The Playgoer: More on Daisey

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Monday, April 23, 2007

More on Daisey

Okay, a quick response from ART public relations has cleared up a few things about l'Affaire Daisey.

First, I apologize for my last headline. Mike Daisey is in no manner on his way to being "banned in Boston." Just one of those irresistible showbiz phrases.

According to ART, a class from a Norco, California public high school was in Boston for a choir competition. I guess in search of "cultural experience" they called ART group sales and booked a party of 87 for the Thursday night show of Daisey's highly praised Spalding Gray-esque solo-show "Invincible Summer" (described as "an intensely personal story of a family in crisis against the backdrop of massive social upheaval"). Daisey is basically in residence at ART all spring, after previously doing the show in NY (at the Public's Under the Radar, I believe.)

ART claims the group sales rep was explicit with the school rep about the...well, explicitness of the show. Only during the walkout did one of the teachers identify the school, to an usher, as "Christian." (Notwithstanding that it's still a public school?)

ART says it has received no other protests about "Invincible Summer", from this group or any other.

I'm relieved at this, since the description and the footage at first suggested to me the kind of perfectly coordinated "walk-out" recognizable from more "staged" protests. But that seems not to be the case. Instead, it's just another case of clueless teachers and/or parents not seriously looking into what they're taking their children to. And assuming all "theatre" is Rodgers & Hammerstein wholesome.

After all... it's ART for chrissake! (As Daisey amusingly explains toward the end of the clip.)

Now having written a lot about censorship myself on this blog over the last year, I have to say I'm not as concerned about this incident as some people. Even if it were a staged protest (which it's not) audience protest is very different than an institution shutting down a show. (So, if ART , say, suddenly pulled the plug on Daisey--which they're not--he'd have a much more grounded complaint.

I don't know Daisey and, regrettably, have not caught his work. I know him as a presence in the blogosphere, too. But I have to say, granted the man was under the pressure of an extraordinarily weird and confrontational moment... I don't think he comes off well in that footage. I can understand the shock of half your audience leaving, of one of them literally defacing your work. But his yelling after them should warn liberals of the senselessness of whining in the face of red-state rigidity.

People have the right to walk out of a show. God knows we all have. Usually out of boredom. But I bet many of us have out of some sense of "offense" as well. Just turn the tables for a sec and imagine if you found yourself at a solo show by someone you never heard of who turned out to be an Ann Coulter clone. If you find such a worldview offensive, wouldn't you want to walk out? Or even throw something?

Now, granted, what's more disturbing about this case is the forced nature of the walkout, where a handful of "responsible adults" dragged 80 kids out of there who--according to ART--were mostly having a fine time. I hope those students protest that!

But what I sense in Daisey's initial (albeit, gut) response is that insularity that has so neutered our chummy liberal theatre circles. Check out these fears from his blog:

It's common to think things will never happen where you are--never in Cambridge, never in New York, never in Seattle--that sort of thing, whatever it is, never happens here, not in our community. Then it happens, right in front of you, and you realize you were blind to it, that you forgot that intolerance and zealotry and viciousness are human currency everywhere, and it takes your breath away.
Yes, there are people who disagree with us! Maybe even in our home town! We usually enjoy the luxury of not seeing them at our edgy little downtown shows (they're too busy waiting on line for Mamma Mia) but when they come, don't be surprised if they don't like the naughty words. I mean, there is a culture war going on.

Daisey's first response was to chastise the anklers for not staying and "talking". He accuses them of immaturity for just walking away. But I have to say he sounds awfully immature saying so. I kinda wish he'd have turned to his fellow blue-staters and Harvard hipsters left in the crowd and just said "fuck 'em."

Instead, his reaction is a bubble popping. The illusion that we just do theatre for our like-minded friends--and that anyone who might have different values will be happy to "dialogue" with us godless evildoers--just falls apart instantaneously. Telling.

I know it may not be fair to criticize a very private moment for Daisey. And I can't be so sure I would be so heroic either in such a surprise situation. But he does post it on his website for all to see. And he was filming it in the first place.

Anyway, I hope this non-scandal settles down into the revealing anecdote that it is, and that we all take it as a reminder to try to get out of the bubble more often.

Correction: I previously misspelled the Mamma in Mamma Mia with one 'm'. Yes, I'm an idiot.


Mike Daisey said...

Nice Monday morning quarterbacking.

Please don't lump me in with some sort of "liberal theater bubble" without knowing my work--INVINCIBLE SUMMER actually deals with the fact that I *supported* the Iraq war when it began, and how that turned out for me and for my country. If that sounds easy and typical in the American theater, you haven't been paying attention. I look for challenging topics that engage and subvert audience expectations, especially Harvard hipsters.

The outline they destroyed is the show original--the shows are created extemporaneously every night, changing each and every time. So the destruction of the outline is much more significant than pouring water on a script of some kind.

I know that a culture war is going on. I engage in that war on a daily basis, talking to people all over the country about a wide variety of issues. Many kinds of people--I'm one of the few artists in the theater bringing in new, young audience members to what are often moribund institutions.

The next time you accuse an artist of being out of touch maybe you should use Google, use Wikipedia, read what they've written, *maybe* see what they do and then see where you stand.

Tom said...

Dude, the title of the show is "Mamma Mia!" and not "Mama Mia" as you wrote. I understand that's nit-picking, but if you're going to use a show like "MM"--mindless, easy-going mega-hit--to make your point about what culture warriors want to consume, hten you might make the point better and more respectfully if you get it right at the basics.

Art said...

Hi Garrett,

I'm afraid I agree with Mike.

Here is my reaction to what you are saying. I posted a little bit ago.

It seems to me the vandalism and not the walkout is the real point.

Playgoer said...

Dear Mike,

I admit again I am not familiar with your body of work. And I look forward to getting more acquainted with it.

However--I don't think I am out of line in responding to the event as such--especially as you yourself presented it in on your site.

I appreciate what you say about reaching out to audiences in your career as a whole. And I even appreciate that's what you were trying to do last Thursday night. I just argue it wasn't effective.

Given what you say, though, then I'm surprised you appeared so surprised at the walkout.

In short, point taken. But I reserve the right to comment and critique what you put out there in public.

Garrett Eisler
The Playgoer

MattJ said...

You do reserve the right, but I can't help but feel as if you are just trying to be polemical here, because anyone who watches that video clip (with "vulgarity" that only equals that of your average HBO mini-series), can see that there is something much larger going on here.

You say you have the right to walk out and throw things. I guess. It's rude, but I guess. And if it was an Ann Coulter show I would probably silently judge her and then respectfully attack her opinions rather than throw glass of wine in her face and run away.

It was much more than walking out of a show. It was an act of protest. and 87 people is a lot of people. But they didn't just walk out, they defaced the set of the play and Mike's notes which are, undoubtedly, more than just notes and closer to an artistic bible for "Invincible Summer."

When 87 people walk out of a room, that becomes the event. Theatre is physical, theatre is personal. The performer leaves their blood, sweat, and tears on the stage every night, without the safety of an editing room or a tape delay.

Those 87 people decided they would be the performers that night, with a clear action. Daisey asking them to stay and talk about what happened was almost groundbreaking. What if they had agreed????? And you wished he had said "Fuck 'em." Well where does that get us. Further into our theatrically pretentious bubble and away from public discourse.

I just don't understand your argument at all here. I will tell you that if I was pouring my heart out on stage, exposed and alone, to a room full of strangers at a major theatre in a major Northeastern city, and halfway through, some guy decided he would deface my work in front of my eyes and disrespect the rest of the audience and the performer... my face would have looked as stunned as Mike Daisey's did when it happened. And I doubt I would have handled it with such poise.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Garrett

I don't quite get your point, either. What happened with Daisey wasn't your average walkout. (I am fine with walkouts). For one thing, a walkout happens one or two at a time and, at worst, offers a minimal disruption. Secondly, the outrageous act was the guy pouring water over Daisey's script. Thirdly, and most importantly, Daisey wanted to know why these people were walking out, and why they had thrown water over his show. That's hardly being inside the "bubble" (whatever the bubble is) and seems a perfectly reasonable response. Saying "fuck'em" is as good a way of preserving Them and Us as I know of. And I wouldn't say, on the strength of the video, that Daisey is "whining". He looks angry to me. And he still manages to ask them why they're acting like that. I do think your accusations of artistic snobbery there are a bit off-line. Whenever I hear of this elitist artistic community that doesn't want to communicate with anybody except a few friends, I always want to know where it is. Unless you mean the kids on MySpace. I don't know any artist who deliberately avoids communication, except maybe JH Prynne, and he's a poet.

Anonymous said...

Excellent theatrical event – one those kids will never forget. But we need to give the somewhat naive teacher(s) here a break. They obviously did not know -- or were not really told what they were getting into: Thus they must choose to stay and answer angry parents or walk out... now. It really doesn’t have a lot of political/theatrical overtones – just plain old job security.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this post, and I think it's interesting that the actions of one jerk (the guy with the water) are being laid at the feet of all 87 people. People have the right to walk out quietly from a show, and that's what 86 of them did. The one guy was a jerk, but I don't think we should just lump everyone in with him. For all we know, all 86 of the other people thought he was a jerk, too.

Anonymous said...

It seems fairly clear that this was not a protest, it was not planned, and most of the people involved didn't have a choice. The adults didn't want the kids exposed to what was happening, so they left. The students had to leave when the adults left.

There was one jerk that poured water on the outline (of which there was a copy). That was dumb, mean, and probably wrong, but yelling after them that they need to stay and talk didn't really make sense. If something illegal was done, then prosecute the offender, but don't claim that you're the brunt massive protest.

It also seems clear now that the group was not Christian, since they were a public school choir, so I'm confused as to why that's still being discussed, despite what an usher claims was said on the way out.

TlalocNYC said...


How the hell can you post such ignorant and thoughtless commments about the incident when a/ you've never read or seen Invincible Summer, b/ you've never met or corresponded with Mike and c/ didn't have all the facts of the incident before you went off on your high-horse of make-believe objectivity?

So I guess it's alright for anyone to walk into a church and pour the priest's wine onto his sermon? Or take a leak on a speech being given by a politician? Or walking into a classroom and taking the instructor's textbook and tossing it out the window?

And given the events of that week (ie. the Virginia Tech tragedy, three days earlier I believe) - would your adreneline and heart rate be going through the roof if some kid was suddenly on stage and pulling something out of his pocket?

That was not anger or agression in Mike's voice. That was fear - and we all react in our own individual manner to sudden moments of chaos or disruption...

To answer your question as to who I am outraged against? The putz in New York, NY with a blog who had the audacity to post such an ignorant report ...

-Tlaloc Rivas
Director, NYC

Anonymous said...

A similar event happened recently:

A New York man was arrested during a Mets game at Shea Stadium for allegedly trying to blind players with a high-power flashlight.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Frank Martinez was arrested Friday and accused of trying to blind Atlanta Braves players -- including pitcher Tim Hudson and shortstop Edgar Renteria -- in the eighth inning, The New York Times reported Sunday. The second base umpire alerted officials and the game was paused while Martinez was taken into custody.

Your comments here miss the mark. Certainly, the group had the right to walk out of the theater. But they don't have the right to deface the set or threaten the performer. All performers, be they athletes, musicians, actors or monologuists are entitled to a reasonable expectation of their safety when performing. Mike had no idea what that guy in the hood was planning to do. The guy should have been arrested. By critiquing Mike's post-assault performance, you persist in blaming the victim.