Just off the top of my head, if you were to ask we what I would call a Chicago “institution” here a few examples of what I might say: The Sears (oh…I’m sorry…Wills…shoot me now) Tower, Wrigley Field, The Green Mill, Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, 2nd City, Deep Dish Pizza…all pretty standard responses. One thing I never would have thought to say is Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. But the reality is, I should, considering it is the longest running show in all of Chicago, with no indication of stopping anytime soon.
I attempted to see TMLMTBGB the summer between my first and second year of college, but unfortunately under estimated its cultural significance and was denied entry. Since that sad night, somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind, I made a mental note to go back. But you know how things go, time gets busy, other things happen, and you forget.
TML started in December of 1988…you guys Reagan was still President then…and twenty-five years later people are still lined up around the block to score a ticket (at least they were this past Friday). The novel idea behind this theatrical event is pretty simple: Do thirty plays in sixty minutes.
What sets it a part though is how it’s presented. When you enter the playing space the numbers 1-30 are strung overhead. On the back of your program the numbers are listed with a play title corresponding with each number. This is the predetermined “menu” for the evening, but the order in which each piece is performed is up to the audience.
The show begins with the starting of a timer, this event will truly only last for sixty minutes. Once the timer buzzes the show is over, even if all thirty plays haven’t been performed. It’s high stakes from the get go. The actors yell “CURTAIN” and as an audience member you start screaming out a number. The first number they hear, one of the players springs into the air, tears down said number and reads the title of the corresponding play. The actors rush to set up the scene, perform the piece, scream CURTAIN again, and the whole process starts over. It’s a fast-paced, ensemble driven, one hundred percent original, oh-so-very Chicago theatrical experience.
For some reason I assumed before the play began that it would all be funny, but I was wrong. Sure there were some humorous pieces, but some were abstract movement based presentations, some were quite political, others were very touching. Every piece was written by one of the ensemble members, and the titles are ever-changing.
At the end of the performance on Friday they asked a member of the audience to roll a large die, noting whatever number it landed on would be the number of plays they had to replace with new pieces before next weekend. Meaning, you will truly never see the same show twice because material is added and subtracted each week.
Seeing TMLMTBGB reminded me, yet again, of why Chicago theatre is so special. Here you had a group of artists, sweating, panting, fearlessly sharing themselves in a small unsuspecting space. It’s ego-less. It’s collaborative. It’s constantly evolving. It’s unlike anything you will find anyplace else.
Now let’s just hope it doesn’t take me another twelve years to get back there.