Robots had taken over stage acting; stages had power connections that the robots would brush against during the play to recharge their batteries. In small towns they couldn't afford to have all robots, so they would sometimes mix in live actors. This was risky: the live actors had to avoid the recharge points or they'd get electrocuted. The story was from the perspective of one of those live actors. For some reason, the prop gun had been replace with a real one; he knew that, and counted on the other live actor recognizing it and not shooting him. Unfortunately, she decided partway through the show that she wouldn't continue in the play, and when the climactic scene came up he saw her brush against the recharge point and realized she was a robot. She shot him.

I don't remember exactly when I read this; it was at least 30 years ago, maybe even 50. Don't know where it was, except that it wasn't online. <g>

  • When did you read this? Was it in a magazine, an anthology or online?
    – DavidW
    Jul 24, 2023 at 12:42
  • @DavidW -- 30 or 40 years ago; don't remember where. Jul 24, 2023 at 12:53

1 Answer 1


This must surely be "The Darfsteller", the Hugo-winning novelette by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The central character is Ryan Thornier, previously a famous thespian. When computer operated robots replaced human actors, he symbolically renounced acting and went to work as a janitor in a theatre. He comes up with a scheme to replace one of the robots in a performance, by destroying the "control tape" that the computer uses to interpret the role. Because the audience responds badly to his performance, an actress also comes onto the stage to replace one of the robots, as the computer - the Maestro - sensed the audience's disapproval, and was using the other robots to upstage him.

He originally planned for a robot actor to to shoot him for real in the final scene, but repented and asked the actress to eject the round. However, he discovered that she had backed out after a few scenes, and the robot indeed shoots him on stage, in front of the audience. Being a trouper he falls to the floor, avoiding the copper rails that carry the current for the robots, and the audience applauds.

The story is available to read at the Luminist Archive.

  • 1
    Thanks; the strikes by the Hollywood writers and the Screen Actor's Guild brought this to mind. Jul 24, 2023 at 16:48
  • As a German, that title "The Darfsteller" looks strange. German "Darsteller" (without the "f") means "performer" or "actor," and "er darf" means "he may," but the combination does not make sense to me. The title looks more like a mix from current German and outdated romanic script, where it would be written "Darſteller" (that's an long-s and t ligature). I haven't read the story, so it could have a connotation beyond a typo of that obvious "performer" translation.
    – Dubu
    Jul 25, 2023 at 11:16
  • Wikipedia gives the explanation as: darfsteller likely a portmanteau of "Darsteller", German for "actor/actress", with "darf", inflected form of "dürfen", "to be at liberty to do something", which the narrator explains was a "self-directed actor". Jul 25, 2023 at 11:20

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