Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Nick at Rat Sass apparently thinks that Mike Daisey's essay and my rants are counter-productive. In his post "Pere Dayz Preempts Discussion," he finds great "dishonesty, self-deception, or spin doctoring" in the fact that Daisey's short essay in the Seattle weekly "The Stranger" is not as complex as his performance, and that it had a subtitle -- a subtitle! -- that bore the same title as his play. Daisey wrote about this on his website: "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." If you have ever written for a newspaper, you know that this has the ring of truth -- critics, for instance, do not have total control over the headline over their pieces, for instance. But Nick sees some ethical breach in this, one that is worth dismissing Daisey's points. He writes: "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.'" But clearly he has judged how much Mike wrestled with this, and found him wanting. By using the name of his performance as a subtitle, Nick finds Mike guilty of *gasp* self-promotion! Perish the thought. Perhaps he should have published under an assumed name.

When I questioned him about this seeming obsession with finding perfidy in Mike Daisey -- remember, he accused Daisey of cooking up a self-promotion scheme following the water-pouring incident as well -- the real issue surfaced, as did Daisey's connection to me. In a response to my comment, Nick wrote:

"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."

I stand convicted: I do like Daisey's essay and what I have heard so far of his monologue. I think he is speaking a truth that has long been buried, and yes, I am trying to speak a similar truth. The Theatrical Emperor has very few clothes, and there is something rotten in the state of LORT-dom.

I also admit that the sentence he quotes is mine, and I think it is true: it is easier to describe what one is against than what one is for. But I was not implying with that sentence that I or anyone else should ignore what one is against and speak only about what one is for. They go hand in hand. Like black ink on white paper, they provide the contrast necessary to clearly communicate. When people protest the war in Iraq, they didn't do so by simply chanting what a wonderful world it would be if we weren't fighting, they condemn the wrongness of it. To ignore what is bad is to tacitly endorse it, especially when the status quo is being preached every day in theatre classrooms, magazines, and newspapers across America as the only reasonable way for business to be done.

When someone like Jonathan West, an artistic director for 11 years, trots out the artistic value of being a Starving Artist, it must be countered strongly, because it is the theatrical norm too often accepted as unquestionable truth. And when he dismisses as "not an artist" a 41-year-old actress who can't take a life of poverty anymore, somebody needs to blow the whistle and call a foul. John Clancy, in the comments to my post, says we should give West a hand and instead of a slap because... I don't know why... because he's younger than John and I, I guess, and ten years ago John says he'd have said the same thing. From my point of view, this makes it even worse! We now we have yet another generation of people following the same self-abusive pattern and calling it love. It's like women who stay with their abusive husbands because "I love him, and sometimes things are good." Are you nuts? John writes: "Yes, there's a defeatist attitude and a "fuck-it-just-leave-me-alone-to-die-here-alone-and-unsung" song being hummed in the background to Jonathan's words, but there's also a quiet strength and resilience in the counter-melody. He says, "just show up to work." That's all any of us are saying, at the end, or at least that's all I'm saying. Show up to work. Every day. No matter what you're getting paid. Yeah, ask for more, but show up while you're asking for it."

You know what? I know few theatre artists who don't show up for work no matter what (if anything) they're getting paid. I did my share of that when I was a freelance director in Minneapolis. That's part of the problem. Why should producers buy the cow if they can get the milk for free? Why should producers pay you more when there is a line of youngsters behind you who will work for bus fare? And the worst part is that artists do it to each other -- many of the producers are artists themselves who produce in order to get their work seen. The feel guilty about it -- they are not rubbing their hands with glee -- but they feel they have no choice. It is a vicious cycle.

Isaac at Parabasis is wrestling with Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, but he is made uncomfortable when Alinsky's tactics are applied to theatre because "embracing the Alinsky school means doing one thing in those above battles that I'm not totally comfortable with: treating those who disagree with you as your enemies. When you're dealing with a corporation that is refusing to hire black people, I have no issue whatsoever with, for example, personalizing the problem by making it about specific people rather than the corporation as a whole, or whatever. But I'm not entirely comfortable with doing that with my fellow theatre artists, or theatre administrators." And I have the same discomfort with Alinsky, frankly -- I think we have a society that eats polarization for breakfast to the point where it is no longer effective for enacting change. But I don't think I or Daisey are attacking individuals, but rather a system that ultimately is abusive and destructive to theatre artists. Daisey is finally pointing out the weasel under the cocktail table that has been attacking everybody's ankles but they were too polite to say anything. I recently directed Thousand Kites, which showed that it was not only the inmates in America's prisons that are being abused, but the guards as well -- they suffer under a system that puts them both into destructive and damaging lifestyles. The same is true of theatre: the administrators are working as hard, and often for as little remuneration, as the artists.

For too long, theatre artists have accepted 84% unemployment, a migrant lifestyle, constant underemployment, low or no pay, and little control over their careers as being "what we signed on for when we chose it," as West puts it. It is time to say enough is enough. Every year or so, a group of academics will come together and wring their hands in worry, thinking maybe they shouldn't be producing so many theatre artists, given the employment realities. I say, instead of thinking about creating fewer artists, we should be focusing on creating more jobs, and I mean more paying jobs that do not require artists to give up their claim to lead a reasonable life. I believe this is possible, but it is only possible if we fully recognize the problems of the current way of doing things.

I will continue to write about the abuses, and I know that Mike Daisey will continue to perform his piece and, I hope, write more essays. And I will also continue to promote alternatives such as the tribal model I have been writing about for weeks. And I make no apologies for either activity.

Ultimately, they are two sides of the same coin.

11 comments:

nick@ said...

I will try to address this in a post more fully at Rat Sass when I get some time. But for now I want to say that I absolutely never "accused Daisey of cooking up a self-promotion scheme following the water-pouring incident."

I had a lot to say back then about how Daisey "hyped his outrage" over the incident and the rest of his and other’s behavior at that time. Other people also had a lot to say on that. People can go back to the actual posts on that if they wish.

Why, Scott, you need to mischaracterize what I said about Mike and that incident, I’m not sure. I had addressed exact that issue with Mac Rogers when he did the same back then.

http://ratconference.com/blog/?p=62

Mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Walters said...

Mac -- I don't moderate comments on this site, and only rarely remove a comment. I expect my commenters to maintain a level of decorum. To my mind, you crossed the line to personal insult, which I think is reprehensible. I would also disagree with your comment. I don't question Nick's intellectual honesty; I disagree with his beliefs in this case, but I believe he writes what he believes, and I don't think it is right for you to use my comments box to deliver personal attacks.

Nick -- If I mischaracterized your reaction to the water-pouring incident, I apologize. I was working from memory, and may have blurred your comments with those of someone else.

nick@ said...

Mac,

Sorry for opening an obvious old wound for you but it was a way for me to shortcut an argument with Scott on exactly the same thing. I do mean sorry, because I really did not know it was so traumatic for you. I remember it all as more comic than painful. But, of course, that's me, the performing clown. Katie and Paul have a subscription to the New Yorker. When I pick it up with the mail, I always flip through and read all the cartoons before giving it to them. So I'm glad I keep you similarly entertained with the cartoons at my prankster blog.

I appreciate and support Scott's attempt to "craft a vision and a comprehensive plan of action." I think I have said that enough times now. But when the two-sided coin he flips comes up tails, I call it as such. I hope he and others appreciate that about me, but I can’t fret too much about it. I have my pranks and comics to craft.

And for the record, I have never stopped praising the hard working artist Mike Daisey for the truthfulness of his performance in How Theater Failed America.

Mac said...

Hi Scott,

While I cannot in sincerity back off my comment, I agree with you that it is an improper use of your comments section, for which I apologize. I will remove it after posting this, and I will not post insults in your comments section again.

Not to in any way mitigate my offense, but isn't "insulting prick" a personal insult?

Is it actually true that you don't moderate comments? I don't object to moderation of comments for any moral or intellectual reason, though I choose not to do it myself, just as a personal preference (excepting comment spam, of course!)

Again, I apologize.

Scott Walters said...

Mac -- Nope, I don't moderate comments. Don't object that others do; I just don't. Who has time? I'd rather let things play out. There have been a couple times when I have removed comments, mostly my own, after further consideration. But it's rare. I think I removed a couple between me and Joshua James. But that's about it.

You found "insulting prick" a personal insult? *L* Of course it was. And it's my blog, so I can do that. If you wanted to use your blog to personally insult Nick, that would be cool. But those are the ethics I've worked out for me. You may have other rules.

Nick -- You have supported my ideas in the past, and in the present, and I appreciate it. And when you haven't agreed with me in the past and in the present, I have appreciated that. But a coin with only one side isn't very useful (it probably isn't even possible). To propose a new system, one must contrast it with something.

Mac said...

So... wait... a personal insult is or is not "reprehensible" depending on in what public venue it appears? It's not just inherently reprehensible (or not)?

Ah, crap, this can't lead anywhere good. I promised myself I'd just be a Theatre Ideas lurker - a "read-only," as it were - and I've already screwed it up.

Scott Walters said...

Mac -- Yup. That's it. Home court rules. "This is MY house!" *L* Like I said, you can have your own rules elsewhere. And actually, I don't even mind if you insult ME. But insulting other commenters -- well, that's a problem. Perhaps inconsistent, but my own.

Scott Walters said...

Take George Hunka, for instance. He will attack my ideas and even provide links to my blog, but he will never, ever mention my name or Theatre Ideas. That's his rule on his blog, and I accept that even if it seems sort of weird. If you had a rule that you would delete any comment I made on your blog, it would annoy me, but those would be the house rules.

Maybe I should post these rules somewhere...

Mac said...

You're ruining it, Scott. You had actually made me feel ashamed of myself, but now, the more arbitrary this gets the less ashamed I feel.

Scott Walters said...

That's good! I wasn't trying to make you feel guilty. Just trying to set some boundaries. Carry on.