As several productions being to ramp up, Jeff Mosser asked Andy Bayiates to help define Neo-Futurism. Enjoy!
My favorite definition of Neo-Futurism is:
“You are who you are; you are where you are; you are doing what you are doing; the time is now.”
Before Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, (the biggest hit Neo-Futurist show) we’d often tell an audience, “We don’t play characters; we don’t ask you to suspend your disbelief; there’s no fourth wall.”
That’s all pretty accurate. It’s also mostly an impossible ideal.
Neo-Futurism is something you strive for as hard as you can, but you’ll never (or very rarely) achieve it because there’s something inherently false about any rehearsed moment.
I look at it this way: If you say to yourself, “How can this be as honest as possible?” you’re on the right track. If you say to yourself, “We can pretend this is pee in a jar, no one will know,” then you’re on the wrong track. (Yes. There is real pee in Neo-Futurism.)
In my mind, the reason honesty is so important is because of what’s at the heart of theatre’s (only) advantage over film/TV. It’s live. Projecting illusion on stage certainly has it’s place in the world (at least I think so), but it’s MUCH harder to do these days without seeming douchy to your average teenager. So performing something that’s as honest as possible, that doesn’t employ pantomime, setting, overt characterization or back-story, keeps theatre grounded in the present–in the relationship with the audience that continues to ensure it’s relevancy.
But is 44 Plays for 44 Presidents a Neo-Futurist show?
One one hand, when you’re playing Actor 1 or Actor 5, the intention is that you’ll “play yourself” on stage. Because you’re memorizing and parroting someone else’s lines, it’s innately hypocritical, but screw that for a moment and pretend that trying as hard as you can to play yourself as you read those lines is what we’re really talking about when we say “playing yourself.” So then, yes, 44 Plays is Neo-Futurist.
On the other hand, sometimes we call for character. Sometimes we expect you to put on platform shoes (everyone cuts that prop, btw) and bark like a dog. But the important part that keeps this Neo-Futurist in my mind is that we witness the actors slip in and out of character before our eyes. We don’t mime. We don’t pretend we’re standing in 19th Century Washington D.C. Barking Andrew Jackson is still on a simple set with a chair, that’s it. And he might be played by a woman. A second later, she’s Actor 1 again, and the transformation happens right in front of us. It’s deliberately self-conscious. We’re nodding and winking and saying see, watch me put this on and act like a rabid dog for a second. Wasn’t that funny? And you’re left not connecting with Andrew Jackson the character, but what this MEANS in history, what this act signifies.
My friend Noelle, summed it up better than anyone, I think. When I was mounting another show about the history of the world, I had people playing countries. I was fretting that this amounted to characters. She said, “Andy, no one believes that Sharon is Japan.”
And that’s the key. We never ask you to be transported. We never ask you to experience a cathartic character arc, to let go and engross yourself in the STORY and PERSON of Andrew Jackson. We just bark like a dog, make a very overt comment about him, then take off the coat in front of you and move on.
Andy Bayiates, (Festival Co-Chair & Project Director; Founding Father and co-writer of 44 Presidents) is a Chicago-based playwright, Neo-Futurist almnus and a former contributing writer for Time Out Chicago. Bayiates wrote and performed in the ever-changing Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (30 Plays in 60 Minutes) through 2004, also appearing in seven other Neo-Futurist productions, including43 Plays for 43 Presidents and the gratifying hit, Daredevils!(as writer/performer.) His plays have been produced in Boston; Chicago; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Atlanta; Edinburg, Scotland; Geva Theater in Rochester, New York; The O’Neill National Theater Institute; and the 25th Annual Humana Festival at The Actor’s Theater of Louisville. A 60-Minute History of Humankind,mounted in 2003, appeared briefly on the NBC reality TV show Starting Over. His play, A History of Human Stupidity, received its world-premiere production by Rough & Tumble of Berkeley, CA in 2010, and was previewed in American Theatre Magazine. In addition to Playscripts, Inc., Bayiates’ work has been published in Humana Festival 2001: The Complete Plays, 200 More Neo-Futurist Plays (Hope and Nonthings Publishing, 2004); and The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006). Bayiates is currently collaborating with composer Jonathan Mastro on his first musical, entitled 33.