There's a piece on the Neo-Futurists in American Theatre this month. For over twenty years they have presented a show which is maddening in its simplicity. Returning from an aborted attempt to live in Los Angeles in 1991, my best friend and I spent one night in Chicago, caught their Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (TML) and my life was changed forever.
That is not hyperbole. I knew little of experimental theater, next to nothing actually. The N-Fs inspired me to learn more. But first they inspired my friend and I to rip off their act.
This was in the early 90s. Few, if any, knew of them in Cleveland. We protested we were creating a new form of theater for Cleveland audiences - and it wasn't as though we were calling ourselves "neo" anything, or that we were stealing the title of their show. No name tags, headphones, dark room timer, no pizza. We made up our own gimmicks as set-dressing for short, original plays we wrote ourselves in our own style.
However, the structure for TML was and is so basic, that trying to retro fit an original-appearing framework to it is much like the Windows operating system. As much as it wants to be MacOS, it is still just a clunky program running on top of MS-DOS.
Having said that, two years (more or less) producing short plays for Not-Too Much Light productions with names like You Have the Right to Remain SIlent! and Mind Your Own Business did teach me the art of writing short plays that abandoned the idea of character or setting, and cut directly to the point of whatever it was I wanted to say. As the original Futurists said, why spend two hours trying to make your point when two minutes will accomplish the job just as effectively?
There was a premium on originality among the intelligentsia who were the clowns my older brothers used to pal around with. As a high school freshman I was particularly impressed with a series of satirical articles he had written for the school paper. I had an idea for an updated sequel and went to him for permission to begin work in one and was roundly humiliated for the very idea. "Sequels," he snorted.
Believe me, I have been conditioned to feel that kind of contempt any time the word "sequel" is used in any circumstance. And you know, I am not sure that is an entirely bad thing.
However, I did spend the next several years wandering in my own neurotic wilderness, afraid to attempt anything. It is stunning to think now that I was involved in a comedy program on our local access channel for three years and never wrote anything for it. Strange to think I was surrounded by such a creative atmosphere, and yet did not feel confident enough to really engage it.
By the time Guerrilla Theater Company (for so we were called) was through, I was a writer, and a director, and not so crazy about acting any more. There was a time when it would have been ideal to contact Greg Allen about a legitimate franchise of the Neo-Futurists in Cleveland, and maybe someone should. But not me. I'd just be happy to attend, and hopefully have some pizza.