“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

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1984. 2010. Whenever.

Thursday 18 March 2010

As I promised in a blog post last week, “Nothing like a productive day job,” where I showed you one play I wrote for my Neo-Futurist class, here is the other play that was performed in my class performance.  (Read more about all this is that previous post if you haven’t done so already.)

If you’re still unfamiliar with Neo-Futurism, one big thing they like to deal with is removing the wall that says the audience is watching and the ensemble is performing.  In this second play I present to you now, titled “1984. 2010. Whenever.” I sought to use that idea as part of what ultimately is a deconstruction of the book 1984.  Instead of taking the plot to deconstruct into a shorter telling, I chose to take one of the themes I take from that book (one of my favorites) and make it more experiential for the audience.

(Another thing Neo-Futurism likes to use is chance, and this was definitely featured in “Nothing like a productive day job,” as I flipped the cars unknowingly, but having it planned how I would react and go on depending on the situation.)

Without further ado, here you go!  (Oh, one more note for those unfamiliar with Neo-Futurist TMLMTBGB plays: they start by someone saying “GO” and end with the word “CURTAIN.”

1984. 2010. Whenever.
©2010 by eric bjorlin

An audience volunteer is seated on a chair center stage, facing the rest of the audience.

Neo1 and Neo2 are up the side aisles in the theater, Neo1 house right, Neo2 house left.  Neo3 stands to the right of the person seated.  Neos 1-3 are wearing dark sunglasses.  All other Neos are offstage.

Lines throughout are presented in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.  The lines until the first blackout are directed at the person sitting in the chair.

Neo1: You cannot change the outcome of this play.  You are but a pawn, and we are in control

Neo2: Sure, you can make some choices, but anything you might do is meaningless as far as we’re concerned.

Neo3: Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s not true.  I could stand up and return to my seat if I wanted to, and you can’t stop me.”

Neo1: While that is true, what is more true is that we leave that choice up to you,

Neo2: It doesn’t matter to us where you sit.  If it mattered, you can be damn sure you’d be sitting exactly where we wanted you to sit.

Neo3: Maybe now you’re thinking about getting radical, trying to stop this play in its tracks.

Neo1: But how would you stop us?  You can’t do it by yourself.

Neo2: Maybe there’s another radical like yourself, and the two of you decide to cover our mouths so we (can’t talk).  (During this line, Neo4 comes and covers the mouth of Neo2, cutting her off so the final two or three words are muffled.  Neo4 then makes a minimal motion implying the audience member is to cover the mouth of Neo3.  Neo1 waits for this to happen.)

[If the selected volunteer fails to participate/cover a mouth (or has moved back to their seat), then:
Neo4: So you don’t want to stop us?  It’s no matter, because even those you thought may have been with you might not be.  (Neo4 puts on dark sunglasses.  Then to Neo5’s line below.)]

Neo1: But that isn’t enough, so you recruit another person.  (Hopefully an audience member is recruited to cover Neo1’s mouth.  If not, Neo6 comes out and carries this out.)

(Once the mouths of Neo1/Neo2/Neo3 are all covered…)

Neo4: But then you discover that someone you thought was with you really isn’t.  (Neo4 uncovers Neo1’s mouth and puts on dark sunglasses.)

Neo5 (Voiceover): And even if something drastic happens, we have more power than you can ever imagine.  We control what you see (BLACKOUT) and what you don’t see.

Once the lights go down, Neos 1-4 get free and move down to the stage.  They form a line across stage so the remaining lines are delivered in order stage right to stage left.

LIGHTS UP.  The remainder of the lines are directed to the entire audience.

Neo4: If you do nothing, you act as our accomplice.

Neo2: Any attempt you make to alter the outcome of this play ultimately has no effect on what we’re trying to do.

Neo3: But why would you want to change anything?  Aren’t we treating you well; providing you what you came for?

Neo1: You might even be enjoying this play and don’t really care that we control it.

Neo4: We hold all the cards.

Neo2: What we desire happens.

Neo3: What we say goes.

Neo1: Have we still not proven our point?

A beat.  BLACKOUT.  An extended silence and break. LIGHTS UP.

CURTAIN

Notes: There is a chance that an audience member may yell curtain during the play, seeking to radically alter what’s going on.  If this happens, the performers continue without notice, still in control.

If Neo1’s mouth is covered before her line requesting a third person, it is simply skipped.

Also, if some drastic uprising has taken place, Neo5 may continue to read lines until order is resumed, though this is not optimal and the performers should for the most part be able to control this.

Overall, any unexpected audience actions should be accepted calmly with things returned to as natural a state as possible.

Notes for my blog post that aren’t actually in the script:
When we performed “1984…” at the 20-in-40 show performance, the audience member actually didn’t cover anyone’s mouth, as we had anticipated, and so this is an edited version with that experience in mind.

Also, while the audience member did, in fact, yell “curtain” trying to end the play, that circumstance had already been accounted for, as the note  mentioning that scenario possibility was already in the script.


Nothing like a productive day job

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Hey everyone!

So, were you unaware that for 8 straight weekends I was in Chicago, taking part in a performance workshop/class with the wonderful Neo-Futurists?  The class was an intro to their famous show, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, and it culminated with a class performance on 28 February 2010, attended by family, friends, and possibly enemies of class members and instructors.  I know a few of my blog readers were able to attend, but in case you weren’t (and didn’t get a preview performance), one of the plays I wrote and performed, and you can check it out on YouTube!  It’s entitled “Nothing like a productive day job,” and it’s about my thoughts and struggles with unemployment and the job search.

Watch Nothing like a productive day job on YouTube
(I’m giving you the link to click instead of putting it here so you can leave comments on the page.)  Please share this with everyone you think might enjoy it, especially those who are out there like me, looking for work.  We are not alone!

As a class, we performed 20 plays in 40 minutes, using the TMLMTBGB model (the normal show is 30 in 60), and there are 4 other plays you can view on YouTube:
How I Remember the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy
Priority Lapse
21st Century Love Story
Sphygmomanometer

The other play I got in the show was titled “1984. 2010. Whenever.”  I plan on posting that script in an upcoming blog post.

And in case my play makes you depressed, just know that my job search continues in earnest, and I remain positive about it all.  I had an interview Tuesday that seeminly went well, though I won’t know for a couple weeks, and I continue to write and send out cover letters as much as I can motivate myself to.  Good Luck to me!

OK, so if you’re too lazy to click on the link, you can watch it here (though I’m not sure it gets counted on YouTube, another reason to click here instead).

You can leave your comments below, too!