Election-Inspired Plays Make A Case To Voters

election plays neo-futurists

Just in time for the 2020 presidential election, two Chicago-area theater companies are launching or participating in productions that explore Democracy, first ladies—and fascism.

The Neo-Futurists are presenting the world premiere of “45 Plays for America’s First Ladies” (Oct. 8-Nov. 2), a companion piece to the company’s 2004 production “43 Plays for 43 Presidents.”

Over the course of 90 minutes, the new Neo-Lab commission provides a chronological series of 1- to 5-minute plays by Neo-Futurists alumni Andy Bayiates, Bilal Dardai, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Sharon Greene and Chloe Johnston. Each explores the contributions women and other marginalized individuals have made in the development of America.

“45 Plays takes a box cutter and a stylus to U.S. History, exuding strength and sensitivity, questioning complicity, and inserting our contemporary bodies and voices directly into a history that trivializes the experiences of women,” explains Director Denise Yvette Serna. “With the effortless honesty and crushing vulnerability we can expect from the Neo-Futurists, we’re prepared to create space for ourselves, hold space for one another, and cry/laugh in horror at the wicked pageantry of American Democracy in real time!”

The production features ensemble members from the Chicago, New York and San Francisco Neo-Futurists, who have worked from home to continue producing new plays, which are digitally filmed and shared with patrons on the Neo-Futurists platform.

“Our mission is to inspire audiences to thought, feeling and action; and this moment in our country calls for all three,” says Artistic Director Kirsten Riiber. “As our journey into digital Neo-Futurism expands, we’ll continue to find innovative ways to bring our community together. Their support has made this new chapter of Neo-Futurism possible, and we’re having a blast exploring the uncharted territory.”

Live-streamed performances of “45 Plays for America’s First Ladies” run on October 8, 9 and 11 with a full digital recording available for online viewing from October 13 through November 2. For tickets ($15) and more information, visit neofuturists.org.

Northlight Theatre is among a select group of nonprofit arts organizations participating in an adaptation of the Sinclair Lewis novel “It Can’t Happen Here.” Written in 1935 during the rise of fascism in Europe, the darkly satirical work follows the ascent of a demagogue who becomes president of the United States by promising to make the country great again. Sound familiar?

Two-time Obie Award winner Lisa Peterson directs the new production, which will be presented as a radio play in four episodes. Oscar-nominee David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”) heads up the cast, which includes Northlight members as citizens, campaigners, soldiers, workers, radio voices, and prisoners.

“In addition to providing a source of entertainment, the added intent of the project is to encourage dialogue and motivate citizens to exercise their civic duty and vote. As involved members of our community, our hope is that this play will serve as a reminder of the power of voting in this important election year,” says Executive Director Timothy J. Evans.

“It Can’t Happen Here” is produced by Berkeley Rep. The free theatrical event will stream live on October 13 at 7 p.m. on YouTube. To view the broadcast and post-show Q & A session, click here.

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“45 Plays for America’s First Ladies” image courtesy of The Neo-Futurists 

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to serve as Arts & Culture Editor on our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.