About The Neos
A Not-So-Quick History of The Neo-Futurists:
Although originally created as an ensemble to perform a specific show, The Neo-Futurists have grown to become one of the most highly regarded experimental theater companies in America. From humble beginnings as the first late-night theater production in Chicago, we have expanded into a company that mounts full seasons of adventurous, smart, interactive theater while still pursuing the ideas that inspired our creation. Although we pride ourselves on focusing on the future, below we will look at the trail blazed in the past.
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind opened at Stage Left Theater in Chicago on December 2nd, 1988. Conceived and directed by Greg Allen, the show was written and performed with an eight-person ensemble and billed as “an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 Plays in 60 Minutes.” The show promised an emotional and intellectual roller-coaster of ideas and images ridden at break-neck speed by a participating audience. Allen created the formula for Too Much Light from an amalgam of different influences: In typical postmodern fashion, a theory was borrowed from here, a form was stolen from there. From our namesakes, the Italian Futurists, came the exultation of speed, brevity, compression, dynamism, and the explosion of preconceived notions (although not the warlike fascist tendencies). From Dada and Surrealism came the joy of randomness and the thrill of the unconscious. From the theatrical experiments of the 1960’s came audience interaction, breaking down all notions of distance, character, setting, and illusion. Finally, from the political turmoil of the 1980’s came a socially conscious voice and a low-tech, “poor theater” format. This aesthetic, embraced by an ensemble of highly dedicated, talented writer/performers, became Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind.
Premiering new plays every week, Too Much Light gained momentum with an audience of young adventurous theatergoers as it entered 1989. June 10th, 1989 marked its first sold-out performance which was celebrated by ordering pizza for the audience (a ritual that continues to this day). Our first anniversary shows in December garnered national press which, along with enthusiastic word of mouth, catapulted us into a run of sold-out performances which extended over two years and included a move to Live Bait Theater. During this period, we officially incorporated as a 501(c)3 Not-For-Profit Organization, took TML on its first sold-out tour to New York City, and mounted our second original Neo-Futurist production, Leary (An Expansion of a Deconstruction with Extracontextualization), also premiering at Live Bait. On Valentine’s Day 1992, the Neo-Futurists proudly opened their own space, appropriately dubbed The Neo-Futurarium. Situated over a funeral home in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, the new permanent space boasted a 150-seat theater, a lobby/rehearsal space of equal size, a kitchen, and a dozen other small, funky rooms. Audiences soon filled the new expanded theater and, in September 1992, we added a weekly third night of Too Much Light on Sundays at 7pm.
Using the new theater as a solid home base, The Neo-Futurists expanded into even greater artistic productivity with new ventures in 1993. We were invited to perform at The Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York where we made our Off-Broadway debut, our first book of scripts was published under the title 100 Neo-Futurist Plays from Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, and we produced our first prime-time Neo-Futurist hit, Jeffrey Jones’ 70 Scenes of Halloween, which extended its run to sold-out houses and won a spot on critics’ “Best Shows of the Year” lists. In 1993, TML began extensive touring, making its third visit to New York and its first West Coast appearances in Seattle and San Francisco. Audiences were so enthusiastic that the company was obliged to add a third, impromptu performance at 1am on its final Saturday night in San Francisco!
1995 was another landmark year for the company. On the same day in February, we received an invitation to perform at the first HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado, and an offer to make our first appearance overseas as the American entry at an international theater festival in Transylvania, Romania. We heartily accepted both and received warm (but culturally very different) welcomes in the two cities. 1995 also held the second printing of our book, a return tour to the West Coast in the fall, and the opening of our New York company for a two year run of TML in Soho. The next year we further established our prime-time seasons in Chicago with two new performance formats: Summer Shorts, an evening dedicated to rare and obscure scripts by other playwrights who explore the short form, and Neo Mondo Solo, featuring longer solo works written, directed, and performed by individual Neo-Futurists. In the following years, this framework gave rise to such highly regarded pieces as David Kodeski’s Niagara: You Should Have Been Yosemite, Anita Loomis’ Female Deviations, Greg Allen’s My Father, The Chair, and You Are Not Here which featured four Neo-Futurist women in a “group/solo” performance.
Our 1996 season opened with our original adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, simply called K.. The show’s original run was doubled through January of 1997, then remounted as one of the Chicago Park District’s encore productions at Theater On The Lake. It then toured to New York for the first New York International Fringe Theater Festival, where it won the Best Director Award for Greg Allen. Back in Chicago Greg also won an After Dark Award for K. for “Outstanding New Work”. Later that year, we also saw our first production move from New York to Chicago. In the summer, Greg Kotis’s Jobey & Katherine premiered at the New York home of TML and was then remounted to open our 1997-98 season in Chicago. We concluded 1997 with the release of our first CD, featuring live and studio recordings of plays from TML, and a special weekend celebrating our 1000th performance and 100,000th audience member.
The end of the millennium continued to hold a voluminous outpouring of Neo-Futurist artistic activity, public honors, and company expansion. We grew our administrative support by hiring two full-time staff positions and expanded our facility to take over two adjoining offices. We created a very successful fundraising event featuring 30 Bands in 60 Minutes. Connor Kalista and Greg Allen’s collaborations, Crime & Punishment: A (mis)Guided Environmental Tour With Literary Pretensions and Boxing Joseph Cornell, both enjoyed extended runs with sold-out houses. David Kodeski’s Another Lousy Day won our third After Dark Award. For three years running we performed at Theater On The Lake to thousands of new audience members. We appeared on National Public Radio’s This American Life, All Things Considered and Anthem, and were repeatedly featured on WTTW’s Wild Chicago! and Art Beat. Our work was commissioned by the Arts Club of Chicago, PBS, and The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, as well as being turned into a state-of-the-art computer animated short film called Bingo! by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chris Landreth. We toured to the Cleveland Public Theater, The Present Company Theatorium in New York City, Dad’s Garage in Atlanta, and the Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York, where we christened their new Nextstage space. Our sister-theater relationship with Dad’s Garage continued with reciprocal touring, director exchanges, and staging each others’ original scripts.
In the summer of 2000 we had two simultaneous award-winning hit productions at two International Fringe theater festivals: TML won the prestigious Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett As Found In An Envelope (partially burned) In A Dustbin In Paris Labeled “Never to be performed. Never. Ever! EVER! Or I”ll Sue! I”LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!!” won an Overall Excellence Award for Comedy at the New York International Fringe Festival. That same summer Sean Benjamin’s show Devolution followed its successful run at the Neo-Futurarium with a run commissioned by Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs at the Storefront Theater. We returned to open our fifth full season of prime-time premieres with Connor Kalista and Rachel Claff”s Curious Beautiful, which turned the paintings of Vermeer into an environmental installation piece. At year’s end, The Chicago Tribune dubbed the production “the most transcendent show of the year.” We continued our season with Greg Allen’s Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, a show that promised to put the final nail in the coffin of comedy by analyzing it to death, with help from Freud, Bergson, and Milton Berle. Jokes sold-out its extended ten-week run and was then commissioned for an encore production in the summer of 2001 by an Oregon-based film company whose film is now available on VHS and YouTube.
In March of 2001 we were commissioned to produce “phone plays” for the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville. This began a long relationship with ATL that has extended to teaching residencies in Neo-Futurism and commissions for other original productions in Louisville. Our 2001-2002 season included three of our most innovative and well-received premieres to date. Called a “small masterpiece” by the Chicago Tribune, Greg Allen”s H2O explored the glorious agony and hideous ecstasy of love using three actor/dancers, slide projections, 1950’s doo-wop music, and lots and lots of water. By years end it was named one of “The Best Shows of 2001” by the Chicago Sun-Times and Gay Chicago. Andy Bayiates then led an ensemble of five Neo-Futurists to write, direct, and perform 43 Plays for 43 Presidents, which soon became one of our best-attended prime-time shows to date, selling out its extended nine-week run. Our friends at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta produced the show later in 2002 where it was attended by one of its subjects – President Jimmy Carter – shortly after he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. The season closed with our first-ever musical, Noelle Krimm’s City Girl!, a meta-theatrical production which set musical conventions on their ear, much to the delight of the audience.
In the summer of 2002 The Neo-Futurists staged its first run of It Came From The Neo-Futurarium – staged readings of some of the worst films of the 20th century, which played for ten straight summers to adoring audiences. Our seventh season opened with Drinking & Writing, a show that explored the link between alcohol and great literature. Performed in a local tavern, the show was our first wholly site-specific piece and proved so successful that it has launched two other versions of the show, an ongoing public radio show, and its own theater company/brewery.
We had an outrageously busy summer of 2003 that included seven touring productions. The Neo-Futurists took their shows H20, Drinking & Writing, City Girl!, and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious along with TML on the road to such places as Theater on the Lake, The Minneapolis Fringe Theater Festival, The New York International Fringe Theater Festival, and a festival in Beaver Creek Colorado, racking up some stunning press and awards while doing so. City Girl! was awarded “Best Musical” in Minneapolis and Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious was named “Best of the Fringe” by the New York Sun. Drinking & Writing was a huge audience favorite at the Minneapolis Fringe, Beaver Creek, Dad’s Garage, and at the Metropolis Theater in Arlington Heights, Illinois, where the Neo-Futurists ran ongoing performances of TML on Wednesday nights.
The original New York branch of The Neo-Futurists ran in the mid-1990’s for three years before longtime Neo-Futurist Greg Kotis moved on to write the Tony Award-winning Urinetown, forcing them to go on an extended break from performance. In the winter of 2003/2004, Neo-Futurists John Pierson and Greg Allen restarted the New York branch of The Neo-Futurists with auditions and workshops in Brooklyn with New York Neo Rob Neill. After a couple moves from Brooklyn to Midtown to Soho, The New York Neo-Futurists have found a permanent home for productions at the Kraine Theater in the East Village and continue to perform there every Friday and Saturday night, bringing Neo-Futurism to New Yorkers.
Our 2004/2005 season began with Noelle Krimm’s environmentally staged adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, simply called Alice. Incorporating a half-dozen other Chicago theater companies, Alice took the audience in small groups led by “Rabbits” out into the streets of Andersonville where they found bizarrely different takes on each chapter of the book set in art galleries, restaurants, taverns, and alleys. This daytime show literally sold out every available ticket and amazed and amused many of our neighbors. Immediately following Alice we opened our first children’s production Too Much Light Kids!, bringing our “30 Plays in 60 Minutes” formula to the elementary school experience. The show ran very successfully on and off for a year and gave our older fans a great opportunity to share their TML experience with their kids. Chloe Johnston produced the lyrical Patriots, using the lives of two very different Americans, Walt Whitman and Strom Thurmond, to contemplate the nature of patriotism in a country of freedom. At season’s end we were invited by Performing Arts Chicago to remount productions for their annual PAC/Edge Festival and we gladly included Too Much Light Kids!, Drinking & Writing, a Neo-Futurist Performance Workshop, and Windmilled: Tilting at Don Quixote, Sharon Greene’s personal take on the Cervantes classic.
Our 2005/2006 season included an eclectic mix of new works. Ryan Walters led a team of Neo-Futurist men on an inquiry into masculinity and risk-taking in the physically challenging Daredevils. Many bruised elbows and egos later, Daredevils was invited by the city of Chicago to be remounted along with the best off-loop shows of the year at Theater on the Lake. Daredevils was followed by our first-ever Christmas show, Sean Benjamin’s The Santa Abductions, which turned the story of Santa on its head with troubling political implications. Neo-Futurist Dean Evans won our fourth After Dark Award for his creepy performance in Santa. In the spring of 2006, Greg Allen used his uncle’s experiences with the Manhattan Project to address the history of American military atrocities in A Child’s History of Bombing. This two-man show sparked much debate, concluding with an analysis of the war in Iraq.
Our 2006-07 home season opened with Jay Torrence’s brilliant Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck which took the true story of a military train’s collision with a traveling circus to absurd and hauntingly beautiful dimensions. In the summer of 2007, Roustabout became our eighth production to be remounted by the city of Chicago at Theater on the Lake. Dean Evans created Drag, a collaboratively built musical revue exploring gender and its malcontents, staged entirely in our lobby space. Greg Allen polled more then 2,000 Americans from all 50 states to write You Asked For It, a double bill of the Most and Least Wanted plays in America. And Sean Benjamin wrote Poker Night At The White House, a farce about the Warren G. Harding Presidency with unfortunate modern resonance.
In the 2007-08 season, we explored several different avenues of experimentation as theme and form. John Pierson created and devised with a varied ensemble of performers the visual and sonic performance work The Fool (returns to his chair), which featured as a central design element over a hundred plastic milk crates. Greg Allen delved into one of the inspirations for Neo-Futurism with the installation piece Mr. Fluxus, allowing audiences to watch or participate in exhibits inspired by George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, and others. The original play Contraption, written and directed by Bilal Dardai, unearthed historical inventors both well-known and forgotten and asked if their contributions to society were a result of their mental illnesses, all while staging a Rube Goldberg device throughout the evening. Finally, a massive group of writer-performers came together to create Picked Up, which dissected the tropes of modern television by staging six original “pilot” scripts and asking the audience to decide which one might be “picked up” for a full season.
The 2008-09 season began, quite literally, with a splash–Sharon Greene’s autobiographical meditation on youth and the environment, Fake Lake, was staged in the Welles Park swimming pool to great acclaim. It was followed by our original holiday offering A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol, created by Kristie Koehler Vuocolo, which offered a new, deconstructive and occasionally sparkly and spectacular spin on the timeless Dickens classic. We went offsite again with Sean Benjamin and Steve Mosqueda’s show BEER, staged in Andersonville’s local Metropolitan Brewery, a rock musical about the brewing process featuring several ingenious puppets. And we capped off the season by performing away from our home space yet again–Greg Allen’s controversial, five-hour staging of Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude was performed as part of the Goodman Theatre’s O’Neill festival, to both high praise and angry, vocalized walk-outs.
Noelle Krimm brought back her considerable skills as an artistic curator–previously employed for 2004’s Alice–to a new Halloween show, FEAR, that at the beginning of our 2009-10 season turned the Neo-Futurarium into a thinking person’s haunted house inspired by the works of Poe. Greg Allen went back to his roots as a photography enthusiast and examined the nature of still images and memory in his show I AM A CAMERA. The season ended with the unique and exciting CRISIS: A Musical Game Show, created by John Pierson with collaborators Dan Kerr-Hobert and Clifton Frei. In CRISIS, the still tumultuous world economy and the mercilessness of the corporate ladder were transformed into a satirical game show featuring original musical numbers–and in which the audience could compete against each other for the chance to win up to a third of the box office each evening.
In 2010, Ryan Walters revived his 2005 hit Daredevils with a Shakespearean sequel: Daredevils Hamlet, in which the same ideas of masculinity and risk were coupled with the classic play’s themes of revenge, thought vs. action, and fathers and sons. The New York Neo-Futurists transplanted their whimsical fantasy Laika Dog in Space to Chicago, telling a new fable about the first earth creature to be launched beyond our atmosphere. And Mary Fons created Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter, a tour de force cabaret show about her oft-noted resemblance to the Broadway legend, touching on themes of identity, the drive to succeed, and whether or not Mary could be satisfied with the life she had instead of the life she imagined.
The 2011-12 season saw some of our boldest and most beloved work to date, beginning with John Pierson’s year-long devised work Chalk & Saltwater: The Ladder Project, a journalistic and often farcical adventure into the history of the longest-running theatrical failure in history–a play called The Ladder, which lost millions of dollars but continued playing due to one man’s force of will. The Christmas season featured our production of Jay Torrence’s Burning Bluebeard, a simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking evocation of the 1903 Iroquois Theater fire that killed hundreds of innocent patrons. And Greg Allen returned to the literary world by combining two famous fictional man-made creatures into a narrative about morality and the unfair distribution of forgiveness, in The Strange and Terrible True Tale of Pinocchio (the wooden boy) as Told By Frankenstein’s Monster (the wretched creature).
2012-13 has been one in which we have both looked back and to the future, beginning with an election-year remount and reimagining of the naturally retitled 44 Plays for 44 Presidents. We also premiered new shows by new prime-time creators Kurt Chiang and Megan Mercier. Chiang’s Analog offered a stark, abstract, and often joyous reflection on the process of writing, the ferocity of memory, and the nature of compulsion, filtered through the deeply personal story of his battle and eventual defeat of cancer. Mercier created The Miss Neo Pageant, written and performed by a cadre of brash, confident females, exploring modern femininity, competition, pageantry, and what it means for young women to fit into assigned gender roles.
2013-14, our 25th Anniversary season, opened with a unique endeavor for the company, by inviting a similarly minded artist from Australia to come perform her show Sweet Child of Mine, which she had created alongside her mother and father in a hilarious look at the gulf between artists and their tolerant–if occasionally confused–parents. There will also be new plays from veteran creator Bilal Dardai (The Sovereign Statement, a Neo-Futurist “political thriller” that draws on the history of historical micro-nations) and first-time creator Trevor Dawkins (Haymaker, which takes as source material an action movie that Dawkins wrote as a child and uses it to examine his history with fighting and violence).
Other highlights of the past few years have included a series of years touring to Washington D.C.’s noted Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the growth of our education offerings and ensemble, a series of successful Pride performances that raised thousands of dollars for LGBT-supportive charities, the giant-sized, 10th Anniversary It Came From The Neo-Futurarium!, and, of course, the ongoing success of TML. As we head into our 29th year, we continue to look for ways to push ourselves and our audiences by experimenting with the art.