On a slightly cold, but sunny March day, I sat across from Cara Francis of the New York Neo-Futurists to discuss their upcoming show Soft Hydraulics: Inventions, Puppets, and Stunts in the Age of Manipulation. As some of you no doubt know, in addition to their week(end)ly show Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the NY Neos also create longer pieces. It was just such a show last year, The Complete & Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O'Neill: Volume 1 Early Plays/Lost Plays, that introduced me to the NY Neos in the first place.
So it is only fitting that I came to the Bowery to learn some more about this latest offering, which opens May 2nd at Standard ToyKraft in Williamsburg. I first asked Cara to tell me a bit about the show, which she described as:
A series of five pieces in a similar format to On the Future -- it's kind of an exhibition format -- but we're not trying to make them cohesively blend into one show. It really is five different takes on themes of manipulation. We're making puppet pieces about being puppets and about the real things in our lives that we feel shaped by, that we feel changed by and even some systemic forms of manipulation that we feel exist in our lives. Our lives, meaning us as Neo Futurists and performers, but also us globally.
Sound cool? I think so. I also think it fits in very well with some of the things the NY Neos have already been doing. In one of Cara's own pieces for Too Much Light... she attempts to break all of the ten commandments in 60 seconds, which begins as she holds up her cell phone in worship in order to disobey "thou shalt have no other gods before me." There are countless other unconventional uses of objects as puppets and performers as puppets in their shows.
As Cara explains, "I got the idea for doing the show because we use a lot of found objects, puppetry and rudimentary stagecraft and design in Too Much Light... and I wanted to expand what we do artistically as designers and give us more time to create things that are beautiful and that can move. I wanted us to be able to craft physical representations of ideas and to play with using projections, puppets, machines and objects in a more intensive way."
She went on to describe the Neos' relationship with puppetry further by saying:
I was thinking about, 'what is Neo-Futurist puppetry?' And so often when we do puppet pieces in the show, they are self-conscious. We show the strings. We kind of say what we're doing: we give a nod to the moment of the connection between the performer and the puppet, we identify what the puppet represents. There isn't any artifice when we do puppet work, and so I wanted to do a series where we really blow that out and show what that is. That was another reason I wanted to do this series. I knew that within that we would all have something really different to say about what the strings are in our own lives and how we're shaped by that.
Another inspiration for this show comes from the Neos' namesake. The name "Neo-Futurists," after all, is a reference to the Italian Futurists, founded by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who wrote The Futurist Manifesto in 1909.
Another inspiration for creating the show was that the original Italian Futurists believed that we'd eventually be replaced by machines. I don't think that we are today becoming replaced by machines. And maybe that is somewhere in the future, and maybe I won't live to see that day, maybe none of us will. We all hope so, I think. None of us want to be replaced. But I think that what we are doing is we are becoming heavily integrated -- and have been marching towards a complete integration with technology over the last fifty to one hundred years. But I've been thinking of, when crafting my piece and when looking at all of the pieces, humanity in different ages. In the history books you can see the hunter and gatherer age, the nomadic age, the age of agriculture, the age of the Renaissance, the age of industrialization, the age of technology. And now I think that it is quite possible that what we're entering into is the age of manipulation. That is what made me want to make this show and what makes me want to work with puppets and what makes me want to think about what a puppet is and what it means to use something that is nonhuman to become a better human.
I'll be headed to Standard ToyKraft when the show opens to see how the Neos tackle this exciting project, and you should too. There are only eleven performances, so get your tickets now!