New York Neo-Futurists
An Interview with Christopher Andrew Loar
As a scholar who is interested in stage directions as dialogue for bodies, I was not going to miss the New York Neo-Futurists’ show The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, Volume 1: Early Plays/Lost Plays. I immediately bought a ticket and headed to the Kraine Theater to see what lay behind that intriguing title. What I found was an energetic, creative, and unique performance piece that was hilariously funny for scholar and layman alike. Whereas I went into the first volume of The Complete & Condensed knowing very little about the NY Neos, I now await the imminent opening of The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, Volume 2 after having seen the initial show 4 times in two different venues, interviewing and chatting with cast and crew, and generally frequenting every show the Neos have done since then.
The New York Neo-Futurists are a group of performers who are best known for their long-running show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, which is their attempt to do 30 shows in 60 minutes, which runs every weekend at the Kraine Theater. In The Complete & Condensed, the actors perform only Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions from a variety of plays. There is a narrator reading the stage directions aloud as the performers try to embody the often- over the top directions in between the dialogues (sample this: as “He prepares to crush her with his eloquence” from And Now I Ask You.) To get a better idea of what we can all expect from this next volume, I asked creator Christopher Andrew Loar a few questions about this latest piece, which plays April 17– May 11 at Theater for the New City.
Bess Rowen: After the uproarious success of the first volume of this show, how did you go about planning for the second volume? Was it a similar creative process or did you change how certain things were approached?
Christopher Andrew Loar: The second volume is very much a continuation of the first and we developed the piece in a similar way; an intense period of research and development where we really got into the stage directions with the group, just playing around in a room, giving different characters to different performers with no set ideas of how exactly how we wanted to plays to be rendered. This was followed by a wonderful week long residency up at NACL in the Catskills where we got to take a large amount of the material we had been playing with in rehearsal and whittle it down to what was the strongest and what fit together the best for a 90 minutes or less show. […] In building an intricate piece of work like this, a lengthy rehearsal period is essential to give the work time and space to breathe and to grow on its own. I hate short, pressurized rehearsal periods. As a director, I am very lucky to be working with such a dedicated ensemble of collaborators like the New York Neo-Futurists. This is a team that truly loves to play, and my goal [always] in creating something is to set up a playground for them.
We always move in chronological order [even if we skip plays] however. This was a kind of rule we discovered in working on Volume 1; because the show is also tracking O'Neill's path as a developing writer.
Rowen: Also, how did you select which plays to include in this volume?
Loar: We worked on all of these plays when building the first volume. Some we just did a pass through maybe once or twice and some we really tried to fit into that first volume. There are two plays that shall remain nameless that almost made it into Volume 2, but we scrapped them when we went upstate to work. They just made the show too long, too heavy and they didn't quite flow. With a show that is comprised of several different worlds and set-ups, it's important to achieve a sense of flow from play to play. Some plays just don't fit after others. We always move in chronological order [even if we skip plays] however. This was a kind of rule we discovered in working on Volume 1; because the show is also tracking O'Neill's path as a developing writer. Moving in order keeps a stronger fidelity to his biography, which is an important element of the show.
Rowen: What's your favorite stage direction of Eugene O'Neill's so far? (I know I asked you this about volume 1, but I'm still curious!)
Loar: So MANY! They change from rehearsal to rehearsal. Currently my favorite is: [Townsend] is erect, well-preserved, energetic, dressed immaculately but soberly. (From Abortion, 1914)
Rowen: Has working on Volume 2 changed how you see the project working as a whole? What new discoveries has this volume led you to? Or is it just further proof of things you learned from Volume 1?
Loar: Yes, indeed. Doing Volume 2 has made the whole series make more sense to me. Volume 2 is a wonderful companion to Volume 1, almost like its shadow. By picking the plays for this volume it has made the ideal collection for Volume 3 very clear. Also with this one, I realized that making the tasks harder for the performers, having them play multiple characters in the same scene and things like that, makes it a more exciting thing to watch. I like to think of each volume increasing in difficulty for the players, almost like a game.
Rowen: What would you like people to know about The Complete & Condensed? Or what word or phrase comes to your mind when you think of it?
Loar: I'd like them to know that as much as this show is about O'Neill it is equally about the personalities of the wonderful artists on stage. As Neo-Futurists, we don't play characters in an illusory way, we are "who we are, where we are and doing what we are doing" at all times. This show captures a fascination with O'Neill and his wacky stage directions, but it also serves as a means for this group of performers to express their unique humanity in a highly physical and often silly way. We're doing the plays and telling those stories, yes, but there is always a parallel and often incidental narrative going on between us as people. Silly or serious, Complete & Condensed O'Neill is always fun to watch.