Clockwise from top: Mike Triccoli, Phil Gibbs, Phil Ridarelli, Lisa Buscani,… (Photo by Greg Allen )
If you've ever found yourself near the corner of Ashland and Foster avenues at 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, you've probably seen folks lining up for The Neo-Futurists' signature show, "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," which has been continuously running—and selling out—since 1988. As such, "Too Much Light," which features 30 short plays performed in 60 minutes, is Chicago's longest-running show. To keep it fresh, a few plays are replaced with new works each week.
"TML" debuted at the former Stage Left Theatre and moved to the Live Bait Theatre (now The Public House Theatre) in 1990 before founding their permanent home, The Neo-Futurarium, in 1992. There are currently 13 ensemble members, but 68 actors have stepped into and out of the company over the years, including one very short-lived Neo-Futurist.
"It's kind of a running joke, but Stephen Colbert was an active ensemble member for one rehearsal," said artistic director Bilal Dardai. "He was cast and then literally in the middle of rehearsal, he was called by Second City, who said, 'We're giving you the show you wanted.' I think it worked out fine for him."
Things have worked out well for the Neo-Futurists, too. They've produced full-length, prime-time works, toured "TML" internationally and expanded into New York City (in 2004) and San Francisco (opening in 2014).
To celebrate the company's 25th anniversary, The Neos host two events. First up is The Neoccasion this Thursday, which features "TML" short plays—some written exclusively for the event—plus scenes from the company's current prime time play, "The Sovereign Statement," with food from Frontera Grill, microbrews, live and silent auctions and the opportunity to see the newly renovated Neo-Futurarium, which features, among other things, a revamped lobby. The ticket price—$85.92—comes out to a penny for each of the 8,592 short and full-length plays the Neo-Futurists have produced in 25 years.
Then, on Dec. 2, the Neo-Futurists take "TML" back to its original venue at Stage Left—which is now home to Chicago Comics—for "The Baby Returns to the Cradle," a greatest hits-style show featuring 26 past and present cast members. Speaking of greatest hits, we asked founding director Greg Allen to walk us through a timeline of neo-milestones from the company's impressive quarter-century of history.
The Neoccasion: 25th Anniversary Edition
Go: 8 p.m. Thursday at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave.
"T.M.L.M.T.B.G.B.: The Baby Returns to the Cradle"
Go: 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at Chicago Comics (formerly Stage Left Theatre), 3244 N. Clark St.
Tickets: 773-878-4557; neofuturists.org
December 2, 1988: "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" opens at Stage Left Theater at 3244 N. Clark St. at 11:15pm with an admission price of $1 multiplied by the roll of a single six-sided die (in other words, you'd pay $1-$6 depending on what you roll). Performing on Fridays and Saturdays, it is the first late-night theater production in Chicago.
July 1989: First sold-out performance with 78 people. The cast celebrates by ordering pizza onstage for the audience—a tradition that continues to this day as, "When we sell out, we order out."
December 1989: First anniversary of "TML." The cast performs their favorite plays of the year. A Chicago Tribune article about the show is nationally syndicated and an uninterrupted string of sell-out performances begins.
May 1990: "TML" moves to Live Bait Theater amidst a legal battle to retain the rights to the show. The Neo-Futurists officially incorporates as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit business.
April 1990: "Leary (An Expansion of a Deconstruction with Extra-Contextualization)" is The Neo-Futurists' first non-"Too Much Light" production at Live Bait.
June 1991: The LGBTQ Pride edition, "Too Much Light—30 Queer Plays in 60 Straight Minutes"—launches, a tradition that continues to today.
Summer 1991: Newly cast Neo-Futurist Stephen Colbert informs the company at his first rehearsal that he isn't able to join the ensemble after all.
February 14, 1992: The Neo-Futurists open The Neo-Futurarium with the premiere of their 1,000th play. Seating capacity is at 135 and is later expanded to 150.
September 1992: "TML" adds 7 p.m. Sunday performances.
February 1993: "TML" makes its Off-Broadway debut at Joseph Papp's The Public Theater in Manhattan.
August 1993: The Neo-Futurists publish their first book of plays from "TML."
September 1994: First tour to San Francisco and Seattle including a last minute third Saturday night performance of "TML" added at 1 a.m. to accommodate throngs of fans in the street.
Fall 1995: First ongoing incarnation of the New York Neo-Futurists: Greg Kotis, Ayun Halliday, Bill Coelius, Rob Neill and Spencer Kayden perform the show for two years running at Here Arts Center in SoHo.