About The Neos
Since the troupe’s inception in 1988, The Neo-Futurists have grown to become one of the most highly regarded experimental theater companies in America. To view a gallery of the ensembles past and present, go here.
TOO MUCH LIGHT…
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind opened at Stage Left Theater in Chicago on December 2nd, 1988. Initially conceived and directed by Greg Allen, the show was written and performed by 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 rollercoaster of ideas and images ridden at breakneck speed by a participating audience. Too Much Light was devised 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 would eventually become the guiding principle of all work produced by The Neo-Futurists.
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. 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. On Valentine’s Day, 1992, the company moved yet again to its permanent space, The Neo-Futurarium, a labyrinthine former dance hall and library in the heart of Andersonville. The 150-seat theater with several quirky side rooms was situated above the Nelson Funeral Home (later the Great Lakes Clinical Trials facility), and allowed the ensemble to explore environmental work and staging in non-traditional spaces. In September 1992, the company expanded their weekly show schedule to include a 7pm performance on Sundays.
A number of local gigs and tours also took the company and its artists to cities and venues throughout the United States, where their work could be experienced by audiences beyond Chicago’s city limits. Among these command performances were regular engagements at Dad’s Garage in Atlanta; Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC; multiple trips to Fringe Festivals in New York City, Edinburgh, and Minneapolis; and a yearly tradition of performing at the Midwest FurFest. In 1995 a contingent of Chicago ensemble members and newly cast Neo-Futurists built a two-year run in SoHo as the first iteration of the New York Neo-Futurists. The company also published scripts from Too Much Light in three books and a series of handmade zines, as well as producing an album of recorded plays and several filmed versions of individual works. In 2013 the company produced its first “literary anthology,” The Neo-Futurists: Body, which included a selection of essays, poems, and interviews with artists that members of the ensemble found influential to their work.
TML continued to draw both new and repeat audiences in Chicago for 28 years before Allen made the decision to rescind the company’s license to perform using his trademarks on November 30, 2016. The final Chicago performance of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind was December 31, 2016. At the time of the show’s closing, the collective of 70+ ensemble members, as well as guest artists from the New York Neo-Futurists (est. 2004) and San Francisco Neo-Futurists (est. 2013) had created 9,775 unique plays for the Chicago production.
In 2017, all three branches embarked on a collaborative attempt to create a new late-night show that embraced many of the aesthetic principles of the original Too Much Light.
As the ensemble grew and changed, adding artists from various backgrounds and experiences into their ranks, they began to explore long-form theatrical work that fit within the Neo-Futurist aesthetic. While some of these were written or devised by artists outside of the company and then produced by The Neo-Futurists, the majority were developed by the ensemble themselves. Internally, these became known as “Prime Time” shows to distinguish them from the late-night schedule of TML.
These world-premiere works allowed the artists to tell true stories of a personal and global nature and engage with their audiences in ways that shorter work could not. Many of these shows received great critical acclaim and played to full, enthusiastic houses. Some of these shows went beyond their original Neo-Futurist production lives to become the foundations of entirely new theatrical endeavors, such as The Ruffians and The Drinking & Writing Theater. The company also mounted several beloved solo shows by ensemble members who would become stalwarts of Chicago’s burgeoning “live literature” scene. For ten years, The Neo-Futurists also produced It Came From The Neo-Futurarium!, a weekly summer festival of staged readings of “the best bad movies of the 20th Century.”
With each new season of prime-time work, the artists of the ensemble have pushed each other to experiment with form and content. Neo-Futurist shows utilize artistic disciplines ranging from poetry to clown, from film to gaming, from works that are painfully personal to those that illuminate current or historical events. Prime Time shows have been staged with spare sets and lighting or devised in a massive, site-specific undertaking at a brewery or swimming pool; they have had casts of two and casts of 20. A complete history of the company’s Prime-Time work, including synopses, reviews, and media, can be found here.
In the forthcoming 2017 season, the Neo-Futurists are proud to present Leah Urzendowski and Anthony Courser’s The? Unicorn? Hour?, Dan Kerr-Hobert and Caitlin Stainken’s The Food Show, the Neo-Lab process for Kirsten Riiber’s Tangles & Plaques, and new presentations of Kurt Chiang and Lily Mooney’s ongoing Neo-Futurist essay experiment The Arrow.
EDUCATION & ACTIVISM
In recent years the ensemble has devoted a great deal of its time and energy to not only making new art, but championing causes and voices that align with the political sensibilities of its artists. Yearly performances during Pride month have raised thousands of dollars for LGBTQ-supportive charities, and the Neo-Access initiative saw the company partner with venues around town to produce shows featuring audio captioning, touch tours, and accessible seating to build greater audience inclusivity. The bathrooms of our theater are defiantly gender-neutralized in spirit if not in building code, and we persistently look for opportunities to bring our work to new neighborhoods in Chicago, including through a working relationship with the city’s Night Out in the Parks summer program. Members of our ensemble also work in other showcases throughout the city, including Salonathon and The Paper Machete, creating greater cross-pollination between our artists and inspiring new modes of both art and activism.
In the spirit of promoting Neo-Futurism as a discipline that anybody can use to magnify their voice, the company’s education department has also undergone a significant expansion, offering multiple classes taught by members of the ensemble. These workshops have taught a variety of aesthetic-related principles, going beyond the two-minute play into physical work, task-based performance, adaptation, and essay writing.