By 2050, dying really will just be the beginning of a new life. You’ll still exist—as a computerized, molecule-for-molecule replica of your own brain, detailed enough to experience consciousness, emotions and downloaded memories from your biological years. That bold prediction, from noted British futurologist Ian Pearson, sparked Michael Mitnick’s new multimedia play Ed, Downloaded, which premieres at Denver Center Theatre Company through Feb. 17.
Directed by Sam Buntrock (who helmed the 2008 Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George), the play begins as a straightforward, three-character stage comedy, set some four decades from now. But then, the young but terminally ill protagonist, Ed, decides to spend his earthly fortunes on the kind of download Pearson foresees—so that after his death, his electronic brain can experience his 10 favorite memories on an infinite loop, all within the confines of a glowing box kept in a “forevertery.” Shortly after Ed’s death, his spurned fiancée, Selene, illegally taps into Ed’s memories, doesn’t like what she finds, and begins tampering with their storylines, much to the confusion of virtual Ed.
These memories play out on film projections, shot with the same actors in nearby locations, settings that are also depicted onstage: an art museum, the woods, and the street corner where two characters first meet. “We scouted tons of street corners, and they’ve re-created the chosen street corner onstage for the very first scene in the play,” Mitnick notes. To pull off the narrative effect, the onstage actors interact with their filmed selves in real time: “It’s like one long recorded song, and the actor is one of the musical instruments and has to come in at the right places.”
Mitnick, who is also writing lyrics for a king-sized Australian production of King Kong and the book for the Broadway-bound musical adaptation of Animal House (with a score by the cheeky Canadian band Barenaked Ladies), says that despite the fun in all this stage-film interplay, he’s very cognizant of not letting the conceptual cart lead the narrative horse: “We’ve all had to keep our eye very clearly on the story that we’re trying to tell,” he says. “That’s why Act 1 is all live-action, and we don’t even really get into talking about ‘foreverteries’ until the fourth scene in the play. It’s making sure there’s an emotional journey and a real story going on.”