I’m handed a set of headphones and a device small enough to stash in my pocket. It’s playing a recording. The narrator, a piece of artificial intelligence called “Heather,” directs me and my 49 companions (each in possession of their own headphones) to form a circle. Heather dubs us her “horde” before telling us to walk across a nearby field. My fellow zombies and I comply.
Listen, I know how this sounds. But I swear, this is not the beginning of an artificially intelligent-computer’s bid for world domination. It’s the beginning of Remote Denver, the latest piece of immersive theater to arrive in Denver.
Here’s the concept: Each “performance” of Remote Denver takes 50 headphone-clad “audience members” on a tour of downtown Denver that involves about two miles of walking, plus some time on the light rail. It’s not your typical sight-seeing tour, though, so don’t expect to see the Colorado State Capitol or the big blue bear. Instead, you’ll be walking down alleyways and exploring unnoticed spaces.
“Remote helps you see places from a totally different perspective and creates this lens through which to view reality,” says Charlie Miller, curator for Off-Center, the branch of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts that made Remote Denver possible. “It inspires you to see your city in a different way.”
Remote is the brainchild of an experimental German theater collective called Rimini Protokoll. Remote X, as the parent program is called, has been performed in various other cities, including Houston and Berlin. Miller knew Remote Denver would be the perfect project for Off-Center, which previously created immersive shows like Sweet & Lucky, Travelers of the Lost Dimension, and last fall’s the Wild Party. “Off-Center is all about nontraditional theater experiences,” says Miller. “And this definitely fit that bill.”
To make it happen, a representative of Rimini Protokoll visited in November 2017 and spent a week exploring the city, collaborating with the Off-Center team to figure out the best spots to include in the performance. Off-Center then secured permits and permission from each location. Finally, a team of three from Rimini spent two weeks in Denver, recording audio and testing the tour’s timing daily.
The result is a near-seamless walking tour that’s often light-hearted, but wanders into eerie, existential territory. One moment, the narrator encourages participants to treat Union Station’s underground walkway as a catwalk. The next, it takes a Shakespearean turn, comparing the station to a stage and wondering whether the “actors” waiting for their bus will one day stage their own death.
Remote Denver touches on other interesting concepts as well: the role of technology in human life, the organization and obedience needed to make a city operate, and the way people interact with strangers. “Having a voice talk to you in your ears is a very intimate experience, so it really works well to have these introspective moments,” says Miller. “But you also think about how you fit into the whole, both the group you’re traveling with on this experience and also the broader public and city you live in.”
The program achieves these goals, but rarely does it sacrifice fun, or at least a sense of wonder, to make its point.
If you go: Remote Denver runs until July 1. Wear good walking shoes. Find more information at denvercenter.org.