Working Title: Shotgun Dreamscapes or The Waking Neo Futurist Life

Will Leschber looks into The Future.

The Neo Futurists are coming. They are preparing to hit the Bay Area in the near future. But, who are they? And more importantly does their pastiche, mash-up theatre structure serve a purpose? One could also ask this of Waking Life, the unconventional 2001 indie film by Richard Linklater.

Let’s begin at the future.

I was fortunate enough to catch a performance of The Neo Futurists’ “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” in Chicago last week. They are self described on their website ( as “a collective of wildly prolific writer/director/performers who create: Theater that is a fusion of sport, poetry and living-newspaper.” Although this company is a new revelation to me, they have actually been around for 25 years.  The company name evokes art in transition; Something that flagstones a bridge between theatre today and audiences of tomorrow. Their mission is to create “work that embraces those unreached or unmoved by conventional theater inspiring them to thought, feeling and action.” This postmodern approach to theatre combines improvisation, short-form timed theatre, unconventional entertainment structure, narrative dance/movement and other performance forms as a way to provide a new kind of theatrical experience.


The rundown looks like this: the audience receives an order menu of 30 play titles as they enter. If you are picturing Chinese take out, you are on the right track. When the performers shout “curtain!” throughout the night, anyone in the audience is invited to shout back a number 1 thru 30. The first number a performer hears, that play is up next. The goal is to get through 30 plays in 60 minutes. Each night is different from the last. Nightly the order re-shuffles and new plays are written and swapped in each week. The structure itself and the extensive possibilities are exciting. It is Jack of All Trades Theatre with all the positive and negative connotations. In that, I mean the Neo Futurists provide scatter gun entertainment that hits in the keys of Comedy, Drama and the myriad spaces between.  I do wonder if the parts, in this case, are more than the sum. Of the 60 plays, I can remember a mere handful. Yet, I enjoyed them all. This eclectic theatre satisfies so many tastes in a structured form that doesn’t allow the performance to master any one. Herein lies the purpose and also the frustration. I was not as moved as King Lear nor did I laugh as hard as Noises Off. However, in a third of the time, I laughed and felt empathy for honest connections and was wowed by breakneck athletic theatre. That’s the point:  shotgun entertainment. The target audience will be hit in one way or another. Certain parts struck me. Different part may strike you. I found myself thinking about and talking about the performance days later. This for me is a benchmark of essential art. Something that stays with you. Something that isn’t easily shaken off. While I wasn’t blown out if my chair in awe, I am eager to return and pick up more pieces.

Like the piecemeal form intrinsic to Neo Futurist theatre, Richard Linklater’s 2001 film, Waking Life is told in vignettes. Genre is flipped about and narrative storytelling falls to the brief whimsy of shifting dreams.  Our lead character, played by Wiley Wiggins, travels through a dreamscape in which he alternately interacts with or simply observes others in omniscient third person. Wylie watches psychiatrists discuss the purpose of love. He witnesses the heated rant of an overly political cab driver with a megaphone. He discusses purpose and identity in our waking lives and whether we sleep away our lives to only live truly in our dreams. He is told the last words of Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and theologian  who on his death bed said,  “Sweep me up” and Wylie wonders whether his current sleep is eternal. Will he wake? How linked are we all though common experience and reincarnated dreams? Not only does Linklater play with story structure, he plays with the way the film is visually conveyed.


To further emphasize the unstable dream state of on main character, Linklater filmed live action and then animated over the top of that. This process is called Rotoscoping and although it has been around for almost a century, Richard Linklater is the first director to use digital rotoscoping for an entire feature length film. The characters float through this shifting foreground of vivid dream creatively matching form of storytelling with content within story. Structurally the New Futurists and Waking Life operate in a similar way, separate pieces creating a larger whole. The difference lies in tone. The Neo Futurist production “To Much Light Makes the Baby to Blind” has parts linked by structure but is not unified in tone. Waking Life uses structure to enhance the story and layers on a unifying tone that echoes a searching philosophic tone rounded in uncertain melancholy.

Both are unique in the best way possible. The film and theatre piece attempt to forge an experience with irregular, eclectic building blocks. The chances taken are purposeful and ultimately elevate the smaller parts to a better whole. The goal is to provide an uncommon experience instead of a conventional narrative.  The Neo Futurists offer an intelligent,  interactive, sprinting-fun experience sprinkled with topic musings.  Waking Life offers a meandering and pensive stroll down a dream lane that looks at “life and how we perceive it” (Wiggins). If you are looking for something different, you’ve found it.

Look for the San Francisco debut of the Neo Futurists in the near future. And find Waking Life to for digital rent or purchase on Amazon and Vudu.

Logo-home-header. 2012. Photograph., Chicago, IL. Web. 22 Oct 2013.

                Waking Life. 2001. Photograph. Walkerart.orgWeb. 22 Oct 2013. <>.

                Wiggins, Wiley, perf. Waking Life. Dir. Linklater. Fox Searchlight PIctures, 2001. Film. 22 Oct 2013.

Cowan Palace: James Joyce, A Man For The Living And The Dead

Ashley Cowan preps you for next week’s dramatic reading of “The Dead.”

As we move closer to the summer equinox, it seems like the perfect season to soak in some Theater Pub. Well, you’re in luck, friends, because on June 17, “The Dead” is taking over Cafe Royale. Before you get too excited about another zombie tale, you should know that “The Dead” is actually a short story included in James Joyce’s Dubliners, a collection of tales from 1914. Though the word “short” may not quite do it justice, “The Dead” in its entirety is 15,672 words and may be better classified as a novella.

The plot surrounds Gabriel Conroy on a January evening in 1904. More specifically, it’s the annual dance and dinner hosted by the Morkan sisters. But without giving too much away, as the story will reveal itself under the direction of Jeremy Cole, here are a few fun facts about James Joyce, the holiday known as Bloomsday, and how it can help you survive “The Dead”.

So first, who is this James Joyce guy?

Well, his full name is James Augustine Aloysius Joyce and he was born in Dublin, Ireland as the eldest of 10 children. He was probably best known as a poet and novelist but spent a lot of his life struggling to earn a living for his family and often took whatever clerical or teaching work he encountered.

But then he had it easy once he became better known for his writing, right?

Not exactly. Among many life challenges, the poor guy also didn’t have the best eyesight. In fact he underwent over 25 eye surgeries in his lifetime and when he finally began to make a living from writing, his eyesight had deteriorated considerably. He was then forced to rely on others to help him complete his works.

Yikes. Do you think this impacted “The Dead?”

Well, the story seems to be leading to a moment of clarity and ultimately with that, the painful cost that comes with self-awareness. Gabriel battles social awkwardness and crippling insecurities that on some level most of us could understand. It’s likely that Joyce grappled with aspects of these things as well.

But wait, what’s this Bloomsday thing I always here about? Was Joyce a party animal?

Bloomsday, June 16, encompasses an annual celebration for Joyce fans worldwide. It’s honored in at least 60 countries but, of course, it’s probably nowhere near the revelry in Dublin.

Why is that?

As Dublin is the setting for the book Ulysses, Joyce fans have made a tradition of reenacting the story as the central character, Leopold Bloom. His entire itinerary is carried out across the city in new and creative ways each year. But honestly, who needs an excuse to drink a Guinness and party?

When did Bloomsday start?

It actually wasn’t Joyce’s idea. Bloomsday was created in 1954, the 50th anniversary of the events in the book. Two men named John Ryan and Flann O’Brien decided to organize a daylong adventure following the route set about in Ulysses. Included in the friends who joined them was Joyce’s cousin, Tom Joyce.

It seems like Bloomsday has impacted a lot of people.

I’d say so. In fact, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married on June 16, 1956 in honor of Bloomsday.

Bloomsday also continues to make its mark in popular culture as well. A couple references you may remember include: In Mel Brooks’ classic 1968 film, The Producers, Gene Wilder plays a character named Leo Bloom, who as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, is in honor to the fella from Ulysses. Furthering the homage, in the musical adaptation from 2005, the office calendar reads “June 16”.

Richard Linklater was also clearly a Joyce junkie and included Ulysses in his 1991 film, Slacker, by having a character read a passage from the book. He also sets his 1995 Before Sunrise (one of Ashley Cowan’s favorites!) all on June 16.

Okay, I get that June 16 is the day Ulysses was set on and that the name comes from Leopold Bloom. But what’s so important about June 16? Why did Joyce pick that day?

This one may impress all you romantics out there. On June 16, 1904, Joyce took Nora Barnacle on their first date.

And did their first date lead to a second?

Oh, it did! They had quite the love affair. Aside from creating two children, they were also known for some rather erotic letters they would write to each other. In fact, for one lucky fan, a letter sold for almost half a million dollars at Sotheby’s back in 2004.

Any examples from their passionate letters?

Well, pervert, many of Joyce’s books were censored and banned, some even pirated, so we know he was full of potential! But I’ll give you one example with this sexy sentence meant for Nora, “The two parts of your body which do dirty things are the loveliest to me.” Try that one on your honey in honor of Bloomsday!

I can see why Theater Pub wanted to take this project on…

Originally, Joyce had earlier considered titling Dubliners (the book where “The Dead” can be found) Ulysses in Dublin. However, Dubliners made the final cut. The characters Gabriel Conroy, Gretta Conroy, Kate and Julia Morkan, and Bartell d’Arcy, from “The Dead”, are suggested but none of they actually make an appearance in Ulysses. In any case, as Bloomsday also celebrates Joyce in the whole, it seems like a perfect choice for the June 17 Theater Pub.

So tell me more about Joyce’s kids.

Sure. They were named Giorgio and Lucia Joyce. Lucia led an interesting life; at one point she actually dated Samuel Beckett! Later though she was declared a schizophrenic and had to be confined in a mental asylum.

Way to be a downer.

Yeah, well, that’s life. Writers often experience a lot of pain but their work is enriched and praised because of it. Joyce was a complicated guy. It’s also said that he suffered some strong fears. His phobias included: cynophobia (fear of dogs) and keraunophobia (fear of lightning and thunder). It’s believed his final words were, “Does nobody understand?” before he died on January 10, 1941 and I hope for him, heaven is a place without dogs or storms.

Joyce once said, ”mistakes are the portals of discovery”. But don’t make the mistake of missing this Theater Pub or you’ll discover you’ve missed quite the event! So this June 17th, join us at the Cafe Royale at 8 PM, order up your favorite Irish inspired beverage, sit back, and allow the cast of “The Dead” to transport you to Dublin where you’re welcome to take home an Irish accent and a piece of the Bloomsday spirit.