Sunday, March 22, 2009

Me and Mike Daisey (Part 2)

Friday night I made the three block walk to the Kirk Douglas. The K.D. is one of the theaters in the Center Theater Group cadre, which if you didn't know is the collection of big profitable equity theaters in Los Angeles. The wife and I walked into the incredibly polished lobby of the K.D. and I was blown away by how many folks were waiting for the doors to open. That is not a knock against Mike Daisey. I know he's very popular, and the show "How Theater Failed America" is an incredibly important work of theater. However, I was surprised because it's been a while since I have seen an audience buzzed like this audience for a performance.

I shouldn't have been shocked at the buzz, since every town that has seen this show goes completely bonkers after Daisey rolls in with his brash and bigger than life indictments of the state of theater in America, and how those who control theater in this country are in essence ruining it and dismantling it before our very eyes. None the less, you may ask yourself, well, what is this show about? Why is it so important?

I'll let Mike Summarize the thesis of the show in his own words, "The principal argument is that the theatrical establishment in America has lost sight of the values that led to the establishment of regional theaters, and in its place are institutions that value buildings over artists, isolation over engagement and corporate growth over artistic development. On top and in part because of this is a shrinking and aging audience base, which has led to an art form in contraction, with less and less audience every year. We pay artists and workers starvation wages and make it impossible for a national theater to take root here, while at the same time engaging in orgies of building construction that defy logic or sense. We have forgotten that the play's the thing — the show attempts to illustrate that with stories from my years working in theaters across the country, and tries to shake us from our slumber. "

So, you may be saying to yourself, "Wow, Mick, this sounds like a real barn burner of a good time," sacrasm dripping from your tongue. Well, dear reader, it's all in the delivery. Daisey incorporates personal and intimate musings and stories from his own life into the thesis narrative in order to shape and illuminate the point to it's highest impact. Whether it be his raucous and hilarious tale of doing 'garage theater' in the late 90's Seattle, or his truly personal and tragic discussion about teaching high school theater in Western Maine, each discussion high lights each bit of the overall message. And that message is clear, it's getting really hard to make theater happen in this country.

So, what was my reaction. Well, this post isn't a review of the show. It really can't be. If I were to critique the show for what it is, it would take away from what the show did to me personally as I sat in Row G Seat 10, clutching my jacket and sitting on the edge of my seat. At some point I stopped evaluating the lights, and the minimalistic set, and the performer, and I just let the message of it all wash over me.

I was inspired by the show. It really hit me, in my guts as I draw so many parallels in my own theater career to Mike Daisy's. I too started a fledgling theater company straight out of college. I too taught high school students theater while still in college. His stories about Seattle Garage Theater sound a lot like my days producing and performing theater in North Hollywood. The funny part was, I'm not alone. The audience around me were equally plugged in, equally enthralled, equally saddened and equally inspired by the piece. The fact that so many theater artists had gathered for this show to hear the message, did what no organization or conference in Los Angeles has been able to do, unite us all for one night. Unite us under a cloud of personal self reflection on what we are all doing as theater professionals and how it impacts our own personal theater world.

All of this from a performer who simple sits behind a desk, with a glass of water and a small collection of notes... a single poignant lamp stage left. Mike Daisey was for a night, our hero, our voice and yet at the same time, he was there to indict us to our crime. Allowing theater to fail America, an ultimately, fail us all. This show hangs heavy on me. Now I have to figure out what I should do about that.

1 comment:

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