Time and timeless at Butler Artsfest 

What caught our eye at the 11-day festival

click to enlarge Neo-Futurists in action - JOE MAZZA / BRAVE LUX
  • Neo-Futurists in action
  • Joe Mazza / Brave Lux

It's no secret that time passes swiftly, but in its wake time is always impacting the way art is presented; which is something the Neo-Futurists know quite well.

An experimental theater group out of Chicago, the Neo-Futurists (one of the guests at Butler Artsfest, an 11-day art and music festival) have found a great deal of success with their hour-long show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. Now in its 27th year, the production combines elements of drama and comedy into one big show that consists of several individual performances.

"The show is 30 plays that are performed in a random order," says Neo-Futurists cast member Dan Kerr-Hobert. "Some of them are funny and some of them are sad and some of them are maybe abstract or weird. We set a timer at the beginning of the show. It's a 60-minute show, and at the end of 60 minutes the buzzer goes off and that's the end of the show, whether we've done 28 plays or four plays."


For this year's Butler Artsfest, the Neo-Futurists will present three different editions. With each show, audience members will select random numbers that all correspond with different play titles, with the Neo-Futurists then performing as many of these shorter plays as possible before their hour is up.

"The time infuses the show with a sense of urgency," says Kerr-Hobert.

At this year's Artsfest, Too Much Light will be one of many performances that tie into the theme of "Time and Timeless." In addition to the Neo-Futurists, other performers will include acclaimed bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee, Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Kurt Elling and popular Afro-Caribbean music group Tiempo Libre.

"I'm a composer in my other life, so I always think about time, and I don't just mean beats and rhythms but the perception of how time passes through a piece of art," says Ronald Caltabiano, dean of Butler's Jordan College of the Arts. "Sometimes you feel like time is speeding up, and sometimes you feel like it's getting slowed down or stopped or suspended. Even in visual art, you get repetitions of ideas, they make patterns, and you begin to feel a speed as you're looking at the painting or whatever it is. So 'Time and Timeless' are so fundamental to what artists do that it's able to permeate everything that we're doing."

With this in mind, Caltabiano admits that he's very excited to have the Neo-Futurists performing at this year's Artsfest. "They take time in a whole different direction. They put this timer on the wall, so that the performance is over in 60 minutes whether they've managed to get through all 30 plays or they haven't. So they play with time to an extraordinary amount." In contrast, another event that will be a part of this year's Artsfest will be a performance of Erik Satie's 1892 piece titled "Vexations." Spanning between 15 and 18 hours, the piece consists of one phrase of music that's repeated over and over again, sending listeners into a state of entrancement.

click to enlarge Erik Satie
  • Erik Satie

"I think of music at the end of the 19th Century as being very traditional, very romantic sounding and easy to listen to, but this is an extraordinary piece," says Caltabiano. "It's a single phrase of music that has a very important performance direction at the end of that phrase, and that direction is 'repeat this phrase 840 times.' So you're not ever in your life going to go to a concert and see this piece."

With a longtime love for "Vexations," Butler faculty member Kate Boyd is looking forward to seeing what mental impact the piece will have on listeners in a live setting. "It's not a calming piece to listen to — it's actually slightly disturbing," she says. "Let's say you come to the whole performance. You can come and sit there for 15 hours, and it's like you're stepping outside of time into a more timeless experience, just like meditation where you step outside of time."

click to enlarge Butler faculty member Kate Boyd
  • Butler faculty member Kate Boyd

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