The Mike Daisey essay matches well with the longer line of similar rants against regional theatre system Scott Walters has been publishing over at Theatre Ideas. This is Rat Sass, so understand I often use the term rant not as a derogative but as an accolade. I said that I thought How Theatre Failed America should be the foundation of the discussion about building a new model for theatre. I was talking about Mike’s performance not his rant of an essay of the same title. I think the essay does a disservice to the discussion. I have talked some about the Daisey rant in contrast to his theatre performance in a comment section at Scott’s blog, an expansion of a comment that I began at Freeman’s blog. I hope to write a more complete response and post here when I have some time. But for now it serves as a segue into Scott’s acknowledgment to move to a place beyond just an Us/Them rant against the current system.
It is fairly easy to describe what one is against, but much more of a challenge to describe what one is for.
Our theatre International Culture Lab will become an active explorer in the tribe experiment Scott has initiated. So my questioning the exclusiveness he has begun demanding is not meant as a pooh-pooh of the project but only an exploration of how this functions toward organizing and defining a common ground among various theatre people. I will need convincing that theatre seeking its place in the “History of Great Ideas” is an unworthy ambition. And although “history and stature” is different, they look very similar to that Nylachi “fame and fortune” in our modern culture that Scott has established as the antithesis to the tribe ethic.
The exemplar of the ensemble or theatre tribe when I came into theatre in Chicago in early ‘80’s was Steppenwolf. But a few years after their Balm in Gilead went to New York, all the actors of that early ensemble had essentially left theatre for film and television.
The tribe ethic works best when fame and fortune is only an abstraction. The tribe actor is not any bigger or better than any other actor in the ensemble. But this type of actor or ensemble is given no status by Celebrity Culture. So once the “world’s mine oyster” was presented to the Steppenwolf ensemble, each as individuals followed the new challenges and opportunities that the dominant culture offered them. They didn’t “sell out” as much as become the other side of who they always were. Half tribe, half Nylachi.
Could be that when Steppenwolf began, they all believed they were tribe, maybe even fervently argued for an exclusive commitment as Scott is now. Ironically, the power of such belief could be what made it possible for them to achieve the “product” that Nylachi could co-opt.
All that said, I think the either/or defining of ambition is an important baseline choice all theatre artists continually confront. So the tribe ethic makes an apt delineator. And I really do enjoy hearing Scott in the comment section of Theatre Ideas as well as other blogs saying “you just disqualified yourself from my theatre.” Nylachi apprentices with their applications in hand are meeting the Donald Trump of the parallel universe, finger pointed to the door leading back to Celebrity Culture. “You’re fired!”