Photo Courtesy Museum of Science
With an unusual mix of science, technology and art, James Wetzel, producer of the adult programs at the Museum of Science, coordinated the David Bowie Experience at the Charles Hayden Planetarium.
The audience, made up of many Bowie fans, were enchanted by the astronomy and abstract visuals, accompanied by some of Bowie’s most famous singles, such as “Fame,” “Heroes” and “Space Oddity.”
“I think who he was and his style of music fits and blends so perfectly with the planetarium,” Wetzel said, explaining the production of the show.
Throughout the show, the planetarium dome was filled with visuals that engulfed the audience, with many members feeling like they were traveling through outer space. Some of the visuals included scenes of a rocket launch, the rocky surfaces of Mars and other planets, as well as intergalactic travel through stars.
Some abstract visuals used were more psychedelic, such as traveling through a light tunnel. Gasps from the audience arose during some of these visuals as the whole dome seemed to be moving. The visuals were paired with the lyrics of Bowie’s hits, relating to the theme of the song.
Daniel Quinn, a member of the audience, had gone into the show not really knowing what to expect.
“I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it,” Quinn said. “But the theme of the music actually really matched the song.”
Another member of the audience, Laura Xavier, recalled the appealing and complementary visuals as well.
“It was interesting to see how many of David Bowie’s songs have space as a theme,” Xavier said. “It was a good wedding.”
The list of songs was also curated carefully, with each song embodying a different style, beat and tempo. Wetzel explained that when planning the show, the setlist is determined based on how each song flows with one another. In order to keep the audience engaged, there must be a balance between up-tempo and mellow moments.
Despite the producer’s close attention to the audience’s reaction, this experience was never initially planned as a show to the public.
“This sort of started as a tribute that our staff put together for us internally for us to pay tribute and started just as a meditation of playing his music underneath the stars and everyone to sort of just have a moment when the news broke,” Wetzel said. “Then we really thought that it was a great opportunity to open it up to the public.”
Coming from a theatre background, producing for years at the American Repertory Theater, Wetzel recalls his newfound interest after moving to the Museum of Science.
“When I came in, the first room that I fell in love with was the planetarium because I saw the potential of us to create immersive experiences in ways that nobody else in the city is able to do,” he said. “We’re the only ones with the planetarium.”
The planetarium acted as a medium where Wetzel could explore his creativity and create new ways to experience artists like Bowie. With a team of animators and artists, he was able to create a new and dynamic experience for the adult community.
“We want people to leave feeling like we paid tribute to this incredible musician whose influence still is in the industry and in culture,” he said. “We want people to come who are fans and remember him and experience his music in an immersive new way.”