The first time I saw TMLMTBGB*, I got lucky. Someone spit several chunks of kiwi on my face in one play, and hugged me deeply in another. Later, during a play called something along the lines of “Trying to Sleep in a Small Train Town in the Middle of Kansas,” a Neo pulled me onto the stage, motioned for me to lie down on three black blocks, and proceeded to ‘tuck me in’ — pillow, blanket, teddy, and goodnight kiss included. The lights dimmed, and an actor standing in the darkness upstage began making faint train noises into a microphone. Far away. Muffled. I was confused. The noises got louder and faster, as if the train were getting closer. I looked out at my friends and the rest of the chuckling audience for help, but they didn’t know what to do either. Eventually the actor just flat out screamed into the microphone and I, at the height of discomfort, broke out into craughter**. At last, the train noises subsided, someone called “curtain” and the audience broke out into a cacophony of order numbers for the next play. Now, I assume the person sitting in the back row saw a very different show than I did that night, but it was the best theater experience I’d ever had. I remember it like it was last night. I felt like I had watched 5 people run a messed up marathon. I was hooked.
I recently took a Basic Training Neo-Futurist workshop with Neos Dan McCoy and Flor De Liz Perez. I walked in thinking, “Alright, I’ve seen the show. I’ve talked about Neo-Futurist philosophy with my knowledgeable theater friends. I know what’s up.”
I DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS UP.
(I still don’t know what’s up.)
In less than 5 hours on the first day, Flor/Dan’s introduction to Neo-Futurist work completely deconstructed my understanding of what theater could be. Why? Well, I’m an actor. Actors usually learn a bunch of lines and say them to other actors (who have learned their own bunch of lines) in order to tell a story that has been written by someone else. We try to create an illusory world into which the audience can be sucked. Poof! You’re in London. Poof! You’re in a magical forest, and I’m the fairy queen. Poof! Theater. Neo-Futurism is not like this. You want to work Neo-Futuristically? You need to write your own plays, from your perspective, about your own experiences. That’s not to say that there’s no place for crazy lighting effects, dynamic performance styles, and plenty of absurd abstractions. When performing, though, you must always be who you are, be where you are, and be doing what you’re doing. You must create theater from the bottom up. It sounds simple, right? Yes. Is it easy? No. No. No.
Neo-Futurism is difficult because it forces me to be honest with myself and with others. It’s difficult because it forces me to create something entirely on my own. It forces me to validate my life story as one worth telling and myself as someone worth being. And those, dear reader, can be difficult tasks. “Whoa, Dan and Flor, you want me to write a play about a mundane thought I had this week? Who would care? Nothing really interesting happened to me this week…” But, as it turned out, I had just downloaded Snapchat, and its creepy ephemeral nature spurred an existential debate in my head. It became a play. Someone else wrote a play about an awkward moment in an elevator. Another ordered some dumplings and a sesame pancake from Vanessa’s Kitchen. Like, for real. During the play, he asked someone else in the class to order it, then ran to go pick it up, came back, and gave it to him. The only things you really need to make an interesting play are a person performing a task, any task, and a person to watch it.
A professor I deeply respect once told me that acting is not therapy. Sure, I get that, but it can be therapeutic for both actor and audience member alike. As we worked together those three Saturdays, I came to know and care for the members of my class. We had running jokes. We told each other stories about our failures, our loves, hates, fears, insecurities, and guilty pleasures through our work. We related to each other. I feel like I walked away from that workshop with a fresh perspective on my potential as a theater-maker, and theater’s potential to be a lasting, positive experience. I mean, I still don’t know what that the EFF that train play was about and I will always be haunted by “Chock Full O’Nuts,” but who cares? I had a good time.
Maybe you won’t ever take a workshop with the Neos, but if this retelling of my (anything-but-mundane) experience sparks your interests, you can catch a performance of Neo-Futurism ANY Friday or Saturday night starting 11/1. You won’t be disappointed… I promise.
*Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
**Craughter: laughing so hard that you cry (or crying so hard that you laugh, either way).
- Written by Kelly Rogers -