There is intelligence at play — and at work — in “Remote Denver," the frisky collaboration between Off-Center and Rimini Protokoll. The former is the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ lab for differently engaged theater. The latter is a German-based cohort of creatives dedicated to probing the elasticity and vitality of performance. (A book about their work carries the charming title “Experts of the Everyday.” )
Then there are the quandaries about artificial intelligence and humans raised by Heather, our guide. Heather’s is the voice carried by headphones participants don at the start of the adventure. (This is not true AI but a scripted rumination on it.) If “Rausch” (see “Into the Woods” post) poses questions about the tango of “participant-observer,” this peripatetic outing’s central themes address the "participant-listener.”
During the excursion that winds its way through parts of downtown Denver, most if not all of our gestures as an audience will be nudged, coaxed, dictated by Heather. Early on, she referred to us, the walking collective, as a “horde” or “herd.” "Did she say ‘Whore?’ " I kept mumbling. Not because I didn’t hear her but because I kinda feel like a whore when asked to do stuff by a fictional being or when I’m asked to trade away my free-will in a crowd. It felt like a double whammy here.
In notes even more rough-hewn than usual, I scribbled a few associations triggered by “Remote Denver," among them: HAL. Westworld. Fascism. Germany. Disembodied voices, after all, have a troubling history of influencing herd/horde behavior. And so I thought about radio’s role in Rwanda’s genocide; and about talk radio’s gift for creating heated divisions, a tendency that has been carried into the Twitter-sphere. Given the German roots of Rimini Protokoll, I imagine these creatives wouldn’t be thrown by such tangents. Questions about compliance and resistance are soft-wired into the experience. Heather's also thoughtful about eternity and mortality.
Still, there's whimsy to be had. On the more chipper side, “Remote Denver” had me thinking about Spike Jonze’s “Her.” About the resurgence of hallucinogens; it's pretty trippy. Even about Ryan Reynolds in the rom-com “Definitely, Maybe.” It’s a Walkman-through-the-streets kind of association. And, yup, Reynolds is just fun to think about.
“Will you trust me?” Heather asks this question in one form or another on a few occasions. Hers is an unfettered voice needling us about our bodies, which are moving through spaces with a tweaked kind of awareness: a curated, philosophical awareness. She’s the omniscient presence and we’re the actors. Or is that puppets? She’ll mix assumptions (about us) with observations that underscore the deep choreography that went into crafting this experience.
Speaking of dancing: You may feel foolish, or freed, waltzing or boogeying with the herd near the 16th Street Mall. You may resist some of Heather’s more bossy commands. I consistently wondered at the many binary assertions she appeared to embrace: about gender, about bodies, about the tension between “naturalness” and “artificiality,” even about stairs versus escalators. But Heather’s subjectivity isn’t yours. Try to remember that: even though her voice is in your head, even though she assumes an intimate knowledge of what’s going on in our noggins.
Because it’s a quality I love both in film and theater — in language, period — the lack of silence once things got underway was noticeable. When Heather’s not yammering, there’s often an electronic drum-kit beat. That can be kinda cool, mildly cinematic: our own soundtrack. It’s probably unsurprising that this observation took shape onboard a light-rail train where looking out the window created a series of personal tracking shots.
“Remote Denver” runs through July 1. The evening I went, 50 of us of various ages and genders comprised the ambling audience. (That's the cutoff number.) The weather early in the day — hot and sunny — was a concern. But this is Colorado and late afternoon cloud cover transformed a 90-degree day into a pleasant evening.
By journey’s end, step-counters will have clocked more than 4000. There are spaces and places you may choose to return to at a later date. (Off-Center provides a cheeky, annotated map for further exploration.) I was touched and intrigued that the launch pad for “Remote Denver” is the Bridge Project building at the northwest corner of La Alma/Lincoln Park. Take a peek. Turns out this is just one of four sites run by an organization that provides space for kids growing up in nearby housing projects. (It was born out of University of Denver’s grad school of social work in 1991.)
If there’s a counter revelation on the journey (that is also weirdly delightful), it may be the unexpected tennis court. Ah, the nooks and crannies of a city.
Photos for this post: Participants run through an alley in downtown Denver (AdamsVisCom); Heather get the horde to take a group selfie reflected by a window (AdamsVisCom); An act of selfie resistance (yours truly).
Credit when credit is due: A collaboration between Rimini Protokoll and the DCPA's Off-Center. Through July 1. Tickets $30. denvercenter.org or 800.641.1222