The Denver Center Theatre Company has long been a pioneer in the creative use of multi-media, and four years ago artistic director Kent Thompson commissioned a work from playwright Michael Mitnick. The intention was to have multi-media considered from the earliest conceptual stages rather than being "layered into a script that doesn't demand it," says Charlie Miller, the production's video designer. The result, Ed, Downloaded, which opens January 11, is "one of the only plays I've seen where video is essential to the storytelling," he explains. "At the same time, it's not a movie. It could never be a movie."
Ed, Downloaded postulates a futuristic world in which the memories of the dead can be downloaded and preserved in a place called the Forevertary. Ed, a young married man, meets an enchanting new woman through his work at a museum. When he dies unexpectedly, his memories are preserved. Eventually -- to her shock and distress -- his wife discovers them.
The play presents many challenges, according to Miller: "It's two-thirds of a play and half of a movie. We couldn't create the half-movie until the actors showed up about four weeks ago. We shot at eleven different locations around Jefferson County, Boulder and Denver, but we couldn't film for real until we had a bit of rehearsal. So there was a week and a half of rehearsal, we shot for a week and a half, then we were editing frantically -- a month's worth of editing happening in two weeks. Before we shot all the real footage, we did a scratch version so the actors could start to work with it. Act two is one actress and video, playing off each other.
"What Michael has done that I think is really smart and creative, he's telling a story about technology's impact on our lives and a future where death is replaced by technology and he's using technology to tell that story," Miller continues. "In the play, there's this tension between the real death and technological death, and he plays that out dramatically by having this tension between live humans and video'd humans. So it works on many different levels.
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"There's a scene acted onstage on a set, then in act two there are actors in the same costumes on a real street corner in Boulder, so you've seen the theatrical version and then you see the cinematic version. Cinema is much more realistic, theater is representational and metaphorical, and the play explores the differences between those forms."
The play, which opens on Friday, January 11, is being directed by Sam Buntrock, who received critical acclaim and a Tony nomination for his 2008 revival of Sondheim's Sunday in the Park With George. Buntrock "likes to talk about cinema as inherently past tense, whereas theater is inherently present tense," says Miller. "Because the play is about memory and all the videos are memories, that really showcases those ideas."
Ed, Downloaded was given a reading at last year's New Play Summit. Since then it has gone through many revisions and been workshopped in New York; the tech has also become more sophisticated. Set designer Jim Kronzer, who created the elegant and hypnotic moving platforms that were the highlight of When Tang Met Laika at the Center a few years back, has also created a series of intriguing visual surprises for the audience, Miller says.