Michael Mitnick's Ed, Downloaded represents a new way of looking at how we watch theater
Brooklyn-based playwright Michael Mitnick is a young phenom in the theater world whose play-in-progress, Ed, Downloaded was featured as a reading as part of the Denver Center Theatre Company's Colorado New Play Summit in 2012. A year later, the fully produced play -- utilizing sophisticated, cutting-edge visuals to tell the story of what happens when a man's downloaded memories turn out to be something other than what his wife expects -- opens tonight in the Ricketson Theatre.
Actors reading Ed, Downloaded at the 2012 New Play Summit.
We had a chance to ask Mitnick a few questions about Ed, Downloaded; the full Q&A follows. For tickets and information, visit the Denver Center online or call 303-893-4100.
Westword: Talk a little about the genesis of Ed, Downloaded. What inspired you to tell this story?
Michael Mitnick: It began as a commission from the Denver Center Theatre Company, and the only directive was that it had to incorporate multimedia in some way. I wanted to make sure that, whatever I ended up writing, I was not using the multimedia as a gimmick. I did not want to use video and projection as a novelty. I hoped to instead write something where the play simply wouldn't work without the incorporation of video. That led me to a kind of hybrid between movie and stage-play.
I had been reading some articles online in magazines that talked about different theories of life extension, and one theory claimed it to be an inevitability that by 2015, we'd be able to download an entire brain, and that, really, the only limitation on making that a reality was apparently just the lack of enough storage space.
Then a story started to percolate in my mind. I wondered what might happen if people actually do this. If this is going to happen, what kind of legal restrictions would we need to put on it? And instead of having a person downloaded into a box, what if a person could just download up to ten moments from their life, and those could loop, so another person could experience it as if experiencing it for the first time? What happens if that person downloads picks that included someone they had never really met? This allowed me to run to what I normally do writing drama -- to create a love triangle that in the second act takes on these video aspects. So we actually end up with actors acting with themselves.
So the multimedia aspect was already a part of the package, and you had to figure out how to use it.
If I hadn't, they would have taken the money back.
What challenges did you face in writing for multimedia?
I always try my best. I was not going to be seduced by a play like this with a high concept. As interested as I am with playing with an intellectual idea in a play, there's also got to be a story.
There's a place called a Forevertery where the downloading happens, but in the first act, you barely hear about this procedure. Hopefully, that lets the audience get to know the characters first. You learn about the special relationships, and you learn to care about them before any of the gizmos start twirling.
Would you get your brain downloaded, if you could?
I'm not so sure. I haven't made a decision. I certainly have thought about which memories I would pick.
Do you feel as if you've fulfilled the directive in writing this play?
The only place we could do this play in real life is here in Denver. The Denver Center's on-staff artists are truly phenomenal. And everyone at the theater was so gung-ho about trying to take this technically challenging play and not only realize it in a sufficient way good enough to communicate what I was going for, but to actually execute it far beyond what I had dreamed.
I've had a lot of good fortune in Denver with the kind of theater I write. I'm in no rush to go back to Manhattan.
What are you working on now?
There's a musical version of Animal House in development, and I'm writing the book. It's a lucky gig to get: I'm working with the band Barenaked Ladies and the director Casey Nicholaw, who did The Book of Mormon. The day after Ed opens, I fly to Toronto to work with the band. And I'm also working on some movie scripts, which help to pay for my habit.
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