Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is still the longest running show in sweet home Chicago. In fact, it’s almost as old as me–TML and The Neo-Futurists, the troupe behind it, have been goin’ strong since 1988. Thirty plays in sixty minutes. That’s their schtick. And they do it with humor and honesty so authentic, it’s no wonder that, most weekends, there’s a line of people shivering or sweating together down Ashland, hoping to get a shot at a show and a slice of bite-sized pizza–the Neo-Futurists always treat the audience when they finish in sixty minutes or less.
At least, I think they still do. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen the show. (And TML is always changing. Each week they roll the dice with the audience to see how many new plays they will write and insert before the following Friday.)
I think every slightly iconoclastic Chicago actor has, at one point, swooned at the idea of being a 30-in-60 storyteller. Or, am I just speaking for myself and the blogger formerly known as TheatricAlbs? TML had a profound impact on my development as an artist. I spent a season in college selling beer and popsicles on the second floor of the Neo-Futurarium so I could watch the show for free and have thirty-second conversations with the cast members. I was a groupie. A wannabe intern. A fool 4 (Neo) Futurists. (I dated their security guard for a year and a half!)
The Neo-Futurists write all their plays from personal experience and perform them as themselves, which distinguishes TML from Chicago’s sketch and improv scene (though the show is often just as raucous as any of the laugh shackz you’ll find just a few Red Line stops south). They taught me about the power of a bare stage and a storyteller. And, though I’ve never been a student at the ‘rarium (I think I’d still be starstruck!) I believe that the Neo-Futurists have nevertheless shaped my writing as well as the theater work I do with the kids in Chalchihuitán. I remember sitting/sweating each Saturday night with a menu of plays in my hand, gaping at the ensemble’s brilliant mini-masterworks, wondering if my life would ever give me the types of made-for-TML moments worthy of hanging on a clothesline. (Numbers One thru Thirty are clipped to a line stretched across the stage and cast members pull them down throughout the show to call off the next play they will perform at the shout of “Go!”) The plays in Too Much Light are like living essays–dynamized memoirs. But nineteen-year-old Me knew I could never be a Neo-Futurist until I had made my way a lil’ into the future. I had to live to write.
Then, TheatricAlbs became EnvironmentAlbs who turned into AlbstorneyAtLaw and then stopped making up ridiculous nicknames for herself. (Okay, I briefly flirted with ChiapAlbs but…it just didn’t work.) In other words, I lived a little. It’s been nine years since I nearly screen printed “Neo-Futurist or Bust” onto a t-shirt and, well, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never pull numbers off a clothesline on the corner of Foster and Ashland. But, I am happy to report that yes, my life is worthy of the ‘line. A collection of living essays, stories worth telling, even if its not in Andersonville.
One of my favorite TML gems was called “Unexpected Eggrolls” and though I momentarily forget the author’s name, I don’t think she’ll mind me passing on the best bits of her play. In “Unexpected Eggrolls,” the narrator/essayist/playwright tells us how one of her favorite college memories is having discovered a bag of surprise/free eggrolls in her Chinese takeout. She and her roommate then used the term “unexpected eggrolls” to describe anything wonderful and unexpected. “Unexpected Eggrolls” stayed on the menu for several months while I was volunteering at the Neo-Futurarium and, each time it was called, a different cast member would share a surprise message they had recorded for another cast member–a wonderful, unexpected burst of love.
This morning, I found bits of writing I had lost to bad document titling–living essays, if you will–in various folders on my computer. I was going to share them with you but as I laughed over them, re-working them in my head with the wisdom gained from surviving the experiences that inspired each piece, I thought of Too Much Light and sweaty nineteen-year-old Me and I wrote this instead.
Unexpected eggrolls. Proof that I have done a thing or two since 2003. Stories I will tell with honesty, humor, and authenticity–like a Neo-Futurist. Whoa, dreams come true.