Too Much Light . . . not too much for quick cast and crew!
Too Much Light . . . not too much for quick cast and crew!

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

"Doing so many plays in an hour was something I've never done before. The energy on stage during the show was exhilarating." - Krista

"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

"What made this production special for me was how close we got as a cast. Because of how spontaneous and crazy the show was, we always had to have each other's backs. I felt this really warm sense of community on and off stage."- Julia

"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

"For me personally, it was the first show at PDS with student-designed lighting and sets, and I hadn't worked before in a show this big. But it was really fun, because the whole show was about making people laugh. And it was so cool to step back and watch that." - Rakesh

"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

What was your favorite thing about it?

"Because there were so many different props and mini-sets, the actors had to learn how to work together and I think that they really bonded through that; PDS theater is such a great family and I think that this production was totally on point."

- Hope

"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

"I enjoyed collaborating with the rest of the cast to create enthralling, unusual pieces of theatre. For instance, when we originally started to work on "The At-Home-Big-Budget . . .", many of us were lost on how to make the scene intriguing, as it appeared to be straightforward with little room for interpretation. However, with the addition of props, improv, and a little help from our director Stan Cahill, the scene became one of my personal favorites. The ability to openly and freely create in a safe environment is difficult to find, but Too Much Light encouraged that process, which in turn helped me to enjoy the show more." - Kat

"My favorite thing about the play was the fact that it was impossible to mess up. If something went 'wrong' everything just kept going so fast that you found a solution and just went with it. Everyone around you would support you in your solution and would run with it, too." - Julia

"I loved the spontaneity of it all." - Andre

"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

"I like how the set was student-designed, I liked how we were able to paint the icons on the stage and do whatever we wanted, basically. It made me feel like I contributed more." - Raina

"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

"Since the audience was such an integral part of the show and greatly affected the timing and pace, I was more focused on hearing numbers from them than on how much they enjoyed each play. The audience's energy can also affect the energy of the cast, so it was important that we keep the audience engaged." - Krista

"Bringing an audience member on stage for the first time was probably the most thrilling part of tech week. We had never had to be receptive to that energy before. Yet, when it was time to pull up Mr. Gudgel, the fearful yet excited vibe that he emitted pushed us to work harder to finish in time, as well as produce better quality scenes." - Kat

"The audience participation made our show different every night, but even more than that, the audience's reactions to different scenes really set the pace and tone of the show. If an audience was super pumped, we would be too. If they were quiet, we'd have to try extra hard to pick up the mood. The audience supported us and their energy made this whole lovely mess worth doing." - Julia

"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

Enjoy a look at the student-made poster, 'menu' and decals, along with Matt Pilsner's spectacular shots in these photo highlights of TMLMTBGB! -Melanie Shaw