Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This is not Right

Well, this is a Blog called, The ART OF FUNCTION, and we do respect Art here at A.O.F. Which is why, when good friend and fellow blogger, Dennis Baker of Dennis Baker New York Acting Blog posted this video (shown below) on Facebook of a Protest that went down at a performance of Mike Daisey's "Invincible Summer", I immediately ran to blog on it.

The video captures Mr. Daisey in the midst of his performance. One in which, I have not completely seen, but have heard positive reviews on. Mr. Daisey uses some choice language and while his metaphor in the piece show in the video is very poignant, one could call it crass. However, what is really shocking is what happens during the midst of his monologue. A group of about 87 people stand up in the middle of the performance and they start walking out. They just walk out. Mr. Daisey's performance is first person fourth wall breaking, so he is forced to respond to the walk out, which he mostly does with shock and surprise as any normal human being would do. However, he is shocked to his senses, when one of the folks walking out takes his water bottle and pours it all over his props right in front of him. This tends to wake Mr. Daisey up and he starts to attempt to engage those folks walking out in a dialog. A dialog that falls on deaf ears, as no one in the group walking out choose to respond. It is later revealed that these people were a Christian Choir Group from California, who went to the show unknowing the subject matter to be racy in any way. The leaders of the group, decided to leave in protest and take out the students. However, prior to leaving one member of the group (who still has not come forward) decided to walk up and in an act of defiance deface Mr. Daisey's set before walking out.

Art in its pure form relies on a bit of social contract with those who view it. The art itself relies that it will be placed in display and allowed to deliver its message. The audience gives it that right, but also chooses the right to not hear or see the message by not participating in the display. Therefore there is a 'neutral zone' neither party crosses. Art does not become invasive and the Audience never defaces the Art.

Apparently, the American Evangelical Church has not heard this rule. Probably because the American Evangelical Church rarely engages in the general American Pop Culture landscape, and tends to create their own closeted, sanctioned and protected art, which is easily bought and sold at numerous outlets across America. Hmmm... I mean come on, who here does have a "Foot Prints in The Sand" poem in stain glass hanging above their toilet, like my folks? Raise your hands!

I have to say, I watch this video and I am not shocked. I am merely disturbed. Why? Because, I myself had the same thing happen to me, twice. The first happened over 10 years ago. I was working with a Church Group in Palm Springs (my home town). The church every year put together an outreach program to troubled youths and church groups that consisted of a touring musical. High School kids worked on the show and produced it and did 8 performances in 7 days up and down the California Coast. I was asked (at the tender age of 19) to help write and direct the show. I did. It was set in a high school prom, and we often had dancers do routines for some of the musical numbers. We had many positive comments on the show (although, I will be honest it wasn't lightning in a bottle). This was of course until we performed at an EV Church in Downey, Ca. There, we performed the show for a huge crowd. Afterwards, the head pastor for the church walked on stage, for what we thought was the common thanks and prayer speech to the crowd. Instead, the pastor (who we found out later was let go because of this) proceeded to tear into the content of the show, especially the dancing, as lewd and not the kind of entertainment fit for their church. He handed the mic back to our executive producer, who happened to be a youth pastor, and walked off the stage and out the door, and never said another word to us. We were embarrassed and we were shocked. The kids were heart broken, Their show was meant to demonstrate the accessibility of the gospel message, not deface the good name of Jesus, as the pastor had implied. I had to hold a lot of kids hands that night on the bus ride home, who were really quite distraught.

I thought I'd never have to deal with this again, until nearly eight years ago. I was performing a Christmas Play while working with a company called "The Lamb's Players" which was a Christian Theater Company. The show was called Cariboo Magi, and in the show a character was pregnant out of wedlock. The show was meant to draw comparisons to the story of Christ's birth. We were doing 32 performances in 22 days, and we were 10 performances into the Tour of local San Diego County Churches. We had received 9 out 10 standing ovations for the show, and very excited to perform in front of 500 people for our 11th show. I was now 22 and about three years removed from the incident in Downey. Now I was in a Methodist Church north of Fashion Valley in San Diego. We started the show after a kind introduction by the pastor, who left a live microphone in front of the stage. This is important. During the show, I coordinated sound via our wireless mics while performing. I had done this for a year, and dealt with a few feedback issues and on occasion a submarine communication would start rolling out of our P.A. So, when I heard a voice start speaking over a P.A., I thought I had another submarine problem. I was wrong, for I noticed a woman in a Christmas colored pant suit with big TBN hair standing at the foot of the stage clutching a microphone. This 'audience member' had decided our show was too racy and she personally was going to stop our unholy performance. A smattering of applause, burgeoned her confidence. I could see the event organizer in the back (a member of their church) looking on in horror. I looked over at my cast mates, and I immediately walked off the stage. They followed, unsure how to proceed. I was now a veteran of this, so we waited in our 'green room' for the event to clear out, before we returned to break down our set and props in silent shame. We found about thirty people who had stayed to apologize for the actions of who we found out was the Pastor's wife. I was later told a few weeks later, the pastor and his wife were reprimanded and they are no longer shepherding the church.

So, I can sympathize with Mike Daisey, and what happened to him. I even applaud him for summoning up his voice at their actions and asking for them to come back and talk about it.

I guess I write this to question the Christian Church in America, because I am an artist and I myself am a member of the Church (I may have lost half my readers with that last sentence). I question the blissful ignorance and blunt fisted childish actions of people like the choir director and his bottle of water. I question the fact that the church does not hold a dialog in their own segregated communities about how to respond to these issues without the 'Us vs. Them' mentality, but instead with a hope to engage in truth seeking in the art as it reflects in their own beliefs.

I am not here to defend Mike Daisey. I haven't seen his work, but I read his blog about the event, and I can see he has an idea of the church, and pretty good insight. He says this, "I sat behind the table, looking up in his face with shock. My job onstage is to be as open as possible, to weave the show without a script as it comes, and this leaves me very emotionally available--and vulnerable, if an audience chooses to abuse that trust. I doubt I will ever forget the look in his face as he defaced the only original of the handwritten show outline--it was a look of hatred, and disgust, and utter and consuming pride. It is a face I have seen in Riefenstahl's work, and in my dreams, but never on another human face, never an arm's length from me--never directed at me, hating me, hating my words and the story that I've chosen to tell. That face is not Christian, by any definition Christ would be proud to call his own--its naked righteousness and contempt have nothing to do with the godhead, and everything to do with pathetic human pride at its very worst. And it wounded me in my heart, because I trusted these people.

This is important. As bearers to the testimony of Christ, the Christian is asked to be an emissary of peace and compassion to the world, not a sword wielding, jack hammer of truth. What folks, who act this way, fail to see is that all they do is cast further doubt towards the testament of the life of Christ in eyes of those who are already skeptical. They give ammunition to the hurtful words, the scathing satirical commentaries, and the out and out violence that is propagated against them. They make their words a public spectacle instead of engaging in what Christ called them to do, impacting discussions brought about through harmonious one on one relationships. They go on Larry King and rail against arts for representing depravity and the audaciousness of the artist to put forth something they are ultimately afraid of, truth in its ugliness.

Part of me understands the Choir Leaders for taking the kids out of the performance. They have a belief structure and narrow minded parishioners to answer to. However, here is what I would have liked to have seen. I would have liked for someone from the church not pour water on the table, and I would instead liked them to answer Mr. Daisey with a response. "We apologize for this walk out. We have kids here, and we have to be responsible to their parents, who may not want them exposed to this language. We apologize to you Mr. Daisey, this is not your fault, it is ours. We did not do our homework on the content of this show. We apologize to everyone in the room. This may be a show you are enjoying and you have a right to, but we cannot participate with you."

Or do you know what I would really have wanted to see? The leaders of this group, let the kids stay. Let the kids hear the show, and then, go back to their hotel or gym they are all sleeping at and talk to their kids about the artistic choices of the show, and whether or not their was validity in their use or not. I guess I would like to have the Church participate in the artistic discussion, and by participating I mean, listen first, respond with respect, and seek the truth.

Please, watch the video below to make your blood boil.


dennis baker said...

Good post! Keep an eye on his blog. If he brings "How Theater Failed America" to the West Coast. Go see it! And drag all the theater peeps with you.

Bacon said...

Thanks for saying what needed to be said. fanatics seem to be gaining a voice in the world, and closed mindedness seems to be winning over education. It seems that when people speak in reason and for discussions about anything and everything, or even just to try to understand some one else's view they are condemned. Thanks for saying what needed to be said thanks for taking that chance.