David Byrne is in the midst of a successful Broadway run for his American Utopia production, but he’s already using his off-time planning another theatrical installation. The former Talking Head is planning on opening an immersive project called Theater of the Mind, presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Off-Center, next August. The themes were inspired by historical and recent lab research. Information about tickets will be included on the production’s website.
“It will be in a warehouse, where it’s divided into a bunch of different rooms,” he tells Rolling Stone. “A group of 16 audience members will go from room to room and experience these perceptual things. When they leave one room, another group goes in there. That way, you can get 400 people in from 6 p.m. to 10. You get the same number as if it were a theater show, but you get more in small groups.”
The artist previously workshopped a version of the project on Governors Island in New York in late 2017, according to the production company 600 Highwaymen, but Byrne decided to take it to the Mile High City because of the Performing Arts Center’s history with similar projects. “The Denver Center for the Performing Arts have done immersive things like this before — not quite like this — but they’ve cultivated an audience in Denver,” he says. Plus, he adds that he expects the Colorado audience to warm to some of the production’s trippier elements. “I am so convinced that because it’s about perception and sensory stuff, there’s gonna be a lot of gummy bears and other stuff in there,” he says with a laugh.
Mala Gaonkar, a research analyst who cofounded the nonprofit Surgo, is Byrne’s co-writer on the project. Andrew Scoville, who was the associate director on Byrne’s Here Lies Love, is the production’s director. Nate Koch, who has won awards for his work on productions of Sweeney Todd and Queen of the Night, is serving as Theater of the Mind’s executive producer.
“For a few years, David and I partnered with several cognitive neuroscience labs to see how some of the most basic human intuitions determine how humans react,” Gaonkar said in a statement. “What we concluded was the experiments and ideas of the labs we partnered with, several of which we embedded in our narrative, seemed as engaging as any piece of theatre. Theater of the Mind will challenge the ever-changing reality written in our minds and I am thrilled for audiences to think of science and theatre in a new way.”
In the meantime, though, Byrne’s chief project remains American Utopia, which recently got an extended run through February 16th. For the show, he performs nearly two dozen Talking Heads “popular favorites” and selections from his solo career and recent American Utopia album. Byrne had previously taken the show, which finds Byrne and 11 musicians dressed in matching gray suits dancing barefoot, around the world, but he recently told Rolling Stone he’s been enjoying doing it in once place. He talks more to the crowd at the Broadway show and found that a storyline, about a man who is closed off and learns to open up, emerged as they worked on it.
“I didn’t go into the concert saying, ‘This is the narrative that I want to tell,'” he said. “But as we started choosing songs and working out the staging, it emerged that that’s what was happening. We didn’t go into it with the story in advance, which some people might think is a little odd, but that’s how it works sometimes.”