Edgeville Buzz

Neo-Futurists Awarded $10,000 Grant To Produce New Artistic Micro-Festival This Summer


Photo: Neo Futurist Facebook

It’s a fact: Creativity isn’t necessarily always derived within a straight line. The Neo-Futurists, a collective of wildly productive writer-director-performers whose theater is located at 5153 N. Ashland Ave., know this. Now, with help from the National Endowment for the Arts, the theater group will have even more license to expand the realm of opportunity.

But how is creativity formed, and how does it, once fused with other methods of thought, grow into something even more inventive? For that, the Neo-Futurists are relying on a long-handy scientific device, or at least the abstract concept of it.

The Neo-Futurist Kitchen, a micro-festival on art and performance, “attempts to hold a microscope over the distinctive ways in which like-minded artists do their work, and (to) examine where drastically different methods may overlap,” a press release from The Neo-Futurists said.

The four-day festival is funded by the NEA’s Art Works grant. It’s aimed at anyone hungry for the multifaceted performances of artists building toward a new, surprising cultural identity and will take over The Neo-Futurarium from July 21-24.

The festival showcases the latest development of “Saturn Returns,” the fourth installment of Kurt Chiang and Lily Mooney’s year-long exploration of “The Arrow,” and will include panels with artists and organizations from throughout the city.

Also receiving the NEA’s Art Works grant is the Neo-Lab, an original works residency started in 2015 that commissions one new work annually, a press release said.

Offering public presentations and opportunities for audience interaction throughout the year, Neo-Lab supports artist retreats and stipends, public readings and presentations, and a full production the following season.

The first “Saturn Returns” presentation and open house was held on Oct. 15, 2015, and a second one is planned for this spring.

Neo-Lab and The Neo-Futurist Kitchen were selected for funding based on their innovative approach to creating devised theater and their commitment to establishing a partnership of artists from across the country to develop the art form.

“When we planned our year, we committed to better educating our audience on what we’re about, and how we like to work,” said Kurt Chiang, artistic director of The Neo-Futurists.

“It’s true that part of our appeal comes from our enigmatic reputation — ‘It’s that place that does that show absurdly late at night, and you get name-tagged. You’ll love it.’ But The Neo-Futurists are also a committed group of multidisciplinary artists that are dedicated to new work. And we value our art and theater as a service, beyond it being a spectacle.”

“The arts are part of our everyday lives,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu added. “No matter who you are or where you live, they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society. Supporting projects like the one from The Neo-Futurists offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”

The NEA offers annual grants to the nonprofit theater and musical theater fields for the production or presentation of traditional or classical repertoire, new plays and musicals, development laboratories, showcases, artist residencies, work for young audiences, experimental work, community-based work, outdoor historical dramas, and puppetry, a press release said.

The Art Works grant category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

One of those NEA funded works is “Saturn Returns,” a two-year Neo-Futuristic exploration that asks larger existential questions about time, patience, and the vast expanse of an unknowable universe.

Not content simply with looking inward, Tif Harrison and ensemble look upward and outward, offering observations on the silence and solitude of space, on the uncrossable distances between celestial bodies and the intimacy of standing next to somebody you love, the press release said.

“Saturn Returns” examines both the astronomical and astrological implications of Saturn’s solar orbit — a 29-year journey— as well as its moons and the Cassini Solstice Mission, to observe various dramatic changes that have manifested in the lives of the individuals on stage.

This devised approach to creating work has Harrison and the group building the show while inviting audiences into the process through intimate events, collected interviews, and open dialogues with the creator and artists involved.

Other opportunities

  • New program: Additionally, in partnership with Victory Gardens Theater Access Project and Alternatives, Inc., The Neo-Futurists have established Neo-Access, an ongoing initiative committed to make its work more physically, geographically, and culturally accessible. The Victory Gardens Access Project is a nationally recognized model outreach effort designed to involve all people in theater, both on and off the stage. The program provides audio description, closed captioning, touch tours, American Sign Language interpreters, and braille programs, in addition to a space that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to these resources, The Victory Gardens Access Project hosts The Artist Development Workshop, a playwriting program designed to accommodate artists and writers with and without disabilities. Artistic Director Chay Yew and Managing Director Christopher Mannelli lead Victory Gardens Theater. Neo-Access is supported in part by grants from Alphawood Foundation Chicago and The Chicago Community Trust.
  • Collaborative performance venue: “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” now in its 27th year, is the Neo-Futurists’, as well as Chicago’s, longest-running show. It will be twice performed at the Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., first on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., and then again in May, the press release said. The May performance date has not yet been announced. For tickets and information, visit www.neofuturists.org. The ticket costs $4 plus the roll of a six-sided die ($5-10).
  • Workshop: Neo-Futurist teaching artists are leading a 10-week session of the popular “Intro to Too Much Light” through Victory Gardens Theater Artist Development Workshop. This session explores the process and tools needed to create a two-minute play. Students write from their own life experiences; learn core Neo tenets of honesty, brevity, audience connection and random chance, and examine specific play formulas and styles, similar to plays performed in “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.” The workshop will be held on Saturdays from June 4 to Aug. 6, from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., with a final performance on Aug. 13. For more information, email mervin@victorygardens.org. The Victory Gardens Theater Artist Development Workshop and performances are supported by a grant for Production Support that Strengthens Artistic and Cultural Diversity from The Chicago Community Trust.
  • Scholarships: Motivated by ongoing conversations about racial diversity and representation both on Neo-Futurist stages and in the Chicago theater community, The Neo-Futurists are increasing time and resources to become a more welcoming, inclusive environment for artists and audience members of color. As part of this plan, Scholarships for Artists of Color have been created to offer five full scholarships for classes in The Neo-Futurist’s education series to artists of color. Scholarships are being accepted on a rolling basis through Feb. 29; those receiving funds can apply the scholarship toward The Neo-Futurists’ workshop and class series. Recipients are chosen based on a writing sample and application by a panel of Board and Ensemble members. More information can be found at www.neofuturists.org/access.
  • Shared training program: The Neo-Futurists are partnering with Alternatives Inc., a community development and social justice agency located in Uptown. This partnership prepares teachers from the Neo-Futurist education series in skills to best serve the community of the Urban Arts Program before putting the teachers directly in the classroom. Using a variety of arts disciplines, Urban Arts participants explore issues relating to identity, interpersonal relationships, community, and social justice. The Urban Arts program provides youth with a safe space to work collaboratively, creatively express themselves, and develop leadership skills. For more information about Alternatives Inc. and its Urban Arts Program, visit www.alternativesyouth.org.

“Neo-Lab and Neo-Access are two initiatives that put a name on what we care about and what we want to get better at,” Chiang said. “There’s a lot to do, and improve upon. But it’s going to be a fun year.”

As well as by the NEA, the Neo-Futurists are also partially supported by grants from the Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Chicago Community Trust, a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, The Illinois Arts Council Agency, and The MacArthur Fund for Arts and Culture at The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

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