By Julia Borcherts @Julia Borcherts
November 5, 2013
If you've ever found yourself near the corner of Ashland and Foster avenues at 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, you've probably seen folks lining up for The Neo-Futurists' signature show, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," which has been continuously running—and selling out—since 1988. As such, "Too Much Light," which features 30 short plays performed in 60 minutes, is Chicago's longest-running show. To keep it fresh, a few plays are replaced with new works each week.
"TML" debuted at the former Stage Left Theatre and moved to the Live Bait Theatre (now The Public House Theatre) in 1990 before founding their permanent home, The Neo-Futurarium, in 1992. There are currently 13 ensemble members, but 68 actors have stepped into and out of the company over the years, including one very short-lived Neo-Futurist.
"It's kind of a running joke, but Stephen Colbert was an active ensemble member for one rehearsal," said artistic director Bilal Dardai. "He was cast and then literally in the middle of rehearsal, he was called by Second City, who said, 'We're giving you the show you wanted.' I think it worked out fine for him."
Things have worked out well for the Neo-Futurists, too. They've produced full-length, prime-time works, toured "TML" internationally and expanded into New York City (in 2004) and San Francisco (opening in 2014).
To celebrate the company's 25th anniversary, The Neos host two events. First up is The Neoccasion this Thursday, which features "TML" short plays—some written exclusively for the event—plus scenes from the company's current prime time play, "The Sovereign Statement," with food from Frontera Grill, microbrews, live and silent auctions and the opportunity to see the newly renovated Neo-Futurarium, which features, among other things, a revamped lobby. The ticket price—$85.92—comes out to a penny for each of the 8,592 short and full-length plays the Neo-Futurists have produced in 25 years.
Then, on Dec. 2, the Neo-Futurists take "TML" back to its original venue at Stage Left—which is now home to Chicago Comics—for "The Baby Returns to the Cradle," a greatest hits-style show featuring 26 past and present cast members. Speaking of greatest hits, we asked founding director Greg Allen to walk us through a timeline of neo-milestones from the company's impressive quarter-century of history.
The Neoccasion: 25th Anniversary Edition
Go: 8 p.m. Thursday at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
"T.M.L.M.T.B.G.B.: The Baby Returns to the Cradle"
Go: 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Chicago Comics (formerly Stage Left Theatre), 3244 N. Clark St.
Tickets: 773-878-4557; neofuturists.org
December 2, 1988: "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" opens at Stage Left Theater at 3244 N. Clark St. at 11:15pm with an admission price of $1 multiplied by the roll of a single six-sided die (in other words, you'd pay $1-$6 depending on what you roll). Performing on Fridays and Saturdays, it is the first late-night theater production in Chicago.
July 1989: First sold-out performance with 78 people. The cast celebrates by ordering pizza onstage for the audience—a tradition that continues to this day as, "When we sell out, we order out."
December 1989: First anniversary of "TML." The cast performs their favorite plays of the year. A Chicago Tribune article about the show is nationally syndicated and an uninterrupted string of sell-out performances begins.
May 1990: "TML" moves to Live Bait Theater amidst a legal battle to retain the rights to the show. The Neo-Futurists officially incorporates as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit business.
April 1990: "Leary (An Expansion of a Deconstruction with Extra-Contextualization)" is The Neo-Futurists' first non-"Too Much Light" production at Live Bait.
June 1991: The LGBTQ Pride edition, "Too Much Light—30 Queer Plays in 60 Straight Minutes"—launches, a tradition that continues to today.
Summer 1991: Newly cast Neo-Futurist Stephen Colbert informs the company at his first rehearsal that he isn't able to join the ensemble after all.
February 14, 1992: The Neo-Futurists open The Neo-Futurarium with the premiere of their 1,000th play. Seating capacity is at 135 and is later expanded to 150.
September 1992: "TML" adds 7 p.m. Sunday performances.
February 1993: "TML" makes its Off-Broadway debut at Joseph Papp's The Public Theater in Manhattan.
August 1993: The Neo-Futurists publish their first book of plays from "TML."
September 1994: First tour to San Francisco and Seattle including a last minute third Saturday night performance of "TML" added at 1 a.m. to accommodate throngs of fans in the street.
Fall 1995: First ongoing incarnation of the New York Neo-Futurists: Greg Kotis, Ayun Halliday, Bill Coelius, Rob Neill and Spencer Kayden perform the show for two years running at Here Arts Center in SoHo.
March 1995: First international tour of "TML" includes the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., and an international theater festival in Sibiu, Romania.
October 1996-Summer 1997: "K.," founder Greg Allen's adaptation of Kafka's "The Trial," becomes the first Chicago Neo-Futurist production transferred to New York. Greg wins the first After Dark Award as well as the Best Director Award at the New York International Fringe Festival. It is the first of five productions in 10 years that the Neo-Futurists transfer to New York.
November 1997: "TML" celebrates its 1,000th performance, its 100,000th audience member and the release of its first CD of "TML" plays.
Fall 1998: A "TML" play by Greg Kotis is turned into "Bingo!" a multi-award-winning computer animated short film by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Chris Landreth.
Winter 1998: Connor Kalista and Greg Allen premiere "Crime & Punishment: A(mis)Guided Environmental Tour with Literary Pretensions," our first environmental production, which leads to more than a dozen in upcoming years including "Alice," "A Duchampian Romp, Even," "Fear," "Mr. Fluxus," "Curious Beautiful," "Drag" and the current 2013 production, "The Sovereign Statement."
Fall 1999: "TML" is brought the Cleveland Public Theater for its first Midwest tour.
Summer 2000: Two productions win internationl awards: "TML" wins a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival; and the Theater Oobleck co-production, "The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett As Found In An Envelope (partially burned) In A Dustbin In Paris Labelled 'Never to be performed. Never. Ever. EVER! Or I'll Sue! I'LL SUE FROM THE GRAVE!!!'" wins the Best Comedy Award at the New York Fringe. "The Complete Lost Beckett" goes on to 11 international productions and a three-month UK tour.
March 2001: The Neo-Futurists are commissioned to write and perform "phone plays" for The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville.
January 2002: The Neo-Futurists premiere "43 Plays for 43 Presidents," which leads to dozens of national productions and is seen by Jimmy Carter shortly after he wins the Nobel Peace Prize.
June 2002: Neo-Futurist Greg Kotis wins two Tony Awards for "Urinetown," originally conceived in 1995 while touring with "TML" in Romania. Neo-Futurist Spencer Kayden also wins a Drama Desk Award for the same production.
Summer 2002: The Neo-Futurists debut "It Came From The Neo-Futurarium," an annual festival of staged readings of horrible films, which runs for 10 years.
Summer 2003: The Neo-Futurists have seven touring productions including Noelle Krimm's "City Girl," which wins the Best Musical Award at the Minneapolis Fringe Festival.
July 11, 2003: NPR program "This American Life" premieres an homage to "TML" called "20 Acts in 60 Minutes." The episode includes Greg Allen's play, "Title," along with tales from others including authors Chuck Klosterman and David Sedaris.
April 2, 2004: Greg Allen and John Pierson officially launch The New York Neo-Futurists, who perform "TML" 50 weeks a year in Manhattan to this day.
September 2006: Greg Allen's "The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen" becomes the first Neo-Futurists' prime-time production to transfer to a regional theater, Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Summer 2007: Jay Torrence's "Roustabout" becomes the eighth Neo-Futurist production remounted by the City of Chicago at Theater on the Lake.
Fall 2008: Sharon Greene's "Fake Lake" becomes the first Neo-Futurist production to be performed in a pool, at Welles Park.
March 2009: The biggest production in Neo-Futurist history—all seven hours and nine acts of Eugene O'Neill's Pulitzer Prize-winning script, "Strange Interlude"—is commissioned for the Goodman Theatre's Eugene O'Neill festival. It is greeted with incensed hecklers and immediate standing ovations at every performance.
November 2010: The New York Neo-Futurists transplant their production, "Laika Dog in Space" to The Neo-Futurarium in Chicago.
October 2012: The Neo-Futurists remount an updated "44 Plays for 44 Presidents" in time for the 2012 elections. There are simultaneously dozens of productions all over the country in this national festival.
November-December 2013: The Neo-Futurists celebrate their 25th anniversary.
January 2014: The newly formed San Francisco Neo-Futurists will begin an open run of "TML" at the Boxcar Theater in San Francisco.
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