Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Strange Night At The A.R.T.

A curious incident took place at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge on Friday night. The evening and the footage that exists of what happened poses a legal question and also a question about civility.

On Friday night, Mike Daisey was doing his show. Daisey is a "monologist" in the style of the late Spalding Gray: he sits at a table with a glass of water and delivers full-length monologues consisting of interwoven personal stories and reflections. The piece he is performing at A.R.T., "Invincible Summer," is both a personal and historic portrait of New York City.

A high school group was visiting Boston all the way from Southern California, and they bought 87 tickets to the show. According to the theatre, when they bought the tickets, they explained that it was a high school group and asked if the subject matter was appropriate. The theatre told them the subject matter and warned them about some adult language and references to sex. The person buying the tickets indicated that was all right and bought the tickets.

The space where Daisey is performing is about 300 seats. (I remember it well - saw many things there when I lived in New England.) A few minutes into his piece, he finished up a bluish joke about Paris Hilton where he had dropped the F-bomb. Suddenly, the 87 people from Norco Senior High School stood up en masse and walked out. A third of the sold-out theatre simply got up without saying anything and walked out.

In the video that captured the incident, Daisey stops his performance and watches them walk out with a puzzled look on his face.

It could have ended there. But no, one of the chaperones took it into a new realm. He walked up to the stage, took Daisey's glass of water, and poured it all over Daisey's notes. (The piece is extemporaneous and depends on his hand-written notes, which Daisey uses as an outline.)

As the A.R.T. points out, this could be likened to someone slashing a painting at a museum. It was a deliberate attempt to silence a performance. Not just to walk out, but actually to silence a show that others had paid to see.

The incident, Daisey's attempt to question his protesters, and his rather graceful and humorous recovery, makes for a fascinating 9 minutes of video. Enjoy:

So far, Daisey has gotten a "half-hearted apology" from the school's activities director. Where is the principal of this school? I feel the man (clearly seen in the video) who rushed the artist and defaced his work needs to be offered up for accountability. There is a bright line between walking out on a show you don't like, and attempting to prevent anyone else from enjoying it.

Now THAT's a lesson for the kids.


Theriomorph said...

Wow. That's crazy.

If it's all about the super-enlightened codifying what's 'offensive' (and destroying artists materials in the process), then regardless of whether the Paris Hilton joke was funny or not, I vote that the behavior of the theoretically adult chaperon was far more offensive than anything in the monologue, and he should be drenched to illegibility.

So gracefully handled! Nicely done, Mike Daisy.

Hal Johnson said...

The numbnuts jerk who poured water on Daisy's work did his little part to show why those who oppose artistic freedom of expression are much scarier than the most controversial of artists. I'd like to thank the guy, actually, since without his idiotic "intervention," I might never have heard of Mike Daisy.