“Make ‘Too Much Light’ Great Again!”

Thursday 8 December 2016

On Wednesday of last week, an unexpected press release sent shock waves through the Chicago theater community: Greg Allen, creator of the Chicago staple Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, had decided not to extend the (Chicago) Neo-Futurists’ license to perform the show, letting the forthcoming New Year’s Eve performance mark the end of the shows 28-year run by the Neo-Futurists, a company Allen himself helped found.

The press release cites as Allen’s motive a plan to create a new ensemble that will use Too Much Light “to combat the Trump administration and all of its cohorts.”

And while Allen’s press release mentions the irony that the artists of Italian Futurism (of which the Neo-Futurist aesthetic is based) eventually supported Mussolini, it fails to recognize the much greater irony of the announcement itself: a white, cisgender male is declaring that only he can do Too Much Light justice in combating fascism and Donald J. Trump’s presidency—he alone can Make Too Much Light Great Again!

I have had the pleasure of seeing over 20 performances of Too Much Light by the Neo-Futurists in the past five years, and they have never ceased to be socially relevant and culturally critical, and I have no doubt that, given the opportunity, they would have continued to use Too Much Light to combat all the forces Allen proclaims he is seeking to upend.

The idea that Allen would need to discontinue the Neo-Futurists’ ability to perform Too Much Light in order to move forward in his (stated) mission speaks loudly of a scarcity mentality, a stalwart of white people thinking. The proliferation of first-person storytelling in Chicago, with dozens, if not hundreds, of outlets across the city for individuals to share their stories and ideas, would serve as a great example of how a format like Too Much Light could serve as a vehicle for multiple ensembles to speak truth to power using the Neo-Futurist aesthetic. Instead, Allen had decided that he (like our President-elect) is the one and only (man) who can save us, and that his Baby, with none other Allen himself at the helm, is the way to do it.

Allen’s decision and plan to create an ensemble “comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+ [sic], artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices” is also patronizing to the very same “disenfranchised voices” he claims a desire to empower. Allen implies that these voices are incapable of using their own theatrical methods and outlets to impact change and need Allen to “[give them] space and voice” in the “predominantly white, patriarchal Chicago theater community,” of which Allen would seem to be a shining example. (Update: even if Allen says he will not be in the show or distance himself creatively from it, his need to pull the plug on the Neo-Futurists’ production is simply an exertion of white, male power at its best/worst.)

Megan Mercier, a former Neo-Futurist Artistic Director and ensemble member, in a scathing blog post (which was later verified by current Artistic Director Kurt Chiang), noted additional ironic, if not fully hypocritical, aspects of Allen’s announcement. Mercier notes that the current, active Neo-Futurist ensemble consists “almost entirely” of individuals with the identities with which Allen plans to fill his new ensemble. Additionally, Allen’s press release cites a desire “to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression,” yet Mercier cites a specific example of Allen’s attempt at censorship as the reason Allen received a one-year suspension from the Neo-Futurists in 2012.

Mercier notes the incident that led to his suspension consisted of Allen trying to subvert the ensemble’s established policy to eject a piece of work “about child abuse, written by a survivor of child abuse” that he found “personally offensive,” walking out of rehearsal and refusing to perform if the piece, which had already been publicly performed, was included. While he could have petitioned to rejoin the ensemble, he never did and has remained estranged from the group since. (Update: as articles below note, this was simply an example of a cycle of domineering and oppressive behavior.)

As the press release also notes, “this change in Chicago” will not affect groups in New York City and San Francisco, who will continue to perform Too Much Light. Both of those ensembles showcase similar demographics to the current Neo-Futurists, yet they hold one key distinction: Allen still holds a sway in the productions happening there, making Allen’s revocation of TML rights from Chicago’s Neo-Futurists appear all the more disingenuous.

Theater has always been at its best when it can shine light on the realities of the world around us. In this case, it was not on-stage theatrics but rather behind-the-scenes antics which will hopefully teach us that the fight against tyranny starts within ourselves. We must recognize the great abundance that exists when we join as one to cry out against injustice and oppression, wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head.


You can donate to the Neo-Futurists fundraising campaign to keep them going during this time of transition HERE.

And you can read about this story in more depth and context at the links below, including this Chicago Tribune article which quotes a lot of people and provides, I think, the most comprehensive information on this event and the history that brought it about.
End of ‘Too Much Light’ brings a longtime schism in the Neos out into the open

After a schism, casting a new light on Neo-Futurists

Former Neo-Futurists Speak Out Against ‘TML’ Creator, Charge Abuse Of Power

Neo-Futurists reject their founder’s attempt to blame Trump

Chicago’s longest running show will go on


La Frontera 2016

Wednesday 9 November 2016

I have a lot of printed t-shirts hanging in my closet, and I’m usually thoughtful about which one I wear on a given day. Yesterday, working the election polls, I decided to go with my Chicago neighborhoods tee (which looks like this, but on a shirt).

Today, flipping through my shirts, I stopped and pulled down my Camp Mowana “La Frontera” theme shirt. The meaning that we were shared (at least as I internalized it) of “La Frontera” was of a place between, neither here nor there, a place of transition from what was to what is to come. In seeing that word and what it’s come to mean for me in the 10+ years since I obtained the shirt, I decided it was the appropriate way to capture my mood this day. (The shirt is subtitled “Where Jesus Meets Us” for some context for the camp’s choice of theme.)

Sitting here, the day after our citizenry (or at least those of age who decided to vote and are not restricted by law from doing so) went to the polls and elected a man who has shown callous disregard for so many different groups of people, I feel between. We’re obviously moving forward, at least in terms of calendar time, but it’s also clear that we’re in the middle of something big.

While there were likely many people who voted for Donald J. Trump out of animus for specific groups and peoples (Blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Immigrants, Jews, even women), I suspect that that population alone would not have been enough to propel Trump to the presidency. Instead, there were many who simply turned a blind eye to this part of Trump, taking an “It’s not that important” stance to these issues and focusing instead on his anti-establishment rhetoric and their dissatisfaction with the political status quo when dealing with their (economic) lives.

Whatever the reason citizens opted to vote for Trump (who appears to have not even received the most votes overall, just enough in the right states—but that’s a topic for another day), our country will soon know the leadership of a man who embodies a white supremacist and xenophobic framework, supported by an electorate who at worst find this trait positive and at best find it negligible. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that I believe failing to condone such oppression is unacceptable and as good as promoting  that oppression.)

For me, this time—definitely this day, likely the next two months, but perhaps also the coming four or more years—has all the feelings of what I envision for La Frontera. It will be a time of struggle as we figure out where our country, full of a vast number of peoples with a vast number of beliefs and ideals, goes from here.

How can we create a land where all people are able to live in peace and comfort and seek self-fulfillment? How do we heal the wounds that (not only this election cycle but) our history has given so many of us? How do we listen to one another and recognize that my ability to live a full and valuable life does not depend on others suffering, and vise versa?

There are no easy answers, and (as always) the outcome of this election, no matter who had won, didn’t make these questions any less relevant. After all, it takes more than a president to change a country (see: Barack Obama).

As we move through La Frontera, it is important for all of us to ask ourselves what our role will be in the healing future of our country and its peoples. If you’re seeking a place to start on this first Wednesday after the first Monday in November, I recommend it be there.


After Cubs victory, pushing for end to other generational longings

Friday 4 November 2016

Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating. After more than a century of waiting, “Next Year” is finally here; the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

As I watched the post game celebrations with my roommates and girlfriend—none of them sports fans, but all of them swept up in the excitement—they asked me to help them understand the significance of this win for Cubs fans.

I made a few attempts—someone getting a job in their chosen field after years of trying, a young adult being the first of the family to attend college—but none got it quite right. The Cubs’ Game 7 win ended a generational longing, fulfilled a desire to prove we were “good enough,” and provided a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance that had eluded Cubs fans for decades.

There are few among us who were alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and most certainly no one who remembers it. But focusing on the living leaves out the countless stories of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents who all cheered for the Cubs but never lived to see this moment.

I’m sure most Cubs fans have that huge fan in their lives who is no longer here to join in the excitement. For me, it’s Ron Santo, the former Cub and Hall of Famer who called games on Cubs Radio for 20 years. Ron’s radio antics are legendary, and while I never knew him personally, he’s certainly the biggest Cubs fan I’ve ever known. But having died in 2010, he’s not here to experience the joy of this historic occasion.

In pondering the generational longing of Cubs fans, I couldn’t help but think about the many other groups of people who have endured much more pain and suffering over the course of generations and still yearn for an end to their trials and tribulations. What would it mean for African Americans to be fully accepted and valued in our country, for their generational longing for justice to come true? What would it mean for women to achieve complete agency of their bodies and their lives, to be treated as fully human and not as objects or accessories?

In a city like Chicago, examples of continued injustice seeking recompense abound—lack of police accountability and continued issues of police brutality; gentrification and hyper segregation; and an underfunded school system, to name but a few. Many have died in the fight and the wait for justice, and yet these problems still persist.

We are conditioned to think that change will happen eventually, that if we’re patient enough, it will come. “The Cubs will win, some day, they have to,” we said. But their win was not inevitable; it took the concerted effort over multiple years of Cubs management to create the team that pulled this off.

Similarly, to create a country and world where justice reigns, to fulfill the generational longing of so many, it will take a concerted effort. But so many of us sit back, waiting for some inevitable day of justice that has yet to come. And as the days and years pass, more and more individuals depart us who were never able to experience justice, never able to shake the generational longing that had been plaguing them since their memory began.

Achieving that goal is the work of us all. We must diligently look at how our government, our institutions, and our own selves prolong the longing felt by so many others in the US and beyond. The joy and exuberance that will be felt when that longing has ended will pale in comparison to any joy being felt by Cubs fans today.

With “Next Year” having finally arrived for Cubs fans, we must all join in doing the work to end the generational longing still felt by so many.


An Assortment of Analogies For Our Presidential Choice This Election Cycle

Thursday 3 November 2016
  • Taking a flight while sitting between 8-year-old twins who were not given any in-flight entertainment options, in a seat that doesn’t recline
    OR
    Taking a flight with Amelia Earhart
  • A bowl of soup where the recipe called for 2 teaspoons of salt but where the chef instead made it with 2 Tablespoons of salt
    OR
    A piece of T-bone steak containing botulism, e-coli, and hepatitis A
  • Getting bit by a mosquito
    OR
    Getting bit by a mosquito carrying malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile Virus
  • Microsoft’s Clippy popping up on your screen and asking, “It looks like you’re trying to delete some e-mails. Can I help you with that?”
    OR
    The blue screen of death
  • Being stuck in an elevator while easy listening versions of Miley Cyrus and Drake songs play on a loop
    OR
    Being stuck in an elevator with Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Hannibal Lecter
  • Investing in a Samsung Galaxy 7
    OR
    Hoping to turn a quick buck, investing in the Samsung Galaxy 7, by pre-purchasing 1,000 units at 70% retail cost and storing them in your studio apartment
  • Being forced to walk with your family and relatives thousands of miles across the country to relocate on a piece of inhospitable land, only to later be told you’ll have to move again and never having full confidence that some day it might all be taken away anyway
    OR
    Having to take a cab instead of an Uber
  • The bike lane ending so now you have to “share the road”
    OR
    Driving the bus in the movie Speed, in that scene where the bus has to jump across an unfinished bridge, except the entire country is riding on the bus and there is actually no other side of the bridge for the bus to land on

2013 government shutdown reminder

Thursday 30 October 2014

In case you forgot: our current batch of Congressional Republicans shut down the U.S. government for more than two weeks at the start of October 2013, causing hundreds of thousands to temporarily lose their jobs and costing the economy (24) billions of dollars. Remember that when you’re voting Tuesday.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik1bdoufPt0


Banksy as true street artist

Sunday 27 October 2013

(This happened a few weeks ago, so I’m a bit behind in posting, but this is quite amazing.)

If you don’t already know Banksy, you should. He/She (do we really know?) is an artist doing art in public places (mostly), making you think. Banksy is currently doing a residency in NYC with lots of awesome stuff that you can see on the official residency website. The residency is for October 2013, but some pieces are likely to last beyond that, so if you’re in NYC, check it out!

Anyway, even though Banksy mainly does works in public spaces, he/she also has had pieces obtained by museums and individuals, and they are worth A LOT. That’s why it’s so amazing that Banksy set up a little stall outside Central Park to sell pieces at $60 a pop, each worth tens of thousands of dollars, to people that appeared to have no idea what they were getting into. If some art dealer or similar knowledgeable person would have found out, they probably would have tried to clean the stall out (if Banksy would have allowed it… unlikely).

You can read more about this event in a few different articles, too:
Banksy Sold $225,000 Worth of Art at a Central Park Stall for $420
Banksy sells original works worth a fortune for £38 each in New York booth

You can also find out more about Banksy in Exit Through the Gift Shop, a pretty sweet little movie.


Say no to Columbus

Monday 14 October 2013

Today in the US it was a National Holiday to celebrate Christopher Columbus.

For the past few years I’ve been making a point to declare any celebration to be for Indigenous People’s Day. But this web comic makes a good point for Bartolomé Day.

The Oatmeal: Christopher Columbus was awful (but this other guy was not)