BEHIND THE NON-ILLUSORY SCENES
[Slickman was the first theater manager the Neo-Futurists had, she created the position. It may be what eventually burned her out. This "job" she took on ate up more time than she got paid for, and in those days our office was just a little closet next to the State Park. No more than two people could be in there at a time. And she lived there day in day out. In understanding the reasons for the building of a more stable system within the company I felt it very important to get Slickman to talk about this aspect of her career with the Neo-Futurists.]
JP: You come into the company, you’re acting and you’re writing your own material and somewhere along the line you find out there’s no organization.
DS: There’s an organizational vacuum!
JP: So talk about that.
DS: Well, when I first started the show we did everything. Talk about DIY. My God, we did everything. We cleaned the space, we ran the space, we made brownies, we manned the snack booth. Which meant you got there and you made cookies and brownies and you made coffee. And then as soon as you could get everybody into the State Park you ran around and you were in the show. And one of the rotating responsibilities was taking care of the money because every night people brought us cash money and it had to be accounted for. So you had to reconcile the rolling sheets...there’s a form now, which I instituted. But people used to just take a piece of paper and make a grid each night and do the tally marks. And cast members would buy things for the show and turn in little scraps of paper and get reimbursed for them, sort of. You know, it was kind of loosey goosey. Doing the money was like a closing duty. Some people who were interested in that stuff did that stuff? And it seemed…it was kind of haphazard to me. I’d been a bookkeeper at the Westport Cash Saver, I’d done bookkeeping here in Chicago as my day job. And I believe in order. And I also believe that money is a form power, because I think that’s evident, and if you’re not keeping track of your money you’re not keeping track of your power. And a theater company, what don’t have no money, they should keep track of everything that they have. And nobody was doing that. I mean, it was getting done. The money was getting deposited. And we’d get paid. I remember Scott Hermes—for some reason—was, in my mind, the one who was always doing the money. Sometimes Greg would be counting the money, but I always seem to think of Scott as someone who wrote the checks and took care of things which doesn’t surprise me. He’s a math guy. But it didn’t seem very…well, it didn’t seem very organized or very business like. And one time the day came when we couldn’t get paid. And why couldn’t we get paid? Not because we didn’t have the money, but because we ran out of checks. How can that happen?? How can it be that no one noticed that they had written the last check? And then I thought, well, okay somebody clearly has to corral this. I wrote a little job description for myself and thought I’m gonna do this. Because I’d been the company manager for the Shakespeare company, and I wrote up a little job description of things I would do. Keeping up with schedules and scheduling the space, and doing the bookkeeping. I think six dollars an hour or something was what I was going to get paid to do that. I was immediately shot down. Immediately shot down. Because it was not a…it was the beginnings of a hierarchy. Somebody in charge of one particularly thing all the time. But I remember that meeting, as many did in those days, that meeting ending in tears. Because I had good intentions, my intentions were good, my intentions actually were to sacrifice myself for this thing for the betterment of the company so that we didn’t run out of checks again, or get to the theater at 10 on a Friday night and find out that there was no toilet paper. Or find out that nobody had done whatever it was that we couldn’t go on without doing, that nobody had bought soda or coffee or, you know, whatever it was. And I thought, I’m offering myself upon the altar of the theater to make everybody’s lives better and I was seen as somebody who was grasping.
[Slickman here. If John can throw in parenthetical remarks, I think I should get to, also, yes? I want to say here that I know I sound exactly like the big ol' drama queen that I said I hated in the early part of this interview. And despite the way I go on here, I wasn't the only one who thought this stuff needed to change and wanted to do things to make the company run better. I wasn't the only one working hard on that.]
Eventually, I got my way. And I don’t know how or why, I don’t know what turned the tide on that, I don’t know how I managed to convince people that that was actually a good idea. But I blame myself for everything now. That's what I do, John, I blame myself. For everything. Because at the time, having come from a theater company—the Shakespeare company—that had a very specific hierarchy, although I enjoyed the collective model, it was exhausting. We couldn’t make a decision about anything without talking about it—there was no time limit on our meetings in those days. [Anita Loomis, who actually instated many guidelines including a special fund where by every year all the cast members could take a class in any field of study they wanted and get 200 dollars reimbursed from the company. This was to keep us learning, to keep us bringing fresh ideas into the show. It was called the Loomis Fund. So Anita suggested we put a cap on how long we met. 8:45 to 10:30, and then we had to call it a night no matter where the conversations was going. We mostly still stick to this, but often we need a reminder to limit how much each person talks, and repeats themselves.] We met on Sunday nights after the show and talked until two in the morning if we had to. It was awful. I advocated that we have an artistic director. I thought we ought to have an artistic director. We didn’t have one.
We were hindered by not having an organization. It was a lot of work just to maintain that space, and it was a lot of work just to run that show. And there were only 9 of us. We were doing everything. We were writing grants, we were administering the show, we were writing press releases, we were doing all these things and we were…you know, there was no…and some people were working harder than others as is always the case in those situations. Everyone had their thing that they were good at. Annie did a lot of the early posters, she would put together the press materials because she worked at New City, she knew a lot of people in that arena. But no one was being compensated for those things. And we were getting paid like $12 a show. Or a week or something. It was nothing. We were getting paid nothing. And it was a lot of work for the joy of doing it and the glory of the show, but it was…I saw people putting in a lot of work without getting any remuneration. They didn’t get any…there was no incentive. Eventually everyone was gonna burn out. And so I thought, if we can compartmentalize, if everyone can have a job that they get paid a little bit for, that will make things easier. Everybody’s gonna know who’s doing it, you’re gonna feel like you’re valued because you’re getting a little money. You’re getting recognized and you’re getting a little pocket change. You’re getting drinking money, if nothing else. I thought it was a good idea, but in some ways it goes against the collective idea. And I think that that was...it did institute a hierarchy that did change the dynamic of the company. In a not good way. And I think the good thing was we all started getting paid more. Because we knew how much money was in the bank. We could make a budget, we could start writing grants. You know, I think one grant had been written before…in 1992? In four years? A show that was running every weekend to sold out audiences? That seemed absurd to me. I didn’t know why that wasn’t happening. Because I knew the money was out there. I thought if we organized a little, we’d get more done. We’d get paid better. And we did. Some of that stuff happened, but then it..lines started to be drawn.
JP: You started the company's savings account.
DS: I thought that was important. Again, because people brought us cash-money every week. And it would sit in our checking account not doing anything until we needed it. And, you know, why not put it in a savings account? Why not start a reserve? Because, you know, early on in my tenure there, we started talking about whether we could stay in that space forever. You know, we didn’t have that big office space at the time. I was in that closet. The current office was a Romanian library. That was unpleasant, a fraught relationship with them. We thought we were gonna have to move out of there eventually. And I thought, if we’re gonna move we gotta start saving money. Because we’re gonna have to buy a building or rent a building and to get grant money for that stuff? We’re gonna have to demonstrate that we’re fiscally responsible. I thought, what happens if we get closed down? What happens if this space gets closed down? We’re gonna have to start renting from somebody. We gotta have money in reserve so we can rent from somebody. So that’s why I started the savings account. Every good business should do that. You should have six months in reserve in case…the catastrophic happens. Your building burns down, your CEO dies. You have to have a little nest egg. So that’s why I started that. And, you know, we started keeping our books on the computer. We started a mailing list that was computerized, a database, that wasn’t on spreadsheet, somebody typing it into Word or something. My God. So we started doing that kinda stuff to build our audience and to be more effective. Especially as we started doing more prime time plays. So we could get people in there. And we wanted to tell our Too Much Light audience that we were doing something else. So I wanted to build that part of it, the mailing list and all that stuff. It’s a lot of work. And even then, you know, with everyone pitching in and doing stuff it’s still a lot of work.
WHO PUT SLICKMAN IN A CLOSET? (OH, SHE DID.)
JP: You were in a closet.
DS: I was in a closet.
JP: Not only were doing the show and maintaining the space, you were spending your afternoons and evenings in a small office that was in actuality just a closet. A small closet at that!
DS: ‘Till 1:30am. At one point I was there 7 days a week. Because I had 3 part time jobs, one of which was to work part time at the theater as managing director. I would be there from, like 4 to 7, Monday through Friday. I’d be at rehearsal on Tuesday nights, I’d be at the show Friday, Saturday, & Sunday nights. I was there all the time. And then I got burnt out. I got all burnt. out. [Diana has an intensity in her eyes, strong but as if she could cry at any moment, and this intensity in her whole self is infectious. Just the way she said she was "burnt. out." had me with my head in my hands cursing the world.] And I had to go. I took a sabbatical in the 2nd half of ’96—right before you came in—and that helped some, but I decided I had to do that after David Kodeski and I got into some fight. We got into something—you know Kodeski, he’ll fight with you about anything. We got into a fight about…about…we were doing a summer shorts, it was called, and we were doing a series of short plays. You know, 3 a night and there were 2 different programs that we did in different repertory. One night you do one, do the other the next night. And we got into a fight about which one went first. About which play goes on which schedule. And I had decided one thing for, I’m sure, some very good reason and David had decided another thing for, I’m sure, some very good reason. And we started yelling at each other about it. And he made me cry. And he made fun of me—well, I made myself cry—but he made fun of me or dismissed me for crying, and I said, “I’m leaving right now and I’m not coming back for 6 months and don’t come after me.” And that’s exactly what I did—and I still, I was still managing director but I was not in the show for six months. Because I was crispy. Crispy all over from burn out. My God, I crackled. And, you know, that was what? Last half of ’96? And end of 2000 was my last show. My last full-time show. [When I came in Diana was still the major force behind the administration, and she would bring all the business to us, and we would hash out every goddamn decision that had to be made. It was painful, painful as all getgo, but some sadistic DIY part of myself enjoyed it. So Slickman was still very active, and if this was her being "not so active" I can't imagine the "active" Slickman. But I did see her participation decrease and then she left Too Much Light and left her position at the theater.]
JP: [A few weeks later I conducted an interview with David Kodeski, and I knew that these two were tight, tight friends and still allowed themselves to tackle each other in a full out verbal war. So I wanted Slickman to talk a little about David.]
DAVID KODESKI CLOSE COMBATIVE FRIEND
DS: [David] is a particular guy. He’s…I don’t know why we get along as well as we do. We’re at odds a lot of the time. But from the beginning we were good friends and part of that was just from coming into the show, being new at the same time. Although Lusia and I get along, we don’t have that same sort of…you know David and I sort of hooked together somehow.
JP: And you still work together.
DS: Oh yeah, we still work together. He’s such a good writer. He writes really beautifully. He can be really funny onstage. And like Kotis, he’ll write things that are totally just…plays about farting, and then he’ll write something that’s so beautiful, both with equal facility. Many of us will write things that are completely unsuccessful, and yet will fight for this completely unsuccessful thing and it’s not that successful but we want it in anyway! He’s got that stubborn streak that in some ways served him really well in the show, that ability to fight for the things that you think ought to go into the show. He was not shy about expressing his opinion, which I think was really valuable. We were all pretty tough in those days. But he’s…um…he’s a generous performer, he’s a dear person. But he’s got a mean streak. Which he’s the first to admit, I think.
JP: In David I sometimes see my friend Peter, they both emulate this lovable drunken Irish [Polish] bar mentality where the more you argue with someone the more it means you like them.
DS: It’s almost pugilistic. It’s not about being right, it’s about winning the fight. And sometimes that can be aggravating, but sometimes when you get into that kind of fight with him it’s just a stupid thing. And it doesn’t have any bearing on how much you like him, it’s just an aggravating thing that he does. It’s like cracking his knuckles. It’s like the psychic equivalent of cracking his knuckles all the time. I’d still like him, but I wish he wouldn’t do that. Yeah, he’s…it’s the Polish.
JP: Did that combativeness come out in business meetings too or mostly just on the creative side? Was he like that across the board?
DS: I don’t remember us getting into it about that stuff so often. But just, you know, and partly, too, I think he sometimes is just a contrary…you’ll take a stand, he’ll take the opposite stand even though maybe he doesn’t care that much. He just doesn’t think you should have your way.
JP: I’ve found recently that people will call me a contrarian. I’ve always taken it kind of hard. I’ve never thought of myself that way.
DS: No. You strike me as someone who sort of goes his own way.
JP: That’s what I always thought. I see myself as just slightly off. Like, I’ll try to understand something but I can only understand my perception of what I think is going on so, I think that makes me have a sort of slightly different opinion? Which is different to me than saying, “Oh, I get what you're saying and you're wrong.”
[Reviewing this next section, I feel about myself that over the years, becoming one of the senior members, I had to actively make myself be more vocal. It is important to have genuinely opposing opinions to better our decision making abilities, to be more aware of our responsibility to each other. I look back at Diana's evaluation of me, and I agree with it, but I don't like it. I think I have changed... for the most part.]
DS: “I get what you're saying and you're wrong.” That’s David’s way of doing it, and what I think your way of doing it is “I see what you’re doing and I think that you’re wrong so I’m going to ignore it.” Whereas David jumps into the breach, you wander away from the breach and occupy yourself in something else and pretend it’s not happening, whatever it is, whatever the argument is. “I’m just gonna wander somewhere else…” where as David is in there going (insert growling dog sound), tooth and nail. And that’s the difference in your style, but you may be exactly the same people. Everybody’s got their way of dealing with conflict and as David will himself say, he likes to have the last word. And he’ll get entrenched. And even if he thinks maybe it’s not worth being in that trench, he’s gonna stay in there until you admit it.
JP: There’s a lot of Neo-Futurists who are that way and it shows itself in different characteristics. Dave Awl picks his battles very specifically and makes sure he has all his "ducks in a row" so that his last words appear "educated." Greg, in his interview, talked about an incident in his childhood in elementary school. After watching a play he decided he wanted to be the last one clapping, so he continued clapping until his whole class was out in the hallway just to make sure he was the last one. It must have been an interesting period being with all these people who—
DS: Very. Strong. Personalities. Yeah. Nobody in the company was a pushover. There was not a lot of yielding. Which made for better theater in some ways. Made for very difficult rehearsals, sometimes it made for very difficult business dealings, sometimes? But the shows were good because we talked about everything. Nothing went into the show without discussion unless it was just so universally delightful that you couldn’t deny it. Sometimes the longest part of the night was deciding what would go in. Which I think is…in the later years that I was in the show and the couple of times I went into the show after I had quit full time, people were anxious to get out of rehearsal as quickly as possible. When I was originally in the show, often Tuesdays were your longest nights at the theater.
JP: The current NY casts spends a copious amount of time discussing each play. Each piece is talked about extensively.
ENSEMBLE CRITICISM MAKES THE PLAY GO
DS: We used to talk as much about the plays that we didn’t put in as the plays that we did. And that was incredibly valuable feedback. Some people didn’t want that feedback but they got it anyway. Or, sometimes you’d bring something in to read it and say "tell me what you think about that. I don’t think this is going in this week, but I want some feedback on it." And that was how it was with the Feminist Theater Collective, that’s what I was used to. I was used to bringing something in, reading it, gathering information, sifting through that and deciding what was valuable and working through what I had written based on those comments. We made better theater, we made better plays because we talked about what was successful and what wasn’t. And sometimes you couldn’t separate what was being said from how it was being said. We would have arguments about, if this play goes in I’m not gonna be in it. Because I don’t agree with that point of view and I don’t want to be seen as agreeing with that point of view. And that…that was fine. You could opt out of a play because I don’t’ want to espouse that point of view. But, you know, they were strong points of view. Which was great. I think that’s when the show is best, is when there’s a lot of diverse, strong points of view being put forward. Contradictory. Often. We’d have shows where some important thing had happened and there’d be two or three plays that dealt with it saying something different. And sometimes in direct opposition of the play that came before. That’s lively theater. That’s good stuff. Because that leaves the audience to think about it and decide for themselves instead of being told. Or just entertained. Not that I’m against being entertained but we were less concerned with—although we wrote some very funny plays—we were less concerned with making the audience like us as making a show that was interesting. If we had too many funny things we’d take a couple out.
[This challenge to Neo-Futurists to be openly critical is an ongoing battle. It ebbs and flows. We will get to the point where we have just stopped commenting for awhile, then someone will say, "We need to get back to more critical rehearsals." This ebb and flow seems to happen more frequently over the years. I feel it is not the quality of artists, I think the quality is always there, I feel it has more to do with the reality that each artist isn't in the show as consistently anymore, that we are all on different alloted time schedules: 16 weeks, 24 weeks 32 weeks 40 weeks. It is hard to build a strong critical relationship when the ensemble is changing week to week. It is a struggle of the modern neo times. One in which I do not feel we yet have a satisfactory solution.]
JP: There is a struggle for artists that to simplify is a balancing act between our own oblique unique selves and finding a relationship with the audience, where they can sympathize or even just be entertained by you. In searching for our own voices I feel often artists turn it into this hate of the audience, or referring to them as monkeys. [Not Barrel Of Monkeys, ACTUAL monkeys.] Perhaps that's a defense mechanism against being persuaded to appeal to the "majority." It's a difficult challenge to not distill your creativity in order to regularly be entertaining.
DS: More important than entertaining the audience is reaching the audience. And if that means I’m gonna make ‘em mad or uncomfortable or tell ‘em something they didn’t know before or present a point of view they hadn’t thought of. Or make them laugh until they pee, that’s fine. But they don’t have to like everything I say. And I think that some of the shows I’ve seen in the last few years, it’s been really concerned with, “I want the audience to like me,” For me it was more important to make the audience listen than to make them laugh. Although I’m all about making them laugh if I can. If I can do both. And I think we were less concerned with entertaining the first 2 or 3 years I was in the show. Not confronting them but engaged. We wanted them engaged, is I think the best way I can describe it.
JP: Okay. Now we can move forward to…You burned out, but you stayed around for almost two years. What eventually tipped you over the edge?
DS: You know what it was? The thing that tipped me over the edge, we went through that whole reorganization thing and I don’t know how it happened. I have no idea how it came to the place where we were having all day retreats about the organization of our company. How did that ever happen? I mean, yes, we needed—we had kind of fallen apart in what had been when I started, a sort of all-for-one mentality to a four people do all the administration stuff. And we had to have a board. We had had a straw board forever. People who were in the show. In fact, people who were no longer working with the company were on our board. Like I think our board was Phil, Karen, Tim [Reinhardt], & Greg [Allen]. Well that’s—half of those people are being paid by the company. Well, you can’t be on the board of a non-profit if you’re being paid by the company. This had to change because, especially with that PPA [debacle]. [I don't want to get too far into the PPA explanation but over the years there has been a Chicago code that has put plenty of storefront theaters out of business, and in summer/fall of 1999 the city came down hard, unreasonably hard on storefront theaters. We were put through all the aforementioned meetings orignally as measure to prevent us from being closed down, over time it morphed into something bigger and more complicated. Slickman eventually left in December of 2000.] The spotlight was being shown on small theaters and whether they were licensed to do what they were doing and we had to have a proper board. And truthfully, we needed a board. And, I’ll say it again, I don’t know how it happened but we had hired someone - a nice person, good intentioned - who had been working with theater companies that were not in anyway like our theater company. They were traditionally, hierarchally arranged theaters that she had worked with. And even then we fancied ourselves a collective. And she basically wanted us to be run like a business. Which, in some ways, was a great idea. But she also didn’t like the idea of artists having any control over the business aspects of the company that they had created and were funding through their work. She didn’t think that it was important for the people who were making the money to have decisions about how the company was run. And that was a mistake. She brought in someone to help us reorganize our company the way she wanted it organized. We went through a lot of exercises about being re-organized, and how to run our meetings and it turned out badly. I think it just broke us down rather than building us up. It was meant to build us up and it broke us down. The person whose idea this was, she was a catalyst for drama and we didn’t need anymore drama. We had plenty of drama at the time. Lotta personality conflicts in that company, didn’t need any help there. And that was the tipping point for me. It was no longer fun, it was no longer rewarding and I…it was emotionally draining. I didn’t need it. I couldn’t do it anymore. Every decision became fraught and it was like pulling teeth to get people to do anything because everybody felt sort of embattled or put upon or being asked something of. You couldn’t get anything done. And…yeah, I don’t know. It was unfortunate. And I don’t blame the board members, they were fine. I don’t blame the idea of the board. It was that process. It really…disintegrated things. It brought up a lot of long standing grievances that got aired in an unproductive way, that maybe never should have been aired. We could have gone on for a long time. Or eventually sorted things out ourselves or quietly disbanded instead of disbanding in a ball of flame. Which is why we ended up sort of losing people.
[In this ball of flame the company lost, throughout the next year or so: Diana Slickman, David Kodeski, Lusia Strus, Dave Awl, Anita Loomis, and me. (I was reactivated a few years later, although it was hardly noticable that I was inactive, in the grand scheme of neo-futurism.)]
DS: And the other thing about it is…what was fun about being in the company was doing the show. And all that other stuff we did because we had to do it and because we wanted the company to be successful. And then when you take that away from it, you start to resent people for the success of the company or when you think they’re getting attention for the success of the things that you think you worked for? Stuff you think you make possible but you’re not getting any credit for? That’s when being in the show stopped being fun. And when people started saying, I don’t wanna clean the toilets, I don’t wanna write any grants, I just wanna be in the show. And then the people who are doing that work are saying, “well, fuck you! maybe I just wanna be in the show, too. But I’m working here and you’re not doing shit but being in the show having fun.” That created a lot of tension. You know, people that were blowing off the duties we had all decided that we would do together. Because they didn’t wanna do that because that wasn’t fun. Or they had a job. Or whatever.
JP: I’m wondering now is it a paradox to grow and yet try to hold onto all the day to day duties we do for the company? I feel the success of the show has a lot to do with the idea that we actively engage ourselves in the grunt work—it’s important to me that the audience sees us taking the garbage out every night or rolling them in and taking their cash, talking to them before and after the show. Is there a point where we can give too much responsibility away and just become hired actors, which is a strong fear of mine. Do you believe that these tasks we give ourselves actually affect the quality of the show?
DS: Well I think that’s…at least in my later days in the company, that was the tension. There were the people who just wanted to have fun and be in the show and didn’t wanna do all the other work that’s involved in running the theater company. That’s not what they were interested in. They were interested in writing and performing. Great. It should be fun. You should get to do the fun things. But I guess I believe in that ideal. That…I like the collective notion. I am in favor of people taking responsibility. That’s the bottom line. I think if you’re part of a theater company, or any endeavor, you should take a certain amount of responsibility for its success - which sometimes means doing things that aren't so fun.
JP: Correct. Can you go so far as to say this effects the quality of the performance?
DS: I don’t know. But I can say that I think the best experience I had was in the first two or three years when that’s what the company was, was everybody doing everything all the time and sharing responsibility for the things no one wanted to do to a more or less greater degree. I don’t know if it was just that group of people and the attitude that they had towards making this particular kind of theater. I can say that they were concurrent? But I don’t know that they were causally linked. I don’t know if one made the other possible. But I think we had a different attitude toward what the company was.
JP: I feel I’m in a Quixotic position now because I don’t wanna be doing all of that work, but sometimes I feel I have to for it to get done. That's what has driven me to realize that I am now one of the older statesmen at the company and this holds a large amount of responsibility because I truly believe in that idea, the aesthetic. It’s important to be working hard for the privilege to perform your own unique art.
DS: And that there is no line between what happens onstage and what happens offstage—which of course there is—but if the ideal is that your life onstage and your life offstage be inextricably linked or being the same, then you can’t just be in the show, you know what I mean? You have to be part of the whole. Even if that’s exhausting and you’re doing things you don’t wanna do. You know, welcome to the world. The world’s like that. If you want something to be successful you have to work at it. And if that means making a pleasant environment for the audience to come into—you know, the toilets are cleaned, the State Park is swept, whatever, then that’s what it means. But I think there’s a separation between those two things now. That the show is one thing and the running of the company is a different thing, and the maintaining of the space is a different thing. When we [Theater Oobleck] were performing Trojan Candidate in there I was appalled at the state of the space. Appalled. I mean, that poor space. It suffers so much because the landlords don’t give a flying fuck about it. But it also appears to not be cared about by the people who work there every day. You know, I took better care of that space when I was there in the six weeks of our run than I saw anybody else do. And it’s like, that’s not right. I know, I know, people are there too much already they don’t wanna take the time to mop the space when they leave, but the audience has to come in there. You don’t want it to be sticky when they come in. There was no pride of place. Which I think we had when first came in there. Like the the Hall of Presidents. What’s that doing there? Why is there a Hall of Presidents in the Neo-Futurarium? Because Ayun and Greg K thought there should be something in that hallway for the audience to look at. And Greg thought it should be presidents. I don’t know why. So they made it happen. They went to the trouble to make the space happen because they thought it should be a better place for our audience. I don’t know that that would have happened now. Are you looking for a portraitist now for Obama?
JP: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, we’re waiting. You have to wait for them to have a long enough time in the office.
DS: We didn’t do that with Bill Clinton.
JP: We waited to see what Bush would do. I think it is a smart idea to wait until we have a bit more of a picture between the intended goals of the new presidents and what actually is achieved in the presidential office.
DS: Gotta give the artist something to go with.
YEAH, THEY WERE IMPORTANT TO YOU THEN BUT WHAT ABOUT NOW?
JP: You are considered inactive/an alum, yet you still frequent the theater, and you stay in contact with many past and current Neo-Futurists: Kodeski, Ridarelli, Riordan, Claff—
DS: --and Mrs. Shaw.
JP: And Mrs. Shaw. And you keep in contact with the Kotis/Halliday family.
DS: Sure, sure, and Hermes. Lusia and I still talk every once in awhile or get together when she’s in town. Dave Awl and I still work together sometimes. We’re gonna do a Partly Dave Show later this month. [These took place at the Neo-Futurarium over a three month period, and I hope Dave will do them there again. Partly Dave.] Yeah, I’m still friends with all those people. I still see you every once in awhile, we’re sort of in business together. [Slickman has co-produced all the theater releases on my publishing company.] And I work with Steve and Sean every once in awhile, Heather I see all the time. So yeah, still connected with all those people. Wouldn’t have it any other way I don’t think. But yeah, I work with Theater Oobleck now. Which isn’t so different in a lot of ways, just in that the company is not so structured. It’s very much still a collective of people.
JP: There are a hand full of companies that have recently celebrated their 20th year, and many of these have chosen not to pursue having their own space. I find that pretty interesting. Perhaps some wanted a space but were too poor or lazy to find out how to get one, but I also thing it may have helped them in other ways.
DS: Having a space is like home ownership. Suddenly you have lots more responsibility that can’t be ignored. You know, when you rent a space on a show by show basis it’s not your responsibility to clean the toilets or deal with the landlord or try to figure out what to do about the roof that’s leaking that the landlord doesn’t wanna deal with or figure out how to make the space better for the audience. You breeze in and you breeze out and I think that for Oobleck, you know it’s funny because there are how many companies this year and last year having their 20th anniversary? The Neo-Futurists, Curious Theater Branch, Goat Island, somebody else I wanna say.
JP: Redmoon? [This isn't the company Diana was looking for, but they did start in 1990 and are closely approaching their 20th.]
DS: Four pillars of the Chicago fringe theater scene all celebrating their 20th year—what the fuck was in the water in 1988 is what I wanna know? What? That was just after I moved here and right after a whole bunch of other people moved here. There were a whole bunch of people coming to Chicago at that time, excited to make theater. And it’s an easy place to make theater. You put 3 actors in a room for 15 minutes and you’ve got a theater company, is what we used to say. And that was very much true at that time. You could rent empty storefronts and put on a show. It was easy. Still is. That’s one of the great things about Chicago.
I think a lot of those companies don’t have spaces because of the responsibility that comes along with it—not that they eschew responsibility, but it forces you to do things you might not wanna do. It forces you to put on 5 shows a year so you can keep money coming in so you can pay the rent. The thing that has allowed the Neo-Futurists to do that is, again, cashflow and it’s Too Much Light that brings in cash every week. It pays the rent. Then you just have to worry about finding money to pay the actors and pay the designers and make the publicity and pay the staff. But, without a space, you don’t have to put on a show just because you need to make money. You know, it’s hard. It’s hard to get people who are not theater administrators to run a space. We’ve seen that happen. We know it’s not easy. So I think for a lot of those people, you don’t have to produce if you don’t want to. And I think that’s the appeal for a lot of it. You just don’t have the responsibility. And you don’t have to start doing things you don’t wanna do because you have that responsibility. I think that’s why a lot of these companies don’t have a space. Oobleck’s been putting on weird ass shit for 20 years, crazy-ass shit. Curious Theater Branch, they’re prolific those folks. But they don’t have a space. You don’t necessarily need one in Chicago. Plenty of people who have it are willing to rent it out. Which is great. But, Oobleck’s a lot like the Neo-Futurists used to be. We have meetings where everybody signs up to do something. Everybody’s taken on some aspect of producing our next show. As they can. Everybody sharing responsibility, everybody knowing that there are unpleasant tasks that have to be done that will be made easier because everyone’s doing it. Or you know you have one unpleasant task and I’ll be doing it next time.
JP: What's up with BoyGirlBoyGirl?
DS: That’s a solo performance ensemble, which is a nice contradiction in terms. It started out with David Kodeski, Edward Thomas-Herrera, Stephanie Shaw, & Susan McLaughlin-Karp. They were each tired of putting on solo shows for six weeks that were attended by, like, 7 people per night. They decided to create a company where they could perform solo pieces together in one evening that would be completely attended because it was one-night-only and they each had their own audiences to draw from. And they’d be guaranteed a pretty full house for that one performance. And the idea for the show is to take a piece of found text and create pieces inspired by that piece of found text. So I think the first show they did was called…New More Shocking Secrets! or something. But their inspiration was like a tabloid magazine or a romance magazine or a true crime magazine or something. And they all did pieces inspired by that text. And then they did The Art of Italian Cooking, which was a cookbook, and they all did pieces about food or about traveling to Italy or meals, it was very fun. When Stephanie went back to school to get her master’s degree, and Mrs. Karp got pregnant, the ladies’ auxiliary (Rachel Claff and me) was formed. So the 6 of us have been performing off and on since then. And that’s fun. It’s…I like…it has some of the good elements of Too Much Light, you know, there’s a restriction? There’s a narrowing of the field which helps me at least, it inspires me to write if I’m made to think about a particular thing or made to write in a certain way or have a time constraint, so that’s been real fun. And, you know, you get the best of both worlds. You get to be a solo performer and you don’t have to draw crowds all by yourself. And we’ve branched out. No longer just the one night stand. We find that 3 or 4 is our best number. We’ve done, like, 6 performances for a show and we found that it just didn’t work out. Three’s the magic number. Gives people just enough opportunity to see them.
JP: It's a great group of people... A great group of friends.
DS: Yeah. Yeah. It’s fun. We’re all odd and dysfunctional in our own ways, which is good, in complimentary ways. So it’s nice.