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Père DayZ Preempts Discussion

By Nick Fracaro at 12:23 pm on Monday, February 25, 2008

After seeing the premiere performance of How Theater Failed America in New York, I had said that Mike Daisey’s monologue should be used as the foundation for our discussion seeking new models for regional theatre. But almost simultaneous to this, and in tandem with the monologue’s opening in Seattle, Mike published his essay on regional theatre. This probably would have had little import except that he subtitled his essay the same as his performance. His essay is a harsh rant, deliberately simplistic in its Us/Them politics, everything his performance is not. Of course this is everything our discussion should also not be. Mike appears to have been monitoring those of us in the comment trenches of blogs wrestling with our assignment of implementing new theatre models, and although the recent post at his blog Dilettante reads slightly defensive and a tad haughty, Mike does attempt to clarify the difference between his essay and performance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A FEW POINTS OF CLARIFICATION FOR THE THEATRICAL BLOGOSPHERE AND POINTS BEYOND

(and if no one reads this, at least I’ll have something to point people to later.)

The essay and the monologue are not the same, nor are they derived from one another.

That would be this monologue (How Theater Failed America) and this essay (The Empty Spaces). I know, the essay is subtitled with the name of the show—I wrestled with this, the editor wanted it that way, and that’s how it came out. They are not directly related works; they’re connected mainly by their creator, who shares the views expressed in both, but each has very different intentions and audiences. The monologue is intended for live performances, and since that is my principal form it probably represents me best—I’m proud of the essay as well, but it was requested by The Stranger for their paper, for whom I’ve written in the past, and is slanted to some degree toward a specific audience in Seattle. Also, the monologue is 12 to 15 thousand words, while the essay is a little over a tenth that.

I’m very fond of the piece, and delighted that so many have read it—I just want to be clear that isn’t some “cutting” from the monologue. That essay would make a very poor monologue—the language would be all wrong for it, and the structure as well. The essay is also not in any way funny, whereas the show is. They’re quite different.

This is helpful in as far as as Mike goes with it, especially for those of us involved in the discussion on new models for theatre. Since I seemed to be the only person in “theatrical blogosphere” in the debate who had seen his monologue, everyone had to assume the accuracy of my report that the essay and performance were radically different experiences.

I can’t judge how much Mike actually “wrestled” over the title. I’m not sure if he finds any real ethics involved in such a decision beyond those contained within the PR concerns of linking the two together. And as we all know, the realm of public relations and advertising often has a somewhat more malleable understanding of the ethical value assigned to terms such as “clarity” or “truth.”

I had wanted to examine some of the truths I had found in Mike’s performance by comparing and constrasting them to the untruth that I see in the Us/Them premise of his essay. But in the next section of this same blog post Mike essentially preempts my ability to effectively do that.

Please do not review the show in NYC until it has opened on April 14th.

The only performance HOW THEATER FAILED AMERICA has had in NYC was its very first performance, which was the first time it was ever spoken aloud, at the Under The Radar Festival. I’m really pleased with how it went that day—it was one of our best birthings ever—but the show was not open to reviewers for that performance, and therefore I ask that you please do not review it before it opens. If you saw the Seattle shows the ball is in your court—I’d prefer that you wait at this point, but those performances were open to the press, so do what you will.

At the same time, please be clear that I am emphatically in favor of free commentary, and this is just an advisory and a request—you remain a human with free will, and I do think it’s good that there’s been a lot of foment and discussion. I just want to be clear about what the ground rules were intended to be.

It would be hard to fault Mike for trying to “wrestle” for the control of the PR of his own performance piece but he is being disingenuous if he is suggesting some understood ground rules were in effect on whether or not a blogger should be able to talk openly about his NYC performance. At the time of the performance, Mike himself linked from his blog to what was essentially a review or critique over at Parabasis as well as my own praise and wish to use his performance as the foundation for discussion. I doubt that any print theatre editor now, more than a month after the incidence of the performance, would be interested in publishing some review of How Theater Failed America. So Mike’s request not to review seems geared specifically to cast my planned inquiry here into the negative light of being hurtful to his future performances of How Theater Failed America instead of my stated intent.

His essay is similar in genre to those rallying speeches used by politicians. These Us/Them rants are not meant to inspire anyone into actually helping change the system but are meant to motivate the base to get out and vote against their enemy. The essay was published similtaneous to the opening in Seattle of How Theater Failed America so little doubt on the motivation for both Mike Daisey and The Stranger newspaper. The concern was centered more on the synergy between reader circulation and box office than on anything as profound as changing the regional theatre system.

Mike Daisey and his alternative Seattle newspaper behave no differently toward their “bottom line” mandates than do the nonprofit corporations and institutions of regional theatre that the essay ridicules. Earlier this year Mike, in league with his Boston regional theatre institution became so lost in the “image management” of his “commodity,” that he ended up branding an innocent group of California high school on a field trip as Christian bigots. The “mantle of smug invulnerability” and “specious whining” that he sees in the staffs of regional theatres was amply present in Mike himself at that time and defines perfectly the attitude and tone of the essayist of How Theater Failed America. One can only wish that the same irony that he wishes would “reach up and bitch-slap” others, would also find Mike’s sweet cheek. And that the truth he confesses to us in his performance would also find residence in his essays and blog writings. That he would take a short break from self promotion and his holier-than-thou mind-set and really enter the discussion among theatre peers seeking and proposing new models for theatre.

Mr. DayZ

Filed under: Theatre and Culture6 Comments »

6 Comments

1
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Comment by Scott Walters

February 25, 2008 @ 1:53 pm

Nick — I must confess that I really don’t understand why you are so obsessed with comparing the essay and the performance, and searching for some perfidy on Mike’s part. Is this something personal? Something left over from the water pouring incident? Or do you really think that all these multi-million dollar regional theatres are so imperiled that they can handle a little criticism? There seems to be something going on here that I can’t quite grasp. Can you do some full disclosure?

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Comment by nick

February 25, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

Scott,

You like the Daisey rant. As I have already said, it matches well to similar rants by you. And as I have also already said numerous times about your diatribes, they are detrimental to the discussions about and proposals for new models we all are attempting. You always claim you are moving beyond your rants, but you continually fall back to them. You can’t seem to help yourself.

What Scott Walters said but what does not seem to stick for him is:

“It is fairly easy to describe what one is against, but much more of a challenge to describe what one is for.”

I have an intense dislike of self-righteousness, probably because I am so prone to it myself. So when I see it in you and Daisey and others, I jump on it.

Mike Daisey’s performance of How Theater Failed America I found to be an honest self-effacing search for truth in theatre. I am trying to come to terms with that in light of the dishonesty, self-deception, or spin doctoring I see at work in his public persona as expressed in the incident in Boston and his current essay.

Much of my examination here at Rat Sass has been on the artist and his public persona or representation. Within that I continually write about the new theatre talk, the artist/critic relationship, and the nature of talk itself in the theatrosphere. I blog about Scott, Leonard, George, Alison, Mac, David, Isaac, and Mike. Mike Daisey has no more perfidy or truthfulness within him than the other artists and critics I examine. That, of course, includes me.

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Comment by Scott Walters

February 26, 2008 @ 8:30 am

Nick — In families with an alcoholic, it is always the family member who actually speaks about the problem that is shunned for “causing trouble.” For decades now, the regional theatre has been valorized as providing an alternative to Broadway, but it has abandoned its original purpose and values and become a booking agent for NY artists. Mike Daisey and I are saying the Emperor has no clothes, and I refuse to apologize for that. Every day, the status quo is taught in America’s theatre departments as a fait accompli, and that must change. And the only way that can happen is to reveal the nasty little secrets. If I were ONLY attacking the regional theatres, then you might have a beef. But to say that one will provide alternatives is not to say that one will be silent about the status quo. By focusing on what you see as perfidy in Mike Daisey’s “public persona,” you are ignoring the validity of what he has to say in his performance. You seem to expect saintliness from your whistle-blowers.

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Comment by Sarah McLellan

February 26, 2008 @ 10:43 am

Scott, enough already with the alcoholism analogies. I see what you’re getting at, but the framing device makes me very uncomfortable.

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Comment by Skip

February 28, 2008 @ 1:29 am

I happened to stumble on this discussion while trolling through blogs off of Mike’s Dilletante, and while I will leave the larger discussion to more able and willing participants, I did want to clarify one point in particular.

“Earlier this year Mike, in league with his Boston regional theatre institution became so lost in the “image management” of his “commodity,” that he ended up branding an innocent group of California high school on a field trip as Christian bigots.”

I was actually present for this show, and was by the theater door and in the lobby as the school exited. The “Christian” element that was introduced into the incident came from one of the chaperones on that day, who repeatedly stated “We’re a Christian school” as explanation for their sudden departure.

I think the actions involved in the incident are incredible enough without adding any Christian right vs. Secular Artist overtones. Since they did appear, I think it should be clear that this was not an invention Mike cooked up to add a little “creative enhancement” to the “image management” of his “commodity”. Mike was a little too busy trying to get the water off his work.

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Comment by nick

February 28, 2008 @ 9:26 am

Skip,

This is old news. I have already had my say on it. Go back in the archives here if you are interested.

We all know Mike was surprised by the walk-out and his contemporaneous reaction should not be judged. The debate was about the aftermath of the incident including the YouTube phenomenon that became attached to it.

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