The stopwatch starts, the curtain rises, the actors walk onstage and perform. Within a minute, the performance is over and the audience is asked to choose the next play. This continues for 23 more plays. This is “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” which has finally made its return to campus after a year-long hiatus due to the pandemic.
The play, written by Greg Allen, is a series of 24 neo-futurist mini-plays presented in the span of 48 minutes, according to Assistant Theatre professor, Director and Producer James Leagre. They started running the play series in 2018 when Leagre obtained the rights to a book of the scripts, Leagre said.
“[The play series] originated in Chicago and I had been wanting to do it for years, but the rights weren’t available because they were still running it and […] there was a company in New York City running it and a company in Los Angeles running it,” Leagre said.
How the play works is that a string on the back of the stage has the numbers one through 24 on pieces of paper, according to Leagre. Audience members are also given a program that is styled like a menu, where each play is given a small blurb and number, Leagre said. Actors will explain to the audience how the plays will work, and then the stage managers start a stopwatch, Leagre said. The audience shouts out which number they want performed and the actors perform the corresponding play, according to Leagre.
There is also some audience participation involved in the plays, according to junior theater major Nick Finch. Some examples include being asked to ask the actors yes or no questions or to have the audience stand up and spin in a circle, according to Finch.
According to Leagre, at the end of the entire show, the stage manager stops the timer and announces how long it took to complete. In the past, if all 24 plays took longer to complete than 48 minutes, the UIndy Theatre Company bought the audience pizza. However, because of COVID-19, Leagre is unsure of what they will do this year.
Each mini-play is of a different genre and length, according to Leagre. Many of the plays are comedic, but some are more dramatic, according to Finch.
“We talk about themes of war, race, those kinds of things,” Finch said. “Some of them are just absolutely absurd pieces that seem to come out of nowhere and then others have that absurd feeling to them. But then you look at the title and you step back from the play and you realize, ‘Oh, this is what this is about.’ Everything we’re doing is super fun and everything has a really good message about the future of the world.”
According to Leagre, there are five cast members involved in the production, as well as a stage manager and assistant stage manager. The stage manager is UIndy alum Liesel Schmitz, according to Leagre, who has also worked on the play in the past.
“It’s interesting because each year, I don’t have a specific number of cast members. Literally in the auditions I just bring a bunch of these little plays in and I have them work them. And I cast the people that I feel like they’re ready for this,” Leagre said. “The first year we did it, I cast four people and it was all female, which was interesting because there were some pieces that they picked that were male oriented that actually worked even better because they were females performing it.”
“Too Much Light” will first be performed at IndyFringe on Aug. 19, 21, 27, 28 and Sept. 4 and 5. It will then be performed on Sept. 9 through 11 at UIndy. The UIndy performance is open to all students, faculty and staff, according to UIndy Events.
Finch said he believes that each of the plays has a great message. He believes that each audience member can pull something different away from the show.
“So whether you’re someone who just got out of a relationship and you’re seeing how we talk about love, or if you’re someone who’s super into politics and you’re seeing [what] our stance is on that, you’re going to pull something really unique out of the show, as well as just getting this awesome experience of seeing a bunch of actors just acting insane up on a stage,” Finch said. “Because of that, I’ve fallen in love with the show and doing it and I really hope that UIndy continues to do the show for years to come.”
Leagre said he brought the play series to UIndy to create a professional experience for students in the UIndy Theatre Company, a professional offshoot of the Department of Theatre. Those participating also get a stipend pay from rehearsals and from the box office received at the IndyFringe Festival, a performing arts venue in Indianapolis, according to Leagre.
“The idea of being that, as a professor, if you’re one of the actresses in our department, we’re doing a show, you audition, I might cast you in this role saying, ‘Well, she’s maybe not quite right for it, but this will be a good stretch,’ educationally. In the professional world, I don’t do that,” Leagre said. “ … I make it very clear when I hold auditions for the show and interview for stage managers, designers, all that, that I say, my educator hat is off. This is strictly professional. I’m only going to hire the people that are ready and capable of doing the job.”