Making Theatre Without Characters
I am who I am, I am where I am, I am doing what I’m doing, and the time is now.
It sounds like the beginning to every coming out story.
But they’re actually the building blocks for Neo-Futurism: no characters, no pretending.
It’s a relatively radical concept considering that the magic of theatre is traditionally built on illusion—an audience suspends their disbelief to make the impossible happen: a magician saws their assistant in half, a mouse whistles a tune while steering a boat, reality television. Done well enough, the illusion feels real.
Truth is, after all, what we’re after. Any emotional response to a piece of fiction is brought on by a reflection of our own world—a mirror up to our nature. And so we laugh, cry, cringe, empathize.
But what happens when illusion isn’t enough? When the mirror doesn’t accurately reflect the state of the world. Women aren’t two-dimensional. Rachel Dolezal isn’t black. Emma Stone isn’t Asian-American. Straight white men aren’t the only protagonist.
Sometimes the best way to tell the truth is to actually employ it. As Neo-Futurists, it’s what we attempt to do every Friday and Saturday at 10:30 PM in our weekly show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind; our ongoing, ever-changing attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes.
Far from solving the issue of lack of diversity in theatre, the 22 working ensemble members of the NY Neo-Futurists are by no means an encompassing reflection of the state of the world. We can’t be. We can only ever be ourselves, as we are, in the given moment—and that’s the truth. We’ll never lie to you.
Neo-Futurism was created by a straight, white man named Greg Allen, but he’s a straight white man who hasn’t tried to write anyone’s story but his own. In fact, he made sure nobody could. He created a space for artists to take ownership of their identities and to explore new and innovative ways to write and tell their truths—on their own terms.
It’s a weekly coming out of sorts. And as the world changes by the minute, we try our best to keep up with it.
This week is Pride in NYC, so we’re presenting our annual, specialty edition of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Queer Plays in 60 Straight Minutes—with proceeds benefiting the folks at the Ali Forney Center—a local organization that helps to protect LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently.
If you come to the show, you’ll likely see me wearing a huge smile. It won’t be because of a stage direction. It might be because that cup of bourbon in my hand is actually a cup of bourbon. But, more likely, it’ll be because I know how blessed I am to be presenting original work by real, beautiful artists—for real, beautiful audiences—to support a really beautiful cause.
Gay, straight, white, black, brown, lesbian, queer, bisexual—watch us come out on stage. Talk to us afterwards. Tell us your story. Tell us what you liked and what you didn’t. Tell us we were wrong. Enlighten us with a new perspective. Sure, we were born to play ourselves—but the character work never ends.
Hope to see you soon.
Images by Anton Nickel