I was shocked to read earlier this week that it was recently announced that the long-running Neo-Futurists show "Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind" is coming to a close.
If you don't live in Chicago that probably just read like a bunch of gibberish, so let me explain. "Too Much Light" was Chicago's longest-running theater show, but it was much more than that.
I first went in high school--I don't remember what year, or with when. I do remember it was around the years when I hung out with a very lightly semi-Gothy crowd (more Doc Martens than black lipstick). Not only did the show started at 11:30 PM, which was super grown-up, the Edgewater Neo-Futurist theater was located above a funeral home, which to me seemed deliciously morbid (I'm sure it was simply a practical matter of real estate. Now the funeral home is a chiropractic storefront of some sort.)
After the doors opened, the cover charge was a nominal amount plus the roll of a six-sided die. Then, as you walked into the theater, a girl wearing headphones listening to loud music shouted "WHAT"S YOUR NAME?" She then wrote down some nonsense like "Coffee Breath" on a nametag and in you went.
The premise of the show was 30 plays in 60 minutes. After a timer was set, pieces of paper with numbers 1-30 hung on a clothesline with the names of the short plays listed in the program (the plays were ever-changing, so you'd never see the same show twice). The audience screamed the number they wanted to hear and the actors jumped up and pulled down a number from the line and then performed the accompanying piece. Some were straightforward humor sketches. Some were funny songs. Some weren't funny at all. Some were a single blackout scene, less than a minute long. Others were legitimate short plays. I remember a one-song musical about a guy's morning routine living alongside a serious commentary on the female condition that involved an actress placing tampons in glasses of water.
If the pace of the show was set so that all the plays were put on within the 60 minutes, the theater ordered in a pizza for the audience. Literally one pizza, sliced up into tiny 2x2 inch pieces.
I can't pretend that I was a loyal "TMLMTBGB" audience member. I think I only attended it one or two more times after that initial viewing, but it really made an impact on me as a writer. It taught me that you don't have to stick to one format--your audience will still hang with you if you skip from humor to social commentary to non sequitur to musical to whatever comes next. It reinforced that adults can play and be creative. It taught me that a little anarchy is exciting and liberating but doesn't have to hurt anyone.
Most of all I appreciated that it was something amazing and accessible for young people to do in the city on weekend nights. One didn't need a fake ID to get into the show and it was easily enjoyed alcohol-free. When you're a youngster there aren't a ton of late-night options in the city that are legally open to you yet here was this legitimate, badass art form that was open to people of all ages.
My days of going to late night shows are far, far behind me--even before I had kids you had to be a really good friend of mine to convince me to come out to your 10 PM show. But I still hope TMLMTBGB lives on in some form, or something like it fills its spot, because other Chicagoland youngsters deserve to see art that's at once dangerous and safe, a little morbid and sick and happy and fun and crazy. Everyone deserves a tiny slice of pizza.