The quality of Princeton Day School theater arts throws a tall shadow on any new cast and crew, given how many highly acclaimed productions have captivated audiences in McAneny Theater year after year. That shadow seemed like it might be particularly daunting for the Fall Play production team, tasked to pull off a radically different theater experience with Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes (TMLMTBGB). Conceived and produced in the late 1980s Chicago comedy scene, it's a play with a super-high-energy personality that feeds off of a 60-minute time clock and audience participation, including their requests to perform in random order 30 two-minute plays on the 'menu.'
Theater genius and widely admired arts mentor Stan Cahill, a PDS Leadership Team member and Director of Performing & Fine Arts/Design, described the self-drive of his entire student team: "This cast and crew poured their creative talents into the set and the acting — and tech — challenges of the audience's sequence order and ideas. It was our first production fully designed by students!"
Too Much Light . . . requires its cast and crew to embrace Neo-Futurism, an often intense strain of theater arts that show creator Greg Allen interprets (in his book, 100 Neo-Futurist Plays from TMLMTBGB...Chicago 2002) as a world where "all of our 'characters' are ourselves...We do not aim to 'suspend the audience's disbelief' but to create a world where the stage is a continuation of daily life." Princeton Day School's take on "Too Much Light . . ." played to energized crowds last weekend, and the level of audience engagement may well have hit a School high-water mark.
When asked what made this production special, here's what some of the student cast and crew members had to say:
"I loved that TMLMTBGB was so upbeat and interactive. It was also super cool that the whole show (set and lights!) were designed by a student — our very own Rakesh Potluri!" - Hope
"This is the first PDS show that has been solely dependent on the choices and elections of the audience. The manner in which the audience influenced the cast brought a receptive and positive energy to the McAneny Theatre that is completely unique." - Kat
"The combined gifts of everyone in the cast and crew made the experience so enjoyable." - Andre
"The production was not like any other, for fate decided everything. We had no idea what the order of the plays were going to be so we had to be on our toes the whole time. Each individual show was unique." - Disha
"It was so different than anything we've done before." - Raina
"This production was special because, compared to plays before, it was very spontaneous and required a lot of audience participation, which produced a lot of laughs for both the actors and audience members." - Daanial
"In a sense, this show is theater in its true form: insanity. TML is different because it isn't meant to be professional, it's meant to make everyone (including the audience) feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves." - Abigail
"The cast worked together as such a close-knit team. I have become friends with every individual cast member, which is not something I might have said about my past shows." - Krista
"My favorite thing would be the fact that we played ourselves in the play, so we had no set 'role.' Depending on the play, we had to react based on that, acting as ourselves and assessing the situation, again keeping us on our toes. And even though we were given a script, we didn't have to necessarily follow it, allowing us to add or take out lines as necessary." - Disha
"I think my favorite thing was when it switched to being serious — the Rodney King segment. I worked on the show Twilight about Rodney King in 8th grade, and it was really interesting to cover that topic in a more metaphorical and abstract way as a senior." - Rakesh
"My favorite thing was that, in such a short time, the cast and crew had become close like family, and spending nights rehearsing with one another encouraged us to get to know each other." - Daanial
How did you experience the audience's role?
"The show had such a positive and happy atmosphere and the audience seemed to really enjoy the show and felt like they were truly part of the production." - Hope
"The energy was incredible." - Andre
"The audience participation was definitely a unique one. Because the audience is an actor in this play, we work together to make the show happen, and because the actor changes every night, it keeps things interesting and that much more fun to perform." - Disha
"Having the audience come up onstage brought a whole other level of complexity. As the set designer, my goal was to make people more comfortable so they would want to come up on stage and would want to laugh. I was going for a community feeling and I think we got there." - Rakesh
"Audience involvement was strange at first. But then it was funny because of what they said and contributed. Also, seeing their reactions when they were called on was really funny. Even when the audience said something that didn't necessarily fit, it just showed me how talented the cast was." - Raina
"I experienced the audience's role while watching my peers act, and it was extremely funny and entertaining." - Daanial