The Playgoer: Daisey, cont.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Daisey, cont.

Not surprisingly, I've already received a lot of feedback (and criticism) for my views on the Mike Daisey incident at ART. I'll take the time to offer a thoughtful response tomorrow--since it does merit thought. And my comments so far have indeed been from the hip.

But, meanwhile, please do watch the footage, read Daisey's account, read YS's rebuttal to me, and other comments to the post. And go ahead and weigh in. Whatever my views, I hope I've provided enough information for anyone to make up their own mind.

Also--a few more facts that may not change anything, but do make the case more interesting.

- ART theatre is not only a prominent regional nonprofit rep company. It is the official resident professional company of Harvard University. What a field day the right would have with that if they want to rush to the "choir school's" defense! Let alone, the spectre of "taxpayer dollars" via any federal and state grants ART gets. In which case, no fear, I would definitely take Mike's side. I trust ART would, as well--and that would be the real free speech test here, I think.

- In case you were wondering, Daisey's "Invincible Summer" is performing not on the sizeable ART mainstage, but the 300-seat Zero Arrow second space. (Swanky!) 87 people walking out en masse will always rattle a performer. But especially when it's basically a third of the house. So I wouldn't claim the incident wasn't a big deal to all who were there that night.

- In case it hasn't been clear from previous accounts (and if you haven't watched the footage) the key moment prompting the walk out does seem to have been the relatively innocuous bit where Daisey narrates himself imagining "fucking Paris Hilton." Just barely graphic, but hardly. Does Mike or anyone else familiar with the show know if there was any other material in the show up until that point that might have offended the Christian school crowd as well? Or was everything fine until then?

- ART told me they believe the guy who poured water over Daisey's papers later apologized. True, Mike?

And last, a question. For people who are outraged...who are you outraged against? One jerk from Norco, California?


Aaron Riccio said...

Even if it wasn't planned -- it sure looked premeditated to me, 'cause they waited until the end of the punchline about Hilton to leave, and I have the feeling that there had already been some racy stuff before that -- you have to consider that Daisey has no idea what's going on at that point. One man deliberately poured water over his material (Daisey describes it as a look of pure hatred), and probably rattled him a bit, and he can only assume what the other eighty-six people are doing...

Of course the man wants to know why people are leaving. If it were really just a matter of being offended, one of them could have easily said as much. The fact that they marched in silence -- which seems like an organized and strategic tact to me -- is what is so disturbing.

What's more disturbing to me is that people would make this a non-issue. Had Mike Daisey gotten enraged, had he thrown the water in these people's faces, had he silently followed one of those people back to their apartment, scowling and angry, would we say THAT violation was any more appropriate? We'd be looking at a law suit, and rightfully so.

I love that you have another opinion, Garrett, and I'm glad that you are comfortable enough to express it. But if someone were to come up to you and pour water over you because of this post, and then walk away, wouldn't you be a little unnerved?

Anonymous said...

I wonder, Garrett, if part of your lack of sympathy is related to your distaste for one-person shows. Because it strikes me that one of several ways in which this is quite different from a standard walkout situation (the water-pouring being the central way, of course) is that it must feel much more personal when the show in question is just one guy somewhat improvisationally talking in a sort of intimate (okay, maybe falsely intimate, but still) manner with the audience. That's different from, say, walking out on a lousy and boring produciton of, I dunno, Henry V or Death of a Salesman. Not that actors in those shows wouldn't feel dissed -- particuarly if it were a third of the house -- but when it's the kind of show Daisey was doing, then it seems like it is much more personal.

David M said...

Couple of thoughts:

• I can remember several times in the last few years where Ann Coulter has been giving a talk on some campus somewhere, and has had various food and beverage items thrown at her on stage, sometimes by students who rushed the stage from the audience of the wings. And the video has inevitably ended up on YouTube (or its predecessors) and the entire left-wing blogosphere has linekd to it and cackled in the comment sections.

All I'm saying is that we defend those we agree with when they are attacked, and make excuses for those we agree with when they behave badly. It's fairly hypocritical, but also a fairly human response.

• Don't attack Garrett for calling it like he sees it in the video. I know Mike passingly, and I have not an iota of doubt that he was sincere when he was asking the departing audience members to come back and talk with him about it. That said, he comes across as angry and aggressive, and makes his appeal for dialogue less than, well, appealing. Would I have been able to speak calmly and rationally in the heat of that moment? Almost certainly not, and I admire Mike for even trying to get them to talk. But that doesn't change how he came across, and Garrett was just pointing that out.

• In the spirit of dialogue and understanding that so many were calling for in the previous post's comments, try putting yourself in the shoes of those (as we now know) teachers/chaperones, and tell me how you could've reached a better solution?

The Zero Arrow has a steeply raked audience that is only accessible from the front. In other words, if I want to exercise my right to leave a show I don't like, I have to climb over the other audience members till I get to one of the 2 aisles, and then walk to the front of the audience (aka the aisle in front of the stage edge) and then exit house right to the lobby. It's pretty much impossible to make a discreet exit. This does not, however, mean that you give up your right to walk out, just because the architecture makes for a socially awkward situation.

Same goes for the 87-out-of-300 argument. Not their fault that they were 1/3 of the audience. They are still allowed to exercise their audience right to walk out, in as quiet and discreet a manner as they are able...

...Which brings us to the next point: it was a school group. I'll leave it to other people to decry the state of whatever, the adults forcing the kids to leave, the censorship born out of fear of parental retribution etc etc. Point is, the adults made a choice, and acted upon it. Of course they moved en masse -- that's how school groups move. Was it disruptive? Yes -- given the size of the group in relationship to the size of the house, compounded by the architectural configuration, it's impossible that it wouldn't. But (with one notable exception) they seem to have tried to do it as quietly as they could. There was no yelling or cursing or protesting picked up by the camera. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong here, leaving aside the water incident, which I'm getting to.) It seems to me that they were just trying to leave as quietly as possible for 87 people who have to file past within about 4 feet of the performer on stage.

• So, the water. I'm going to play Devil's Advocate here; I'm not looking for an acquittal, just maybe a reduction in sentencing:

No, they had no right to pour water on his script, but they also had no way of knowing that it was a one-of-a-kind document rather than a photocopied script. It could've been meant as a symbolic gesture, which inadvertently caused more serious damage -- like shooting what you think is a plaster replica of the Pieta, only to discover it was the real thing. I'm just saying don't read more malice into the act than was reasonably intended.

Was it a student or an adult? Because there kind of is a difference here -- if an adult did it, it was a mean and stupid act and they should've found a better way to express their feelings about the show. If it was a student, it's still mean and stupid, but that's kind of how most high schoolers are. Again, not looking for an acquittal, but maybe a little leniency is warranted. (Based purely on numbers, odds are it was a student. 87 people total on a school trip from California, I would guess maybe 8 adults for 79 students, a 1:10 ratio? Mike, or someone else who was there, can you tell us?)

• Lastly, for all that Mike's material was tamer than what you'd see on HBO, we should still be able to understand (no matter how long we've lived in New York) that talking about fucking Paris Hilton could be offensive to some people. Fear of offending people is no reason not to do or say something on stage, but the flip side of that freedom is that your audience has the right to leave if they don't like it. You can't have one without the other. It's unfortunate that the theater is constructed in such a way that discreet walkouts are impossible; also unfortunate that they were such a large group. It would've been great if Mike had been able to ignore the exodus a bit better, made a joke and moved on, that sort of thing. Also would've been lovely had all water had stayed in approved receptacles. A series of small missteps turned it into a bigger thing than it should've been. And I think maybe that's what Garrett meant about it being kind of a non-issue issue.

Anonymous said...

david m,

Look at the video. It was an adult who poured the water.

They have a right to walk out, organized or not. They have a right to "boo" as they are doing so and even throw in some choreography for good measure. But they don't have a right to vandalize property, whether they believe they are destroying an original copy or not.

I think Mr. Daisey was a little too quick to call them cowards in his confrontation, but otherwise handled it well (and he could lay off invoking the word "terrorism" too).

The man who poured the water set a horrible example for his students that day and should be ashamed.

But there are three bright spots to come out of this:

1) Nobody's cell phone went off during the entire ten minute clip. When is the last time that happened in a theater?

2) The other 2/3 of the audience seemed to get it, and came down on the right side of things. They showed real class and three cheers for them.

3) For better or for worse, this was surely the most spontaneous and exciting thing to happen on stage at ART in years. Almost a week later, and people are still talking about it. Does Robert Woodruff know what he was doing wrong now?

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I'm getting a little tired of Ann Coulter being used as an exemplification of how intolerant "the left" is of their opposition. Ann Coulter gets what she asks for--she creates a level of discourse that is the equivalent of a thrown cream pie, and on the very rare occasions when one is thrown at her, she can hardly be surprised, given that her entire career has been designed to do nothing more than encourage the debasement of public conversation. Nor is she an artist or theater performer, no matter how many times her defenders lamely attempt to label her a "humorist".

Whoever threw the water on Mike Daisey's script should have been arrested. A few hours in a police station and a steep fine for vandalism would have been a completely appropriate punishment for someone who thinks that if he doesn't like what he's hearing, he has the right to destroy it.

"David M" asks us to propose a better way that teachers and chaperones could have handled the situation: Here are two:

1) If you are adults responsible for a large group of minors on a field trip, do a modicum of research about the events to which you're exposing them.

2) If the kids in your charge are being exposed to something you find troubling, consider fulfilling the requirements of your profession and acting like a TEACHER. That might mean sitting still and discussing what you've seen after it's over. One thing you could teach kids is that sometimes it's worth sitting all the way through the work of an artist whose language or subject matter you find distressing. Another is that walking out on (in essence, shutting your ears to) upsetting material will make your argument against that material less credible, and that there is little one can learn by insulating oneself against everything that is potentially upsetting.

Kevin said...

There are appropriate and inappropriate ways to deal with any uncomfortable situation in a theatre.

Even getting aside from the water-pouring--which is always inappropriate--the walking out is simply wrong.

I remember in high school being taken to a play with a friend by her parents. There was some racy humor in it--it was "The Canterbury Tales"--and the parents apologized to me after the show and discussed it with me. I reassured them that I'd already read the original so I was quite familiar with the racy stuff, and my parents wouldn't be scandalized.

My suspicion is that David-the-water-pourer threatened the teachers in charge of the outing that he'd raise hell with the principal and get them sacked if they didn't go along with his ideas of what was appropriate and have everyone walk out. And being such a nutwad, the teachers knew he would do it and they went along with it.

The good thing that comes out of this is that it gives the rather craven lot of high school principals another thing to be frightened of than bitchy parents -- being scorned on YouTube.

The principal in his interview cited what a "bunch of great kids" these were. What he completely skipped over is the fact that at least one of their parents is a complete asshole.