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
(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.