Soon to celebrate their twelfth anniversary in Chicago, the Neo Futurists will spend three spring nights in New York City, offering their landmark evening of short plays, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind at the Present Company Theatorium on Stanton Street. Held on three successive Tuesdays (April 11, 18 and 25), the show marks a brief Manhattan return for the company, whose last visit was exactly a year ago.
Cast-members in the upcoming visit include longtime Neo Futurist Ayun Halliday (whose real-life motherhood gave birth to the play Neonatal Sweetpotato), her husband Greg Kotis, Bill Coelius and Spencer Kayden. Kotis and Mark Hollmann's satirical musical, Urinetown!, had an extended run as part of 1999's New York International Fringe Festival and is expected to get a commercial production Off- or Off-Off-Broadway in the fall.
Neo-Futurism was founded in 1988 by director/playwright Greg Allen. He was "tired of doing theatre for just my friends" and created the wildly successful Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, a collection of 30 plays in an hour where the audience has the opportunity to choose the order in which the plays are done.
Allen, a teacher of theatre history at Columbia College, bases his performance theories on the Futurist Manifestos of F.T. Marinetti. "Futurism," an artistic movement based on speed, movement and violence, was founded in 1910 by Marinetti. Allen told Playbill On-Line, "I wanted to explore the performance theories of Futurism, Dada, and Environmental Theatre. What I saw in the Futurist theories was speed and incredible energy, even today his theories are considered outrageous."
Deconstruction is, of course, par for the course in Too Much Light. The Neo-Futurist troupe mixes and matches forms ranging from the avant-garde, sketch comedy, poetry, one-act plays, monologues and agit prop. Plays can range from less than ten seconds to a maximum length of about five minutes. An on stage timer keeps everyone apprised of the time left in the evening. Other fun, audience-friendly elements of the show include the entrance and admission: audience members pay $4 and then roll a single die to determine the ticket price. In other words, a ticket is no less than $5 but no more than $10.
Plays are not done in a particular order. Papers with the numbers 1-30 are strung along a clothesline above the actors' heads. As soon as one play ends, the menu-holding audience members shout out numbers of the play they want to see next. The first number grabbed off the line becomes the next play.
The troupe have penned more than 500 plays and even recorded a spoken-word CD of their pieces. (Some titles on the CD include Loud Song, Grasping The Situation, Dialectical Materialism Of A Schnook, The Real Name Of This Play Has Never Been Spoken And Perhaps Can Never Be Said and Droplet. A book of 100 Neo-Futurist plays from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind is available from Chicago Plays, Inc.
As ever, TMLMTBGB runs Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 PM, Sundays at 7 PM at the troupe's own Neo-Futurarium in Chicago. For information, call their Chicago hotline at (773) 275 5255.
For information on the New York engagement, call (212) 330 8087.
-- By David Lefkowitz and Sean McGrath