The Neo-Futurists create the plays that America most and least wants to see in their latest prime-time production, You Asked For It!, written and directed by founder Greg Allen, opening Saturday, January 27, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland.
Inspired by conceptual artists Komar and Melamid, whose book Paint by Numbers featured works of visual art created after surveying people in various countries about what they like and do not like to see in paintings, Neo-Futurist Founding Director Greg Allen has surveyed Americans about what they would most—and least—like to see in a play. He then created these two plays, based on the public’s demands.
Beginning in 1993, Russian emigrant artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid conducted surveys to determine Americans' taste in art. The survey data was the basis for two paintings: America's Most Wanted featured landscapes, the portrait of a historical figure, wild animals, children, and the color blue. The companion piece, America's Most Unwanted, is a small geometric abstract composition. Both paintings were exhibited in New York at the Alternative Museum under the title "People's Choice." Komar and Melamid later surveyed more than a dozen countries and created paintings for each country, then applied their techniques to music with the help of composer David Soldier. (The least-wanted song included bagpipes, children singing, religious lyrics, and wild tempo changes.)
Allen says, "I spoke with Alex Melamid and he thought it was a fantastic idea to translate his process into the realm of American theater.” Since then, The Neo-Futurists have surveyed 2,200 individuals across the country regarding what they most and least want to see in a play. According to Allen, “Surprisingly, the responses were very consistent. Despite testing subset after subset, such as gender, age, location, or profession, the public's preferences are pretty much the same. What does this mean for a country that prides itself on individuality and freedom of expression?"
Greg Allen is the Founding Director and award-winning creator of over 25 productions for The Neo-Futurists, including Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen (recently remounted at Northlight Theater in Skokie), H2O, evidence, and K. His play The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett… ran as one of the "best plays of the decade" in the 2006 New York International Fringe Festival. Most recently he adapted and directed Woyzeck for greasy joan.
The cast includes Mary Fons, a new Neo-Futurist ensemble member and national performance poet; Tanya McBride, who helped compile the survey data for this piece as well as recently performing with Redmoon; John Pierson, a musician, author, teacher and long-time Neo-Futurist, seen most recently in Daredevils; and Steve Walker, who has been in several Neo-Futurist plays including The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrik Ibsen, as well as working with A Red Orchid, Factory, and other Chicago theaters.
Q&A with Greg Allen:
1. Tell me a little more about the survey process for this play.
We asked a combination of either/or (realistic vs. abstract, serious vs. comic), multiple choice (food should be prepared, eaten, or thrown?) and fill-in-the-blank (a character dies onstage… how?) questions. Our goal was to receive 2,000 respondents, covering all 50 states, by Thanksgiving. I am proud to announce that we had 2,200 respondents, with at least two from every state, and only five states with less than four respondents.
2. What did you learn about America's taste in theater?
There are some rather unfortunate, if not unexpected, trends. The most wanted statistics favor a narrative, realistic, domestic comedy; feature an inspiring God, a clever fool, and an eccentric artist; and are set at a dinner table, café, and in the kitchen. (We are thankful there also is an ordinary Undead character and a cemetery setting.) I personally find the Least Wanted statistics a bit more inspiring, calling for a threatening doctor, an idiotic boss, an evil royal, and a heroic alien, in the settings of a ballpark, opera, airplane, and hospital. That play is supposed to be abstract, serious, and have its climax at the beginning of the story (off-stage), while focusing on the physical conflict of Man vs. Nature.
3. And what to you want to make from all this?
After reviewing the survey responses and reflecting on the somewhat wry and ironic impulses behind Komar and Melamid's work, my aim is to create the best possible play out of the Least Wanted characteristics, and a more saccharine, clichéd play out of the Most Wanted ones… at least that is the plan right now. I can't wait to stage scenes with 'violent, physical humor done in the nude' or fulfill the call for 'multiple climaxes throughout the play'… to say nothing of having one of these climaxes brought to you by the 50 to 55 year old women of Wyoming. I won't say whether that is in the most or least wanted play!
4. What do you think Komar and Melamid were trying to accomplish with their work, and how did this inform your goals?
Of course, the term 'paint by numbers' has been used to refer to decisions based on opinion polls and market research. These polls have found their way into every corner of our lives. We fill out forms about what kind of person we want to date, who should stay on a TV show, how our politicians should vote… and we wind up with a vapid skeleton of facts that don't cohere into a unified whole, because life is more complicated than a survey can have answers for. Komar and Melamid asked: What would art look like if it were to please the greatest number of people? Our intent is to question the validity of polls in general, and show that anything meant to please everyone pleases no one.
You Asked For It! opens January 27 and runs through March 3, Thursdays - Saturdays at 8:00pm. Tickets are only $10-$15 and can be purchased by going to www.neofuturists.org or by calling 773-275-5255.