Having made his mark in many mediums over the decades, David Byrne—of Talking Heads fame—is an artist of every facet. From his legendary musical creations to sharing his findings of the medium in his non-fiction treatise How Music Works, from his keen theatrical senses and output to his strikingly humble “tree drawings”: David Byrne is a born creator. And after its world premiere was delayed in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic, David Byrne and writer Mala Gaonkar are primed to reveal their immersive experience Theater of the Mind.
Set to debut at the end of August and run to December 18th, Theater of the Mind will be premiering in Denver, Colorado in conjunction with the Denver Centre for the Performing Arts. Claimed to be a fusion of neuroscience research, interactivity, and biographical-adjacent events from Byrne and Gaonkar’s lives, the project was initially described by the team as a “Neuro Funhouse”, but has since grown beyond even that tantalizingly cerebral concept. The project is now labelled as “an immersive journey inside how we see and create our worlds.”
The project will be mounted in a 15,000 square-foot repurposed warehouse. The experience is apparently to be led by a guide who carries the story that comes from the story threads of Byrne and Gaonkar. The experience aims to turn the audience’s eyes inward and explore perception, senses, and the way we build mental worlds—the conceptual theatre of the mind that the show’s title seems to aptly jump off from. This introspection of course seems to come with Byrne’s characteristic whimsy and care, info on the show accompanied with a warning:
“Caution: the brain may wander. Side effects may include a distrust of your own senses, a disorientation of self, and a mild to severely good time. You may not be who you think you are. But we’re all in it together.”
While David Byrne is much more readily noted by the public, Mala Gaonkar is less publicly renowned and strikes as an interesting creative partner for this project. Gaonkar is primarily a portfolio manager with investment firm Lone Pine Capital and co-founder and chairman of Surgo Ventures, a company that seeks to use behavioural science data and technology trends to spearhead non-profits aimed at improving public health. It is an interesting partnership, to say the least, and it also includes director Andrew Scoville, a specialist in immersive performance and hybrid theatre—seemingly a perfect fit to helm the project.
While much of what this project still exists only in the show’s namesake, Theater of the Mind rings of what makes modern theatre exciting. It deconstructs the form, blurs the line of theatre norms, and has a prime directive at making its audiences think about what they’re participating in. David Byrne has already had great success through his Broadway hit American Utopia, and it can be surmised that this project will be met with the same enthusiasm.