BWW Interviews: Michael Mitnick on ED, DOWNLOADED and the Progress of ANIMAL HOUSE The Musical
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by Michael Mulhern
On behalf of BroadwayWorld Mr. Mitnick, I just have to say how excited we are to have you and this fascinating show coming to the Denver Center!
Thank you, thank you, I'm really excited to be here. We're in the middle of tech right now. I hope we'll have a good show for you.
Tell me a little bit about your new play, Ed, Downloaded?
Yeah, Ed Downloaded is half play, half film. It's a love triangle. The story of a young guy named Ed who's dying from reasons that we don't go into and he's able to take part in a procedure. I should say that the play is set in the near future, and the subtitle is based on an eventual true story. And, he is able to download 10 memories from his life to go on loop, thus constructing a heaven of his own choosing. His fiancé works at one of these places.
There are two rules with the forevertery. One of the rules is that you're not allowed to look in the box to see which memories that people pick, and the second rule is you're not allowed to hook up a camera, speaker, and microphone to these boxes of downloaded minds and make the boxes aware. So, really, when you're in the box, your memories are just going on loop as though you were living them for the first time.
But, Ed has his mind downloaded, and has doubts, and looks inside the box and discovers that 7 out of 10 memories are with a woman that she never met. And that's the premise behind the plot.
How does the multimedia play into this as well, the film part?
So the first act you see is presented as a normal play, but during Ed's trip scene with the other woman, which is a walk in the woods or a clandestine trip to an art gallery, you then see those scenes in the second half on location actually in the woods, actually in an art gallery, and Ed's spurned fiancé, Feline, starts to mess with the memories, removing this other woman, Ruby, and then inserting herself and finally trying to torture Ed for hurting her.
So using multimedia we can have Ed onstage with himself several times in the video, and we can employ the special effect of Feline believing Ruby, replacing herself, and then trying many different variations on the same theme, so you get the fun of seeing the scene that was in act one played out in 20 different variations later and feline trying to correct Ed's mistake and then later making him pay for it.
Where did you receive the inspiration for this interesting concept?
The play started as a commission from the Denver Center about 3 years ago. The only directive was that it use multimedia. I knew when I was getting started with the writing that I didn't want to just use multimedia in projections and scenery as a cheap way to establish either front locations and those kinds of unproduced theme plays onstage. I wanted to make sure that the multimedia element was vital to the story telling and we're trying to do with this play so you can't actually do the play without the video half unless you had just a couple of actors of something of the sort. I'm working with the director, Sam Buntrock, who was nominated for a Tony for his Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George, a brilliant employment of animation to illustrate the creation of that painting. The two of us together, along with Charlie miller who is a good friend of mine and the resident video designer at the Denver Center, maybe multimedia specialist is his title, I'm actually not sure. We wanted to come together and make something that didn't feel fake or tricky, but a real hybrid of film and theatre. And the idea itself just came from the fact that I was reading some articles of life extension and that there might be a play in that idea in cryonics or cloning and came across this idea of memory downloading which has been around for a very long time, except now at this point in history the first time that it's actually possible. The only thing that's stopping it from becoming a procedure today, why we can't leave our homes and download our brains is actually not what I thought.
I thought there would be a problem in imaging and how do you capture a human mind and convert it to digital material which apparently is not a challenge at all and is done all the time, as you see with an MRI, but instead the problem is storage space and not something that people believe will be solved relatively shortly. Expanding on that idea, and think about what would I do if I could download my brain or download my memories, what would my memories be and then what would a dramatic situation be. Well, it would be someone would have some some expections than what I actually chose. And that began the play, and then I had to work really hard and we're still working all hard to make sure that the pyrotechnic of the beautiful video worked and set design and graphics on the state that level never seen before. I hope at the end what will be an emotional story and one that audiences on their way home will just think about you know maybe will conjure up a couple memories from my own life that I would pick.
So if there was a memory that you would like to have downloaded, what would that be? A favorite memory of yours.
Oh, gosh. I'm not sure, it's funny, during the tech prompt, during break, it's fun to look into people make their list, like texting memories to and from their significant others, and watched Sam Buntrock, our director do it but I almost feel afraid to even start thinking about that.
Now I have to know how the progress is going on one of my favorite movies soon to be a musical - Animal House? How is that going?
It's going quite well. We're making good progress with the musical and story and we've got a rather complete draft of the show and actually the day after the opening of Ed Downloaded, I get on a early morning flight and go to Toronto to and actually prepare for a second workshop.
Any challenges faced in scripting this beloved movie?
Oh absolutely, the movie is so hilarious and fantastic and beloved, there's a challenge in making sure that I sort of honor the movie and give audiences the moments and the characters that they remember and the lines of dialog that are outrageously funny that they can quote and that people come up to me all the time and make sure that their favorite line is in it, and at the same time trying to make the experience not completely predictable, I think it's not fun to go into a theatre and know how something is going to end. So it's a balance of being both faithful to not just the spirit of the original movie, but specific lines and plotline, but at the same time creating more of an emotional journey for some of the characters. If you look at the movie, Animal House, as it goes along, it becomes a bit more of schtick, we've been trying to just drop a thread through of the plotline at the beginning of the movie and not so much at the end without wrecking what is a fantastic movie.
If you were not in theater, what do you think that you would be doing in a parallel universe?
Oh my, I have a big interest in architecture and industrial design, so I imagine that. I also write musicals and compose music, so right before I went to drama school, I spent a good deal of time doing some film scoring, so I actually thought that was maybe what I would do.
Have you ever thought of it as a side project at all?
Film scoring? A little bit. Now that I'm writing more movies, I sometimes try to sneak little songs into the screenplays, but I don't think I would pull a Clint Eastwood and compose a full score . I want to keep my eyes on one part of the project and let people who do it much better than I come on board for that role.
Any projects in the works?
I have a new musical I co-wrote called, Fly by Night, that is having a second production at the Dallas Theatre Center, and 2 plays of mine are going to have been in California; one is called, Babs the DoDo, and that will be in Los Angeles, and then the world premiere of a play of mine called, Spacebar: a Broadway play by Kyle Sugarman, premieres in the spring at City Lights in San Jose/San Francisco.
I have to admit, I did see Elijah that played in Boulder, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.
Thank you so much for going. That was my thesis from grad school, and I'm very grateful that they did the play. I've had a lot of plays premiered in Denver/Boulder, also a short play in Aspen, and now Ed Downloaded at the Denver Center. I haven't had single play in Pittsburgh, where I'm from. But I find myself on a plane to Colorado every month or 2, and it's a great place to be.
I hope that continues, because do we love having your works here.
Thank you so much.
Again - thank you so much for speaking with me and BroadwayWorld today!!! You really are quite wonderful and a gifted playwright, and I look forward to seeing the premiere of your play Ed, Downloaded at the Denver Center!!!
Ed, Downloaded premieres at the Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC), playing The Ricketson Theatre now through February 17th, 2013. A DCTC commission, this world premiere was a staged reading at the 2012 Colorado New Play Summit. Tickets may be purchased now, by calling 303.893.4100 or visiting www.denvercenter.org.