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Eugene O’Neo-Futurists??: Phoenix makes awful pun, chats with director Greg Allen.

Posted in interview, theatre by kalbing on February 9, 2009

More Reasons to go to the Goodman: A plug for the Neo-Futurists

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As you may or may not know, during the Goodman Theatre’s three month-long series, “Global Exploration: Eugene O’Neill in the 21st Century” top-notch theater companies will be performing 6 of O’Neill’s better known plays at the Goodman Theater (Desire Under the Elms, The Hairy Ape, to name a few.) Companies heralding from Amsterdam, Portugal, New York, and Brazil will grace the prestigious stage. I’m sure they’ll be “transcendent…a triumph!” They always are.

But what I’m most excited about is Chicago’s very own Neo-Futurists‘ production of O’Neill’s Strange Interlude.

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Greg Allen, founder of the Neo-Futurists and a prolific actor, director, and playwright, chatted with me about the Neo-Futurists (now in their 20th year of existence), their flagship show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, and the experience of directing “Strange Interlude”, one of O’Neills more experimental works.

(**Check out the Phoenix in upcoming weeks to read the full-blown feature on the Neo-Futurists.**)

Phoenix Diversions: Tell me how you got into theater.

Greg Allen: I was interning at theater companies, directing some shows, and someone offered me a late night slot. I was young, looking for something to do late at night, and I came up with the idea of the Neo-Futurists, and told people it would run forever.

PD: I know you got your name from the Italian Futurists. How do they factor into the philosophy of the Neo-Futurists?

GA: Well, the Futurists had this incendiary, revolutionary talk, which attracted me. Though I left out their sexist, violent, fascist side. I was into their manifestos, their talk of embracing novelty, heralding a new future. I think that’s what theater is at heart– a new and enterprising event. That’s what theater has the potential to do. Everyone can take part in it. There’s the visceral presence of the audience, and the ideas of simultaneity, brevity, speed, no illusion.

Read more after the jump…

PD: Yeah, I’m interested especially in the idea of newness, freshness.

GA: You know, the context is new for the audience and the performers. They both embrace that immediacy; they explore immediate concerns. And there’s nothing more fulfilling than that. There’s no middle man; it’s immediately, directly on stage. I think we have a thirst for authenticity. I mean look where reality TV has gone, and documentaries– there’s a thirst for getting past the crap shoved down our throats by the media. I think theater is a part of that success.

PD: In your “25 rules for Good Theater,” you mention that it’s important to know your audience. Who’s your target audience for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind? [the NeoFuturists signature show, a 60 minute play comprised of thirty act penned weekly by the actors themselves.]

GA: Well, I was 26 years old, and I wanted to create a show for people like me. Not old dead white playwrights, but something chaotic, a young people show, something every theater in the country would kill to have. It’s very much a show for excited, adventurous, politically savvy people. And of course, the late nights help that. [TMLMBGB starts at midnight Fridays and Saturday nights.]

PD: Tell me more about your new venture, directing “Strange Interlude.”

GA: Well, it hasn’t been staged since the 1970s. We’ve got an awesome cast of Neo-Futurists putting it on, very funny and very talented. It’s a five hour show, and I’m adapting it all over the place. It’s in five acts, with a break for dinner in between. Like a lot of our shows, it plays around with levels of reality. For instance, the actors speak their subtext on stage, they take audience response, there are asides, exploiting levels of reality. And we’re embracing it as funny, and poignant, and horrible.

PD: Hmm. When I think “Funny” I don’t think “Eugene O’Neill.”

GA: Yeah, you know, he probably didn’t intend it to be, but we’re playing on a lot of the unintentional humor in it.

PD: Interesting. So tell me more about the importance you place on connecting with your audience.

GA: I think it’s about the heart and soul of each performance. Theater is about immediacy and authenticity, who we are, where are– and so TMLMBGB is a cross between a party and a conceptual performance piece, and the most important thing is that connection. The actors are themselves, wrestling with real concepts from their own lives, and that creates communication, creates community.

PD: I feel like you perceive, then, a moral, or ethical dimension to theater.

GA: Oh, definitely. I’m in it to make people’s lives better. I’m in it to change the world. Theater makes a live event, it’s a community you take part in, that allows you to become unified. I emphasize that the actors are not to be worshiped as these distant human beings. We want to reveal their lives, their hypocrisies, as opposed to made-up concepts and activities. It’s about exploring dilemmas of our own lives. And the audience will empathize with that. So there’s always that human bond in theater.

Strange Interlude will be playing Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 8 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St. Tickets $12-$20.

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