If you haven’t read the (redacted) 448-page published version of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Donald Trump, Russia, and collusion—you’re not alone. More than a dozen members of Congress admitted to Politico early last month that they’ve yet to do a cover-to-cover dive into its depths, even though that would seem to be part of their job. But if you’ve got the stamina, you can hear the whole thing in one epic 24-hour (more or less—probably more) live reading starting Friday evening at the Neo-Futurist Theater.
Since late May, at least a dozen theaters around the United States have presented similar events, beginning with a reading in Queens featuring performance artist and playwright Taylor Mac and a hundred other readers. Playwright Robert Schenkkan’s Mueller-inspired script The Investigation: A Search for Truth in Ten Acts brought together celebrities such as Annette Bening, John Lithgow, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for a free reading at New York’s Riverside Church livestreamed by more than a million viewers in June.
What makes the Chicago version unique is that it sits squarely within the Neo-Futurist aesthetic of stripping away theatrical artifice. The company has aimed to create performances that are, as their mission states, “a fusion of sport, poetry and living-newspaper” since its formation 30 years ago.
Jorge Silva, who has been the Neos’ managing director since early June, joined the company after a stint as the producing coordinator for the Goodman Theatre, where he worked extensively on community engagement programs. Shortly after he took his new job, Silva was approached by director Henry Wishcamper, an artistic associate at the Goodman, about collaborating on the Mueller project. Neo-Futurist artistic director Kurt Chiang signed on to the idea immediately, and Wishcamper and Chiang will curate opening and closing programs around the reading of the report itself.
“The idea is to read the entirety of the Mueller report from beginning to end, so it ends up being kind of a mixture of theater slash performance art slash table reading. Also, very much slash Neo-Futurism,” Chiang says. “There’s an element of a task—it’s a task to read the whole report, and it feels like an act of defiance. It’s a political act, it’s a social act, and it’s also a nice piece of contemporary performance art.”
The event was announced before Mueller’s much-dissected appearance before Congress on July 24. But that will probably figure into the reading in some form.
“The thing that sits in my mind is that inevitably his testimony will play a role directly or indirectly to the curated reading here,” Silva says. “Every step of the way of this report we know that there’s always more. The report was finally published, and we knew that it wasn’t over. We heard testimonies from several different agents in the report and we knew it wasn’t over. Mueller’s testifying does not mark the end of this investigation or this saga whatsoever. We’ll always have more to look at and criticize and think about and point to.”
In practical terms, the readers selected for this event, in addition to current Neo-Futurist ensemble members and alums, will include “activists, political leaders, civic leaders, concerned citizens,” as Wishcamper puts it. Anyone wishing to participate can sign up via e-mail (MuellerReading@neofuturists.org) with the time slots they’re available. Chiang notes with a laugh, “There are plenty of spots available between 3 AM and 7 AM.” Wishcamper anticipates that there will be six to ten people reading per hour.
In addition to the reading itself, Silva notes that “there will be ancillary things. I think one of the reasons we also wanted to do this was to have an opportunity to engage. We’re also involving and inviting a lot of community organizations that we’ve been in touch with before in order to try to platform them.” Information from those organizations will be available around the theater, and several of the leaders will be doing part of the reading. “I think the readers’ personal opinions and thoughts are going to be injected into the room somehow,” Chiang says.
While it may be unlikely that hearing the report will change the minds of anyone who hasn’t already decided what they think the conclusion is, Chiang says doing the marathon “follows our mission to create by pulling thinking people into a room with each other to spark up their brains, to incite their passions, and to engage with whatever part of the community is the subject of the matter that night. This is going to be a national thing. It’s meditating on accountability in the United States. This is going to be a way that people are going to be able to access an important part of American justice this year. Many of those people aren’t going to read the book, but they’re going to remember this really funny, weird, and also serious thing that we’re going to try.”
“It’s interesting that it starts on Friday at sundown, basically,” Wishcamper says. “I’m Jewish, and there’s something about the idea that we’re coming together and reading a text. It has a sort of spiritual component as well as a political component to me.”