Chicago’s Neo-Futurists look for another hit – Consumer News

on Jun9

8 June 2017 | 10:30 am

When it was announced in November that “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” would close after 28 years, the Neo-Futurists raised $28,000 in a month to help launch a new show.

It was a remarkable showing of grass-roots support for a storefront theater company in Andersonville, but the outpouring also filled a practical need. Though the Neo-Futurists offer classes and run a full season of shows, “Too Much Light” represented 40 percent of their operating budget.

To retain their regulars—and keep generating revenue—the Neo-Futurists launched previews of a replacement show immediately following the Dec. 31 closing. On March 3, the company officially introduced “The Infinite Wrench,” just three months after creator Greg Allen pulled the license to perform “Too Much Light.”

“It really paid off to turn that around and to keep going, because folks could keep seeing the work, no matter what it was called,” says Kendall Karg, managing director of the Neo-Futurists. Even so, Karg anticipates ticket sales will drop by 13 percent over the course of this year, as the Neo-Futurists acquaint audiences with a new brand.

“Too Much Light” succeeded as one of few late-night, all-ages events in Chicago. The “30 plays in 60 minutes” concept kept the material changing, and the under-$15 ticket price kept it affordable for repeat viewings. The real key to its sold-out audiences, though—the cool factor—will be harder to replicate.

“A lot of ‘Too Much Light’ was less about the content—which, sure, it’s smart and funny and often very good—but it was about the experience of doing this cool, edgy, out-of-the-box thing,” says Coya Paz Brownrigg, co-founder of Teatro Luna and chair of theater studies at DePaul University. “It remains to be seen whether people will still feel cool going to the new show.”

To keep the company afloat while they find out, the Neo-Futurists quickly reopened their fall crowdfunding campaign following Allen’s announcement. In the month before “Too Much Light” closed, they raised $28,000 to complement the $22,000 raised earlier in the year.

Almost half the crowdfunding will go toward building a brand capable of replacing “Too Much Light,” a name so valuable the Neo-Futurists paid Allen a 6 percent royalty fee for each performance.

Mark Geary knows how much losing the right names can cost. Geary is the producer of the Lincoln Lodge, a weekly stand-up showcase so named because it used to take place in the now-demolished Lincoln Restaurant. Comedians like T.J. Miller and Kumail Nanjiani got their start at the Lincoln Lodge, and would return often for sold-out performances, giving it cachet.

“When you don’t have an advertising budget, the bringing back of alumni is absolutely critical,” Geary says. When Geary and his company of comedians moved the show to Wicker Park venue Subterranean in 2014, they lost the space to bring back stars for bigger shows. Without the name recognition to rely on, the Lincoln Lodge turned to its own fundraising efforts and is currently looking for a new, permanent home.

While the brand may be different, the new performance sticks to what the Neo-Futurists are known for. “We have been creating new plays for three decades,” Neo-Futurists Board President Hilary Odom says. The Chicago company joined with sister theaters in New York and San Francisco to develop “The Infinite Wrench.”

Early reviews of the show emphasize it’s really “Too Much Light” without the sold-out audiences, as Sophia Lucido Johnson, writing for a School of the Art Institute publication, points out.

Though ticket sales are matching the expected 13 percent drop, Karg and Odom are optimistic that “The Infinite Wrench” is catching on with new audiences. “We still have our lines and our audiences showing up, and they seem to love it,” Karg says.

It will take time to see if the Neo-Futurists can create the cool thing to do once more. “People were lining up hours in advance to see the final “Too Much Light.” We’ll see if that support and warm hug is sustainable. It may be,” Brownrigg says. “They’ve lasted this long. There was a time when ‘Too Much Light’ was new also.”



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