Starving for a bit of culture? One hour in Traverse City’s Warehouse District is all it takes.
“Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” is 30 two-minute plays performed in 60 minutes.
That’s right. Thirty plays in 60 minutes. Presented by the Traverse City-based theater troupe Parallel 45 at InsideOut Gallery, “Too Much Light…” is many things, but is definitely not traditional theater, said Erin Anderson, the company’s executive director.
“We look for things that are innovative, high energy, and a little non-traditional,” Anderson said.
“Too Much Light…” was written and is performed by the Neo-Futurists experimental theater group in Chicago to engage audiences in two new ways.
First, the audience determines the order in which the plays are presented.
Secondly, rather than pretending that the action on the stage is real, the plays are all set on the stage in front of the audience, and the characters are the actors themselves.
“They break down the wall [between actors and audience] immediately,” said Anderson. “It’s a unique take on theater.”
Engaging the audience in this way is challenging for the actors. They have to know their parts for whichever of the plays they are in. And they have to be ready to go onstage at a moment’s notice, as they never know in which order the plays will be presented.
It’s a formula that has worked successfully for 25 years.
“Too Much Light…” has not only won awards, but is the longest-running play in Chicago theater.
“It’s really fun,” said Anderson. “People go many, many times.”
The show will run July 25 and 26 and is being directed by Kit McKay, who cofounded Parallel 45 five years ago with Anderson.
The two had been friends since their high school days at Interlochen Arts Academy.
“She was in theater, and I’m a theater enthusiast,” said Anderson.
They were having dinner in Chicago and discussing future plans, including the possibility of this area someday supporting a professional theater group.
Then the twosome decided their conversation didn’t need to remain theoretical.
“We said, ‘Why someday? Let’s do it,’” she said. So Anderson and McKay combined their skills in fundraising and theater, respectively, enlisting like-minded friends and fellow professionals. The eight founding members all have Interlochen in common, whether attending the summer arts camp, the academy, and/or working there.
Parallel 45 presents three plays each year. While most of its presentations may not be quite as unconventional as “Too Much Light…” there are just as many experimental projects as classics.
So for every “Our Town,” there’s “The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan.”
One thing Anderson emphasizes is, that she doesn’t see Parallel 45 as being in competition with Old Town Playhouse. She says she sees the support for Old Town Playhouse as indicative of the region’s support for the arts in general and theater in particular.
“One question I’m asked is ‘What does a professional theater company mean?’ The short answer is we hire professional actors from around the world to come here. We pay them, the stage manager, the costumer, etc.,” she said.
Anderson says their desire is to create theater that is innovative. “Too Much Light...”, along with upcoming shows “The Oz Project” (a re-imagining of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale) and “Cyrano” demonstrate the possibilities inherent in the genre.
Ticket prices for the show are dicey, to say the least. Patrons must literally roll dice to determine their ticket price.
Curtain is 9pm, which while late by local standards, is still two or three hours earlier than the play is presented in Chicago and New York.