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:
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.
"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 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.