Student theater troupe explores neo-futurism, grows presence on campus


Source: TBD on Facebook

Ensemble members of the TBD theater troupe at Student Theater Information Night. TBD explores neo-futurism practices on campus.

Jane Recker, Assistant A&E Editor


Anyone who has been to a performance of TBD knows that Jacob Baim loves milk. The Communication junior has written 11 short plays on the topic, and his obsession has become a running joke within the emerging theater company.

This lactose-tolerant work is possible because TBD is no ordinary student theater troupe. It’s the only group inspired by neo-futurism on campus, Baim said. While other theater productions feature actors in various stage roles, neo-futurism instead focuses on truth. Actors play themselves to present auto-biographical material and interact with audiences in real time.

Each TBD show features about 30 short plays that range in length from one second to five minutes. The nature of these performances can be playful, humorous and even deeply personal, said Martin Gold, a member of the ensemble. The first play the group ever performed, “Dear Lowell,” featured an ensemble member explaining her reaction to finding out her first love had died.

“Our work can cycle from milk to depression,” said Gold, a Communication junior. “You look at the total breadth of human experience and we really try to boil that down.”

The group aims to address current events with its work, Communication junior Abby Doermann said. For instance, fellow ensemble member Rachel Hawley, a Bienen junior, presented a short play called “Midwest Manifesto,” where she revealed to the audience her struggle to see her hometown in the same light after the 2016 presidential election.

The piece struck a chord with Doermann, the group’s producer, who wasn’t a founding member of the group but was motivated to join after seeing a show.

“Seeing my friends up there speaking their truths to this mass of people was the bravest thing I had ever seen,” she said.

Baim and Gold created TBD in 2015. The two then-freshmen explored neo-futurism in high school and wanted to bring the art form to Northwestern’s campus, Baim said.

Initially, they wanted to wait until they had the input of other ensemble members to decide on a name, so they left the group’s moniker as TBD — to be determined — on the audition sheets. When the ensemble was cast and the group couldn’t agree on a better name, TBD stuck, Baim said.

Theater groups often cast upperclassmen due to their advanced experience and skill, Baim said, but TBD tries to represent a wide range of performers at each show.

“Once people become upperclassmen they start to have this homogenized experience because they’ve had more training,” Baim said. “But TBD isn’t about understanding theater, it’s just about being a person.”

Medill junior Cassie Majewski said this unique mission is what has made her a TBD “superfan.”

“It’s something like I’ve never seen before,” she said. “I’m super into hearing people’s stories. It’s something that I connect with.”

The group intentionally balances its serious content with some lighter fare, Gold said, namely through the comic relief of “game spaces” that are introduced throughout the shows.

The spaces direct the actors to modify the previous play, Gold said. Recent examples instructed cast members to do the prior performance backwards, as a musical or to “do the last two plays simultaneously.”

A memorable game space fiasco occurred when the group decided to do two at once, Gold said. Forced to perform a previous act solo and as a musical, stage manager and Weinberg junior Kinsey Erickson simultaneously played guitar, read from “The Great Gatsby,” and danced on chairs.

“I seem to recall that the last word of that ill-fated play was f–k,” Gold said.

At the end of the day, Doermann said TBD’s mission is to tell people’s stories and connect with the larger college community.

Whether it’s through milk, Gatsby or intimate storytelling, TBD hopes audiences engage with some of their material, Doermann said.

“No matter who you are when you watch us perform, you see something you find hilarious, you see something you resonate with, you see something you relate to on a personal level,” she said. “(You) will see your own truth reflected on that stage.”

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