Matthew Gray wants to give one of drama’s most famous lines a whole new meaning, without changing it at all.

When a robot says, ‘What a piece of work is man,’ I think you get a com­pletely dif­ferent result than if a human actor is playing Hamlet,” said Gray, a new assis­tant pro­fessor of the­atre in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design.

Before arriving at North­eastern this fall, Gray had already directed per­for­mances using robotic actors. With a cast of four repro­grammed Roombas — the auto­mated vac­uums that can nav­i­gate a room and avoid obsta­cles — Gray directed a per­for­mance of Samuel Beckett’s play “Quad,” a play that con­tains no dia­logue and extremely com­pli­cated stage direc­tions for the actors to follow, while working as a fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s STUDIO for Cre­ative Inquiry, where he was a fac­ulty member in the university’s School of Drama.

We were inter­ested to see if we could take the very detailed stage direc­tions of a play and break them” into com­puter code, Gray said.

He now brings that expe­ri­ence — breaking down a per­for­mance into a series of spe­cific instruc­tions — into his acting classes at North­eastern. Often a director will give an actor some vague instruc­tion that is less valu­able than a much more direct instruc­tion, the kind a robot might require to per­form a task, Gray said.

Gray is working with friend and col­lab­o­rator Heather Knight, who is com­pleting her doc­toral research at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Insti­tute and run­ning Mar­ilyn Mon­robot Labs in New York. The space cre­ates socially intel­li­gent robot per­for­mances and sensor-​​based elec­tronic art. He plans to use her robot Data — named after the “Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion” char­acter, an android who strived to be more human — in a per­for­mance of Shake­speare mono­logues and scenes.

We need to lose this illu­sion that an actor drives the per­for­mance,” Gray said. “It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tion, be it between an actor and a director or an actor and a programmer.”

Gray is also exploring inno­v­a­tive ways to advance the use of motion cap­ture in the­atre; for example, how devices like the Xbox Kinect — which con­verts a player’s motions into the actions of a com­puter avatar — could be used in stage, tele­vi­sion, film or Internet performances.

Pointing to pio­neering actors like Andy Serkis, who has used motion cap­ture to play char­ac­ters like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings,” Gray said that new, dig­ital mediums are emerging that actors must learn to master.

I think the rev­o­lu­tion for the­atre and tech­nology will come from the person who says, ‘Here’s how you use tech­nology in the things you already do all the time,’” Gray said.