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Former Artistic Director Doubts Politics Were Behind 'Too Much Light' Yank

By Josh McGhee | December 2, 2016 9:53am
 Megan Mercier joined the Chicago ensemble in June 2008.
Megan Mercier joined the Chicago ensemble in June 2008.
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Courtesy of Megan Mercier

ANDERSONVILLE — The creator of the popular production "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" has pulled the rights to present it by the Neo-Futurist theater group that has performed it here for 28 years, saying he wants to make it more political with "a new diverse ensemble that embraces a specifically socially activist mission."

But a former Neo-Futurist artistic director and cast member says the ensemble is already diverse, and that the break up is more likely over personality conflicts.

In a statement, Greg Allen, the creator of the "30 plays in 60 minutes" production and a founder of  Neo-Futurists, said that the election of Donald Trump prompted him to "reboot" with a new production company, describing it as "a machine to fight Fascism."

In a statement, Chicago Neo-Futurists artistic director Kurt Chiang said the group was "surprised" by Allen's decision and that they had been in negotiations for a year to continue performing "Too Much Light" at 5153 N. Ashland Ave.

"While we are disappointed that is has come to this conclusion, throughout our long history there have been considerable artistic differences and irreconcilable differences" with Allen, Chaing said in the statement, posted by the Chicago Reader, vowing to continue with a new late-night show in 2017.

Allen did not respond to requests for comment.

Former ensemble member Megan Mercier said in a post on Tumblr that Allen's link to Trump's election for pulling the license from Neo-Futurists in Chicago is "stupefying on a fundamental level" and alleged past conflicts with company members were to blame.

Mercier, who joined the ensemble cast in June 2008, said Allen was vindictive and known for "a litany of antics... that diminished and marginalized" female cast members, she said. 

A press release from Allen said the ensemble for his new production “will be comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.”

Allen has only pulled the rights from Chicago-based performances at the Neo-Futurarium at 5153 N. Ashland Ave.,to perform the production. Ensembles in New York, San Francisco and London will not be affected by the change.

But Mercier told DNAinfo, "the reality is that is the company now." The current ensemble can be found here.

In January, the group launched a scholarship for people of color to expand its diversity and described its ensemble at the time at about one-quarter minority.

Lily Mooney, one of the ensemble members in charge of the program, said in January that the group aimed to do a better job reflecting a "broader and more diverse audience," Mooney said.

Mercier, who served as artistic director for the company from 2012-2014, said she doubted Allen's decision had anything to do with the election and "the threat has loomed" since he was "democratically removed from the active ensemble."

In the statement announcing the end of the "Too Much Light" in Chicago, Allen said he left the local ensemble four years ago and founded a San Francisco Neo-Futurists group, advised a New York branch and has taught at universities.

Mercier said his parting from Chicago involved a dispute over one of the skits included in a year-end performance written by a female performer whom he had "targeted." He was "dismissive of her opinion," she said.

While in her Tumblr post she acknowledges Allen is the license holder of "Too Much Light," she questioned what parts of the format he actually owned. She said its "structure" is similar to Chicago Improv and "no one owns the form."

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