October 7, 2009
By Valeree Dunn
Arts and Entertainment Reporter
“F--- Starbucks,” was the theme in Brooken’s Auditorium last Wednesday when a man pulled down his pants and exposed himself to the audience. You might have thought you were walking into some sick coffee boycott convention, but the audience’s varied reactions felt peculiarly different from any typical protest.
From the audience’s gasping to guffawing, to the oh-no-he-didn’ts and the oh-yes-he-did’s, The Neo-Futurists bordered on highly controversial to UIS’s “G-Rated campus,” as one student put it.
The Neo-Futurists are a group of self-proclaimed writer/director/performers from Chicago. Their performance, “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” is based on the goal of performing 30 plays in 60 minutes.
Audience members are asked to yell out a number from the 30 plays on the backs of their playbills; The Neo-futurists then perform a 1-2 minute play and then yell curtain. The audience in turn takes a cue to yell out another number.
When the UIS audience yelled their first choice, Number 17, “F--- Starbucks,” few knew the consequences of the choice they had made.
The Neo-Futurists say that they don’t specifically intend to excite controversy. The element of controversy in their plays is only an accidental by-product of dealing with the honesty and challenge of their personal experiences.
“Eventually you’re going to shock yourself and [other] people,” Neo-Futurist John Pierson said.
“People have walked out of the theater in the middle of a performance,” Neo-Futurist Bilal Dardai said.
While some UIS students left the theater after the “F--- Starbucks” performance, the remaining 29 plays were not nearly as controversial. All of the plays had an element of depth, whether comedic, profound, or otherwise provoking. Some of their plays had more to do with the titles than the content.
Of the less controversial, play number 27 had a lengthy and apt to be repeated title.
“Having Missed Its Cue, the Orange Entered Hurriedly. But Once On Stage It Realized It Had Forgotten Its Lines Completely, and Remained Paralyzed Before The Audience for What Seemed Like an Eternity.”
After repeating the title, an actor tossed an orange in front of the audience from offstage. Nearly a minute passed, as they let the idea sink in, before the troupe yelled curtain and moved on to the next play.
“Without that title, it’s literally just throwing an orange on the stage,” Dardai said.
These plays are about simplifying a thought; about exploring the truths of moment experienced; about taking that reveal to the next level. The actors always play themselves on stage and they base their roles on actual events.
“We totally take from whoever and whatever,” Reid said.
Some stories come from newspapers, exact quotes, or personal experiences. Whatever the inspiration, every moment is meant to be genuine. Audience members were often pulled into the moments and provided an element of beauty and surprise that the plays wouldn’t have afforded had they been entirely staged.
Play No. 10, “Back home we used to camp a lot, I miss you and Sara,” required that an audience member sit with an actress under a makeshift tent. When asked, “Are you in love with anyone,” the audience member replied that she thought maybe she was. Suddenly this organized play came down to this unexpected moment where the key player was unrehearsed.
The audience witnessed this very human element of the fear and excitement of new love. The moment came boiling down to credo of the Neo-Futurist. Their goal is to produce immediate and un-reproducible events based on real experiences and events as honestly as possible.
Before the intensity, shock, and nudity of the first play, The Neo-Futurists asked that the audience participate in “loving.” A mass group hug ensued, and Dardai asked that students keep an open mind to the plays. Some are funny, some aren’t meant to be; some you’ll understand, and some you won’t get at all now; it could be years later that you’ll be sitting at a bar and the meaning will hit you.