There was one thing that puzzled me about the performance. Daisey is a storyteller, and in posts I have noted that he talks about talking directly to the audience and engaging them in dialogue. Nevertheless, he uses the traditional theatrical approach of having the stage brightly lit and the audience in total darkness, so that it is pretty much impossible for him to actually see anyone in the theatre or talk directly to them. I know that this is the case because I couldn't see the audience hardly at all during the discussion, at least without shading my eyes. So I ask Mike: why not raise those house lights at least a little, and lower those stage lights a little, and try to actually look your listeners in the eyes? I suspect your words would be even more powerful. Just a thought.
After the show, which was well-attended though not full and enthusiastically received, I and my fellow panelists (John Collins and Colleen Werthman of Elevator Repair Service, Elizabeth Dowd of Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Tanya Selvaratnam of the Builders Association, Heidi Schrack of Two-Headed Calf, and Hal Brooks who directed Thom Paine) assembled for the discussion. To my surprise, a large chunk of the audience stayed for the discussion.
It was a good discussion, if probably a bit long. Mike's show started at 7:00, and we didn't end the discussion until 11:00! The initial focus of the discussion was on ensembles, and I guess I was there because the theatre tribe idea is basically an ensemble. It was a lively discussion, and I suspect I talked too much. John Collins and I found ourselves in disagreement rather frequently, and I can't really remember why any more -- [perhaps his decidedly NY-centric attitude. To be honest, the discussion passed in a blur. I found myself sympatico with Elizabeth Dowd, who has been with Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble for 29 of its 30 years, and who seems to be living a life that is both artistically satisfying and fulfilling as a lifestyle. She was proof that it was possible to have a life in the theatre outside of a major metropolitan area, her theatre being in Bloomsburg PA. (And while you may be tempted, please don't click through to the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble and feel compelled to weigh in on the season choices of her theatre -- while I'm sure it is important to you, it isn't really relevant to the discussion, nor am I particularly interested.)
Once the floor was open to comments and questions, things got more interesting. I particularly remember a few young people demanding that artists be more active in working with high school students as a way of growing the audience for theatre. "What are you doing about this?," one demanded to know. And the response was, mostly, not much -- "We're too busy trying to make ends meet -- we don't have time." This was greeted with a certain skepticism, as if a drowning man said he didn't have time to swim because he was too busy trying to stay afloat.
The discussion was a personal test for me, because I was accompanied by two people I hold in high regard, Cal Pritner and Evamarii Johnson, who I was pretty certain wouldn't agree with some of what I had to say. It is one thing to have an opinion alone in my study, but to stay true to that opinion in the presence of people you admire more than most is a challenge, at least for me. I managed to do so, I think, and it may have helped that the stage lights kept me from seeing their reactions. The next morning, we had a good conversation about a couple of points, but the most important one is something I want to reiterate: while I am trying to decentralize thw American theatre and find a model that will allow live theatre to spread across America, I am not trying to eliminate the New York theatre. This is not an either or, but a both and. I would like to undermine the hegemony of the New York theatre, yes, but not get rid of it. The fact is that prior to Daisey's performance, I had the privilege to attend August: Osage County, which had the best acting and directing I have ever seen in my career. To me, it isn't an accident that it is the product of an ensemble theatre, and I suspect that the specialness will be greatly lessened by the departure of several of the actors -- I was fortunate to see the last performance with the original cast.
At any rate, thanks to Mike Daisey for asking me to be part of the roundtable -- I felt flattered beyond measure. I had an opportunity to meet Dennis Baker, who was intelligent and articulate, and several other young theatre artists who were interested in finding another path. I wish them the best of luck, and hope to be able to help them in any way I can.
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