gasket will not work on a performer, as the former requires different inputs. Various mechanical implementations of random-access memory have been employed in stage automatons, creating performances which have wowed audiences even as they bring up distressing philosophical questions about the nature of sentience and life in general.   Finally, the props section of the stage automaton contains both literal props (such as musical instruments or furniture) and any detection systems which might be necessary for the automaton to function, especially if the mannequin is meant to interact in emergent ways in the sense of playing games with guests. These primitive sensors include pressure switches, electromagnets, electrical contacts, and valves.

Manufacturing process

Voxelian artists with a particular bent towards engineering are particularly fond of constructing their own stage automatons, as these allow them to reproduce performances (or perform feats no human could) without having to put in the effort of constant rehearsals. The art and science of producing stage automatons is interdisciplinary, providing woodworkers, sculptors, painters, designers, clothiers, engineers, and dieseltech computer programmers with a medium to display their handiwork.   While there are a few mass-produced models, as in the case of piano-players, harpists, dancers, and models which play board games, each stage automaton is customized to fit the personal tastes and talents of the owner. Programming is often the most laborious part of the manufacturing process, as this requires both an intimate knowledge of dieseltech computers and an artist's talents; nevertheless, for artists of a particular inclination, working with stage automatons is said to be easier than dealing with flesh-and-blood performers, as automatons are, as one put it, "paragons of patience and temperance."


The advent of stage automatons has led to the creation of whole new genres of performance art focusing on them. Existing arts have been expanded and toyed with by incorporating the inhuman abilities and stamina of machines. A stage automaton might play piano at a bar, entertain bordello clients, or do sleight of hand tricks at a county fair, but they can also dance with joints going the wrong directions, "sing" in unattainable notes through the creative application of pneumatic pressure, or come in forms which emulate the human form only in the loosest of senses.   A popular trope of Voxelian romantic fiction is the notion of a stage automaton coming to life or being possessed with the spirit of some long-dead virtuoso to sweep the protagonist off her feet. In the Commonwealth of C, anthropomorphized stage automatons are often used in fiction as metaphors for the cold, brutal logic of inhumane administrators. For the Free Faces League, stage automatons are often regarded in fiction as emblematic of the inflexible, dependent nature of the Voxelian (and sometimes Commonwealth) cultures; Leaguesmen don't consider someone to be fully awoken to their own human dignity until that person can show self-sufficiency, which a machine, no matter how complex, would have difficulty emulating. Rostran Esotericists and Biocosmists often dislike the ministrations of stage automatons, albeit for different reasons.
Item type
Subtype / Model
Related Technologies
Related ethnicities
Stage automatons are uncommon, but many people have had the pleasure of viewing one in action provided a local establishment (such as a pub or theater) can afford one. Portable versions are popular attractions for traveling acts, with some even gaining reputations as though they were flesh-and-blood actors or actresses, but these are less common due to their weight and volume. All sentient races, save for the Ovinex, possess at least a few stage automatons.
Varies, but includes visible mannequin, any necessary instruments or props, and the computer cabinet.
Base Price
Raw materials & Components
Materials for the mannequin itself include wood, porcelain, enameled metals, fabric, rubber, and glass, with clothing (usually) added to taste. The enclosure for the computational hardware and power supply are especially variable, though these are almost universally comprised of metals with only veneers of wood. Certain 'boutique' models have special appendages and 'organs' added, especially if the models are intended to interact physically with living creatures.

Articles under Stage Automaton

Cover image: by BCGR_Wurth


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