The ‘Light’ shines on for Chicago’s Neo-Futurists and underground theater


By Grant Rindner

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind has been a mainstay of Chicago’s underground theater scene and the most visible performance of the city’s Neo-Futurist movement for 28 years since the play debuted on Dec. 2, 1988. The long-standing show made new headlines this fall as its creator, Greg Allen, abruptly decided to pull its rights, ending the run with a final sold-out performance on New Year’s Eve.

Allen claimed in a press statement that he was spurred by the election of Donald Trump to remodel the show as a “machine to fight Fascism” that would feature a cast “comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.” Some Neo-Futurists have expressed skepticism about Allen’s motives, but regardless the abrupt decision came as a serious shock to the troupe and their many supporters.

The Neo-Futurists initially came together for a single performance but have grown to be one of the most prominent contemporary theater groups in the country. Their theater, the Neo-Futurariam, 5153 N. Ashland, holds varied performances throughout the year. Despite the closure of the group’s calling card show, there’s significant optimism among the Neo-Futurists for not only their future as an artistic collective but also their overarching goals as artists.

“I think it’s the death of a name of a show, of a brand. It’s like if you find out tomorrow that Coca-Cola is going to change its name to something else, even if you’re not into Coca-Cola you’ll still be like, ‘Oh, Coca-Cola is going away,” said Kurt Chiang, the Neo-Futurists’ artistic director. “I think the art form will actually be stronger than ever. I think it’ll empower even more people to do neo-futurism, which has always been the mission of the company.”

The group is re-opening a fundraising campaign from this fall and continuing to perform its innovative, thought-provoking work in tune with their regular schedule.

The Arrow
, which was created by Chiang and Lily Mooney, is in pre-season showings, and there’s still a chance to see Too Much Light on stage in its “Best Of” year-in-review format. The group is also planning to open a new late-night show in 2017.

“There’s an ongoing dialogue that encouraged our audiences to think about this place as a laboratory of making new work,” “And I think that’s very much directed at what a portion of our audience is: people who graduated from undergraduate theater college and left there feeling unmoved or uninspired.”

After finding so much success with Too Much Light, the Neo-Futurists understand the task before them and how they can keep the light on for alternative theater while adapting to new circumstances.

“Us being put in a place that we need to reframe the way we make 30 plays in 60 minutes, that task that we’ve been hoisted upon is an exploded version of what we do every single week, which is to create new and engaging work on a weekly basis. And now we just need to think creatively towards the outer frame of all the works that we do.”

The Neo-Futurist Ensemble, pictured (L to R): Tif Harrison, Trevor Dawkins, Nick Hart, Kirsten Riiber, Bilal Dardai, Leah Urzendowski, Kurt Chiang, Dan Kerr-Hobert, Lily Mooney, Jeewon Kim, Malic White, and Ida Cuttler (Joe Mazza/BRAVE LUX)