INTERVIEW from Sixty Inches from Center: Visual Theater: A Conversation with Neo-Futurist Kurt Chiang
The Neo-Futurists are a staple of Chicago theater best known for their modular and ever-evolving signature show, Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, which, after a quarter-century in production, is the longest continuously running show in Chicago. Within a certain milieu, TMLMTBGB is something of a cult hit — It’s frenetic, inclusive, somewhat participatory, absolutely community oriented and just plain fun.
Perhaps less well known are the limited-run productions the Neo-Futurists stage each season. I recently had the chance to catch their new play, Analog. The production is far quieter than TMLMTBGB, but no less intimate; both share the trademark “non-illusory” first-person writing for which the ensemble is known. The play, conceived by Kurt Chiang, attempts to stage the auteur’s inner monologue as he comes to grip with both a life-threatening bout of cancer and his baffling, idiosyncratic manner of coping with the event — transcribing, by hand, the entirety of Lord of the Flies, a laborious task born of gauzy motivations. (In Analog, Chiang himself refers to William Golding’s classic novel as “not a very good book.”)
Given this publication’s focus on visual art, Analog may seem like an unlikely subject. Originally, I had no intent to cover the show here. That changed shortly after arriving at the theater. Rather than being allowed in the front, several other attendees and I were lead around the back of the building and into the alley. (This experience was immediately bewildering, no doubt on purpose, though the staff received serendipitous help from two black cats that dashed across the alley in tandem, giving us all a start.) Upon entering the back door, patrons were handed programs by disaffected ushers, many of whom are also performers, slouching in chairs, seemingly too engrossed, or at least pretending to be engrossed, in various novels.
Kurt Chiang, An early sketch of the installation, 2013; Courtesy of Kurt Chiang
We were then given free range to wander through a labyrinth fashioned from draped white cloths. Reading stations were set up where attendees could thumb through copies of various books, including, most notably and thematically, Lord of the Flies. Overhead lighting was kept to a minimum, our path partially lit by the light from a projected video and vintage lamps at the reading stations. Recorded speech played simultaneously from different sources, the tracks clashing and crashing into each other. The whole thing was jarring and affecting. Something of a walk-in art installation, it merges visual art with sound, multimedia and, ultimately, theater.
I recently talked with Chiang about both the installation and the production...
(Image at top: Credit Michael Sullivan, courtesy Sixty Inches from Center.)