I read this story when I was a kid so it is at least as old as the 1960s. In this story simulacra of humans (with electronic spines?) are driven to perform a drama for a human audience. The simulacra have real feelings and believe that the actions they are undertaking are meaningful but ultimately the purpose of all their suffering is simply to entertain an audience. I can't remember the name of the book I read it in, nor the author. Can anyone help me?
The "control signal " part reminds me of "The Darfstellar" by Walter M Miller, but that's entirely different in every other detail. the time period is right though.