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Chicago’s Longest-Running Stage Show Is Ending. Now What?

After a surprising and controversially abrupt end, Neo-Futurists artistic director Kurt Chiang talks the company’s future without its flagship show.

Kurt Chiang performs Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, Chicago’s longest-running theatrical production, which ends its run December 30.   Photo: Joe Mazza/Brava Lux

Chicago took a hit Wednesday when, after 28 years, former Neo-Futurist Greg Allen pulled the company’s rights to Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Founded by Allen in 1988, the show of 30 plays in 60 minutes had become synonymous with the Andersonville ensemble, and regularly sold out its late-night weekend time slot.

In a statement Wednesday, Allen said he wished to reboot the show as a vehicle to fight the Trump administration, using a new ensemble consisting “entirely of people of color, LBTQ+ [sic], artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices.”

But shortly after Allen’s announcement, another former Neo-Futurist, Megan Mercier, penned her own post questioning Allen’s motives, in which she alleges multiple abuses and conflicts between Allen and the company. She also points out that the current ensemble is “almost entirely” artists who identify as queer and gender non-conforming, people of color, artist/activist women, and disenfranchised voices.

The Neo-Futurists will continue performing Too Much Light until the end of the year. Advance tickets are sold out, but 76 seats to each show are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Below, Neo-Futurists artistic director Kurt Chiang discusses the company’s future.

I wanted to start by giving you a chance to explain what happened, in your own words.

Well, we were surprised—not only to learn that Greg didn’t intend to renew the license for Too Much Light, but that he had intentions to shop the show around and make a new Too Much Light ensemble. We’re saddened by that, because our audiences depend on us. To cut them off from experiencing and supporting the show is disappointing. But we’re looking forward to the future—to continuing to satisfy the need our audience has overwhelming voiced in these past few days. It’s been a wild week, but sickly, we’re having fun.

Do you plan to fight Greg on this, or mount something similar under a different name?

We don’t intend to fight Greg, and we don’t intend to get in the way of his new Too Much Light ensemble. But we do intend to continue the process that we’ve developed over 28 years: creating new Neo-Futurists work at a weekly clip. That process includes rehearsals that lead up to those Friday and Saturday shows at 11:30, and Sundays at 7. That schedule is time-honored at this theater, and we have no intention of stopping.

Your predecessor as artistic director, Megan Mercier, penned a pretty damning piece questioning Greg’s motives for pulling the rights. Do you want to add to or corroborate any of that?

As artistic director, one of my jobs is supporting all our current ensemble members, as well as our alumni. Anything that our alumni ensemble members say, I’m in full support of. And I can verify everything Megan says in her blog.

Too Much Light is the company’s flagship show. What’s next for that time slot and the identity of the company?

The entity of the company is ever-changing, and it will continue to be that. We are an ensemble of artists, supported by that ensemble’s decision-making. We have a mission to create Neo-Futurist work that speaks to the now, and we’ll continue that practice.

As for whether there will be a show that replaces Too Much Light, we’re in conversation right now, developing that work. Because of that fact that we found out this week that [Too Much Light] would discontinue, we need to get together and answer some questions. The ensemble will get together, look at our process and our art, and figure out the delivery method from there.

Do you anticipate it being a financial hit?

Anything about our financials I’d leave our managing director, but the consistency to when that show is produced means a stream of audiences coming in every single weekend. Being able to check into what our community response has been, I’m overwhelmed and ecstatic that our audience seems to not want to stop coming. They want to continue seeing this stuff.

You mentioned you’ve been having fun. Does it feel like there’s been a weight lifted, not being tied to the show every weekend?

We love that show. I love that show. I got interested in the company because that was the first show I saw, in 2005. But when you see Too Much Light, you see the identity and work ethic behind the plays, and those plays are made by the individual ensemble members embracing new and experimental work, every week.

So when I say that we’re having fun, I mean that I don’t feel ill-equipped. We aren’t like a company that has one show with one script that was written by one person, and that company is dependent on that one set of words. We create those words every single week. We’re really good at creating quickly. [Losing Too Much Light] is an inflated version of what we do on a weekly basis. That’s where the joy is coming from.

Anything special planned for the last few shows?

Our shows are sold out. These anniversary shows—the best-of shows—always have all of our ensemble members. We’ll have 12 people plus two alumni ensemble members who did weeks [this year] performing. Mostly, we’re just planning on having fun.

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