Greg Allen, the founder of the Neo-Futurists, dropped a bombshell Wednesday afternoon, announcing in an emailed press release that he intends to revoke his former company's rights to perform its flagship show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, and relaunch it himself as a more activist endeavor—an announcement that took the Neo-Futurists themselves by surprise.
Allen, who notes in his announcement that he parted company with the Chicago Neo-Futurist ensemble four years ago, launched the Neo-Futurists and Too Much Light in 1988. The show, in which members of the Neo-Futurist ensemble attempt to perform 30 very short plays in 60 minutes, has run continuously ever since, laying claim to being Chicago's longest-running theatrical production. It's become a rite of passage for audience members who have lined up every week to roll a die for their admission price and shout out the numbers of the two-minute plays they want to see performed next.
With a script (or scripts) that change every week as current performers pen new material—which they always perform as themselves, not as characters—Too Much Light has also been among the most up-to-the-minute performances in the city, able to respond in nearly real time to that week's developments from the personal to the political.
But Allen seems to think it's not political enough these days. “Faced with the pending inauguration of Donald J. Trump, Allen has decided to let the existing Chicago Neo-Futurists’ license come to an end so that he can rebrand the show with a new diverse ensemble that embraces a specifically socially activist mission,” today’s release asserts. The new Too Much Light ensemble, the release says, “will be comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.” It goes on to quote Allen directly: “I could no longer stand by and let my most effective artistic vehicle be anything but a machine to fight Fascism.”
That statement, along with Allen’s declaration that the New York, San Francisco and forthcoming London ensembles of Neo-Futurists “will continue and be unaffected by this change in Chicago,” would seem to imply a vote of no confidence in the current Chicago company; Allen hasn’t responded to a request for further comment.
Contacted for confirmation and response, the Neo-Futurists issued the following statement from current artistic director Kurt Chiang: “The Neo-Futurists were surprised that Greg Allen chose to announce independently of our company and without collaboration with our Board and staff that he no longer intends to license the trademark Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind at our theater. For the past year, the company entered into negotiations in good faith about continuing this facet of our work together. While we are disappointed that it has come to this conclusion, throughout our long history with Greg there have been considerable artistic differences and irreconcilable personal conflicts. The company is dedicated to moving forward in 2017 with the full support of our Board of Directors and the enthusiastic commitment of our talented and diverse Ensemble. From our annual Pride performances to our multifaceted accessibility initiatives to our ongoing engagement of distinctly youthful audiences that line up around the block each weekend, The Neo-Futurists will continue to produce new work for the Chicago community, just as we have for the past 28 years. We look forward to opening a new late-night show in the new year and renewing our mission as Neo-Futurists: To create art that embraces those unreached or unmoved by conventional theater—inspiring them to thought, feeling and action.”
In a 2005 profile in the Chicago Reader, Allen acknowledged his reluctance to relinquish control of Too Much Light. “‘It's always a dilemma, because it's my baby,’ he says. ‘How much do I let go of the rights and let other people do the show?’ In 2003 he and the Neo-Futurists' board came to an agreement: it was time for Allen to hit the road. His title changed from artistic director to founding director, and he was enlisted as a traveling promoter for the ensemble.” Allen is still listed as “Founder” on the original Neo-Futurists’ website. The header on Allen’s own website, NeoGregAllen.com, labels him “Founding Father of the Neo-Futurists.” In today’s news release, he dubs himself “Father of Neo-Futurism; Creator of Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind.”
Allen’s full statement as sent to Time Out Chicago is embedded below.
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