Asking a Lot

photograph: Selena Salfen
greg allen
Greg Allen in the Neo-Futurists Hall of Presidents

According to a 1993 survey taken by two artists, Americans liked “representational art, landscapes with lakes, portraits of historical figures, wild animals, children, and the color blue.” Based on the survey technique of the original, the Neo-Futurists’ founding director, Greg Allen, took his own poll. Via Internet, Allen asked for people’s theatrical preferences-settings, tone (serious or comic), themes (religious or secular), et al.-vowing to wrap up the results in You Asked for It!, two plays he’s writing that will reflect what people most and least want to see on stage. Results from his tongue-in-cheek poll-which ended on  Thanksgiving of last year-held some surprises early on. For favorite play setting, Allen says, “number one was dinner table, second was café, and number three was kitchen. This was very disappointing.” Equally disappointing was the response to the purpose of theatre. “Eighty percent chose entertainment versus 20 percent informative. I think that’s kind of sad.” Responders came from every state in the Union; most were students, artists, and educators; 58 percent were women; and meerkats got several votes for the question, If the characters in a play were animals, which would they be? The worst play suggestions included “Cheese enters; just sits there” and “Paint dries.” In following the survey’s dictates, Allen says, “the most-wanted play will probably be set in a kitchen with conflict at the end. The least-wanted play will probably be the most fun.”

–Gale Kappe

You Asked for It! January 25th through March 3rd. The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland. Tickets: 773-275-5255.


Growth Spurt

photograph: Brian McConkey
brian posen

Six winters ago, Brian Posen, right, dreamed up Chicago SketchFest, an act of desperation because the musical he’d booked for the Theatre Building fell through. He began with 33 comedy groups and a crew of four. Today, SketchFest fields 50 crew members and 100 groups, expects audiences numbering 10,000, and keeps Posen busy 19 hours a day. In a free moment, he detailed his weeklong fest’s amazing growth spurt.

2002 >> “I knew several groups and I thought maybe if I could get ’em all together, we could keep the box office. Actors got free everything-advertising, crew, space, rent-all they had to do was perform. We almost died from the work but the festival was awesome. We had snowstorms, subzero weather, but  people came. We ended up making a couple thousand so I took the entire crew to Disney World.”

2003 >> “We had groups from L.A., Seattle, Boston, New York City. When a group was exceptional we called everyone we knew. We gave away tickets and lost a lot of money, but we thought that groups who’d flown in for the show deserved to have an audience. That built our audiences and our brand for the future.”

2004 >> “We took over the whole Theatre Building and now had to fill 450 seats instead of 150. We lost over ten grand. But we also started OctaSketch, where four directors are randomly assigned five or six artists who get eight hours to create a show to perform that night. That’s become a real cult hit for us.”

2005 >> “The group Bald Faced Lie from Seattle did an entire show that was silent-powerful, honest, risk-taking satirical sketch comedy. We had one group picket because it didn’t get in. Second City producer Kelly Leonard told me, ‘If they’re protesting you, now you’re somebody.’ “

2006 >> “By now we had crowds lined up and down on Belmont. You also saw groups evolve. Ten West from L.A. performed years three through five. At first they did amazing clown work, but their [writing] was not as strong. By year five, they’d found their voice-very few words and very physical comedy. They got a standing ovation every night. You couldn’t get a ticket.”

–Robert Buscemi