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14 March 2022

David Byrne On ‘American Utopia’, Optimism And Turning 70

David Byrne American Utopia Broadway
Photo: REUTERS/Jeenah Moon
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David Byrne has spoken to The Guardian about the continuing success of his show, American Utopia; staying optimistic; and turning 70.

Asked whether his intention for American Utopia has changed since he started performing it in 2019, Byrne answered, “I don’t know if my intention has changed, but the way an audience reacts changes all the time. When we were doing it in 2019 and early 2020, people were very anxious about the division in the country: ‘Who are we? Where are we going? What’s happening?’ The show gave them some sort of hope, but it was also very emotional.

“There’s a couple of lines where I quote a Dada artist who talks about war and nationalism, and immediately I can sense that the audience relates that to Ukraine. There’s this burst of applause. That’s what’s really interesting for me: you can kind of take the audience’s temperature. They react to different things depending on what they’re bringing in, what’s in their minds when they walk into the theatre.”

Byrne went on to discuss ways in which we can stay optimistic, pointing to his ongoing work, “I have a little news web magazine called Reasons To Be Cheerful, and we report on people who are finding solutions to things in the world. That gives me hope that everything’s not going downhill; there are people who are not just shouting about something.

Over the years, I think my temperament has become more optimistic. I can, in some ways, convey that to an audience without telling them, without saying, “Be hopeful”. I can show them. By what we do on stage, who we are and how we work together, they see evidence that things can be different.”

And on asking whether he had any big plans to celebrate his upcoming 70th birthday, Byrne was elusive, “Oh no. No. I want to avoid it. I may go away. I may travel a little bit to get away from any obligations to have a party with friends or whatever. Just like, let me go away… ‘I’m outta town! I’m sorry, I can’t do anything.’”

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