Theater of the Mind

We began referring to the project as a Neuro Funhouse, but as we worked on it we came to realize that it was evolving to be something more than that. It has made us rethink some of our own beliefs and assumptions, to see ourselves and the world in a different way, and we hope that it might have a similar effect on our audience." —David Byrne

All production photos by Matthew DeFeo.

Theater of the Mind was an immersive theatrical experience that ran for four months in a 15,000-square-foot industrial building in Denver’s York Street Yards, a World War II-era medical depot that has recently been adapted for makers and entrepreneurs. Created by the musician David Byrne and the investment manager and philanthropist Mala Gaonkar, the project built on their previous collaboration at Pace Art + Technology, The Institute Presents: Neurosociety, which contextualized contemporary brain research in an art gallery setting in Silicon Valley. With Theater of the Mind, guides led small groups of attendees through a series of sensory experiments that demonstrated how fungible our consensual reality actually is.

Directed by immersive theater director Andrew Scoville and presented by the Off-Center program at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, it took the form of a narrative and emotional journey, with eight stops along the way that presented distorted memories from Byrne's past. Each of these eight rooms was constructed to bring you on a narrative and emotional journey, but also to create the right conditions for certain neurological and perceptual phenomena to occur. One was based on a study called "Being Barbie" where you experience being inside a child-size body using 24K video patched into Unity, then networked to 16 virtual reality stations. For another, the team blasted photo lights into a light-sealed room at specific time frames to generate ghostly afterimages in the participants' retinas.