Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Youch!

Lest the blogosphere have any doubt about how Mike Daisey feels about it:

Bloggers on the internet are not my peers; they may be nice or nasty, brilliant or banal, but this isn't where I find my peers.

My peers in the theater are found in the theater. I find them through our work, and our kindred spirits in that work. And I am a theater artist. And at the end of the day I will spend all I have to make work happen in those spaces, and bring it to the most people possible for whom I can make the deepest possible connection.

I feel strongly that if there's a weakness in the "theatrical blogosphere" it is this—a suffocating emphasis on systems and organization, on sniping and formal language, and little talk of actual theater—of works being produced, of choices that did and did not pan out, of the brutal lessons of the world of the stage.

I'm in a discussion now—it's a discussion with the culture at large, and I wrestle with every tool at my disposal to use theater as a resonant tool to create circumstances where deep conversations can happen about topics that aren't being addressed.

I remain an ardent geek, but the web is a cold and empty forgery of human connection...fascinating and compelling, but lacking the depth and richness of the human experience.

I take inspiration from those who contact me online, who share stories and with whom I begin conversations, but the goal always is the theater—the live moment, the spark.

There are more than a few theater bloggers who would be well served by stopping their picking and biting one another over syntax and nuance and turn their gaze to the living theater—and then find ways to bring that alive in their writings on the web. So, no, I will not "really" enter the discussion, not in such a reductive way.

Instead I'd invite more bloggers to be my peers by turn their work
toward...well, work. Performances. Theater in action. I'd encourage more of them to make more work that shakes up the status quo, and questions the assumptions our culture makes every day...and if the net is a tool to that end, use it.



For the record, I like Mike Daisey. I like his performances and though I don't know him personally I admire what seems to be his genuine passion and mission. From what I gather he has a deep care for how the personal relates to the larger environment and how our actions and experiences are deeply connected (whether we choose to admit it or not) to the machinations of history, big business, society, etc. For instance, in his show Invincible Summer, he had a long passage about the horrible waste in the budget of the MTA in New York City. He punctuated each increasingly absurd example of fraud by contractors and government employees by reminding the audience: "This has been reported and is known by EVERYBODY." Yet the waste continues.

It is hard to explain if you have never experienced a performance by Mr. Daisey, but by his particular talent of weaving in strands of intensely personal stories from his life he makes this sequence resonate far more than it would if separated and presented as a unit in itself. Honesty, in a way, begets honesty in his performances.

So the above post of his makes me sad because I think he is wrong about the theatrical blogosphere. And I think he knows it. He chooses, in the passage above, the lazy way out. He chooses a pat dismissal of voices that have been sounding the clarion long before his monologue How Theatre Failed America. But it is worse.

How does he go about his dismissal? By perpetrating a patent falsehood: That the theatrical blogosphere is a bunch of people who are not creating or engaging with theatre, or discussing that engagement in sort of practical or constructive way. (On this last part he may be half right, but I will discuss that later.)

The theatrical blogosphere is filled with (and this is just a sampling:)

Writers:
Superfluities
Adam
Freeman
Jason Grote
Jamespeak

Directors:
Parabasis
Jack Clancy
Nick

Producers:
Don Hall
Tony

Teachers:
A Poor Player
Scott Walters

Critics:
Leonard Jacobs
Thomas Garvey
Garret Eisler

(Some of the above cross multiple disciplines.)

All of the above, produce, create, direct, write, write about, teach and most of all care deeply and passionately about the theatre. They are involved in the active participation of the theatre culture and deal with the problems on a day to day basis. And almost none of them are involved in perpetuating the type of theatre system Mike seems to be diagnosing with both his monologue and his essay in the Stranger.

Almost all of them are trying to create challenging work, work out of the mainstream. They experiment with form, substance, marketing, design, atmosphere and theory.

They are also, at times, arrogant, pig-headed, jaded, unrelenting, long-winded, and ideological. I think almost every theatre blogger would have to agree.

Of course, there is no obligation to speak to anybody for any reason, especially if these people are not directly involved your daily work or have value in your plan. But Mike, if you are listening, do you really believe, after reading some of these blogs that the people writing them are not trying to create a better theatre or make a change? I suspect you don't read them regularly, or much at all. (I could be wrong.)

And I am going further on a limb and make statement that even many others bloggers might disagree with: The MAJORITY of the theatrical blogosphere is made up of the type of people I describe above.

The biggest irony is that Nick at Rat Sass, who is the real catalyst for the post at Mike's blog, is probably the epitome of Mike's prescription in the last paragraph.

All that being said...Mike has an excellent point about discussing post mortem of theatrical projects. This kind of goes hand in hand with his comment on his New Year's resolution to be honest about work he sees.

There is a tremendous hesitancy to discuss the aftermath and the reception theatrical projects in the blogoshphere. Don Hall seems to be the most straightforward I have encountered in this respect. If he embarks on a project, we can generally expect an after-action review at some point which will cover everything from the business and marketing angle to how the aesthetic goals came together to the clash of personalities. (Though we may wince sometimes.)

George Hunka and Isaac Butler, two of the Old Guard bloggers had ventures together as writer and director in the theatre minima. It did take some time, but we did get post-mortem. There are others too who are helpful in this regard.

But for the most part, there will be a big buildup, with a lot of talk about what the project is about, (including the usual pre-show publicity.) Then the show will open, a short post will be written about what a great experience it was, and then regular posting will resume.

I don't except myself. I haven't been all that forthcoming with any real details of the practical realities of my theatrical ventures, other than generalities.

So to Mike: I want you to know that you don't have to speak with anybody you don't want to. But I hope you won't hold it against me that, I'll consider you my peer.

11 comments:

George said...

Thank you for posting this, Art. It's disappointing that Mike feels this way, especially because all of us, whatever our differing perspectives, are precisely trying to "turn their gaze to the living theater -- and then find ways to bring that alive in their writings on the web," usually in the midst of day jobs and the thousand-and-one details of everyday life (as well as our work in the theatre).

It's often true, perhaps, that some bloggers and writers on theatre spend more time in writing about generalities rather than details; I try myself to write about specific plays and productions as often as I can, and I wish, in the discussion about regional theatre (and American theatre generally) that Mike has been addressing, there be more attention paid to the kinds of plays and theatre that can be found -- and, more importantly, not found -- on our stages. I would go so far as to say that this is far more important to the health of the art than "systems and organization," but I know I'm in the minority on that one. But Mike doesn't talk about specific plays or theatre work either.

As for the Web being a "cold and empty forgery of human connection ... fascinating and compelling, but lacking the depth and richness of human experience," I suppose one can say that of many things -- including art and most of the theatre I see; the fact that it is "theatre" doesn't render it any less shallow and narrow, any more warm and full. My own experience through my writing on the blog has brought me some of the most profoundly important relationships of my life; but more, the Net has encouraged collaborations and communications around the world. The recognition of and correspondence with kindred spirits from around the globe has made this most difficult of art forms more meaningful. It gives one courage.

That Mike doesn't acknowledge that most of us are working artists ourselves is unfortunate and does him no honor. He may be young at heart, but his broad dismissal of the blogosphere sounds like that of sclerotic, old-guard critics.

Again, Art, thanks for your remarks.

Mike said...

First, I was probably being overly bitchy--I shouldn't feed trolls so much. But I will stand by my post, with some clarifications.

I know that a lot of people you list make work, and a number of them speak about it in their blogs in a compelling way--Don Hall certainly does.

Others from the list are my peers because I know their work through the theater, which deepens how I care about what they write: these include Jason Grote, Adam Szymkowicz, John Clancy, Isaac Butler nd more I am forgetting now, I am sure.

I do find the theatrical blogosphere frustratingly obtuse at times, and I do believe that people who are so ardent about change should be more engaged in finding ways to make work that transcends traditional theater in order to disrupt the way things are...and I'd be more interested, personally, in more discussion in that arena.

So, apologies to anyone who feels slighted by my words if you're making fantastic work and telling the world about it--I wasn't speaking about you. ;)

md

Adam said...

Hal Brooks sometimes posts about process in a way that's impressive. I do sometimes blog about writing process but I am loathe to say anything about the production process. I don't want to say if someone is driving me crazy or if I'm having trouble communicating with an actor or director or some other involved artist and what I agree or disagree with because it's taking something private that involves other people and making it public. And there is a secretive pact in the rehearsal room that I think would be a bit of a betrayal if aired even when everything is going well. Or else there is a way to do it that I just am not aware of.

That said, I marvel at Daisey's audacity to perform a show about what's wrong with regional theaters at regional theaters. (And I am a fan of his work and of him personally.)

I kind of wonder why anyone would complain about the state of the blogosphere. I mean who exactly does a blogger have to report to? If I'm not doing what you think a blogger should do, why should I care?

Art said...

Mike thanks for the clarifications and the comments. I will stand by my thoughts too.

We're all after the same things. But this discussion HAS just reminded me: I need to finish up a play I've been writing. ;)

P.S. Thanks for your comments as well George.

Just so everybody knows. George and Mike's comments were received and published by me at the same time, so they didn't see each others responses.

Art said...

Adam,

Yes, the transparency of the process does run into problems when it enters the production process.

I have often thought of writing a post about that. I have some loose thoughts about it.

What or who does an opaque process protect or reward?

Some intitial thoughts:

It rewards the uncooperative actor, the unscrupulous producer, the inappropriate director, the jerky writer along with many others.

It protects the intimate process of rehearsing live theatre, the right of artists to creatively disagree, legitimate business complications or sacrifices that need to be made. It also protects feelings and privacies of those involved.

As I said, I haven't fully thought this out.

Scott Walters said...

Ouch, Mike! After all I've done for you! To betray me like this! *L*

Obviously, I disagree. I am always amazed when there is a dismissal of ideas in favor of a preference for a total focus on specific art works. I can imagine a 5th-century Greek Mike Daiseyopolis saying to Aristotle, "What's with all this poetics crapola -- tell us what happened behind the scenes at Oedipus?" Or perhaps an early 20th-century Russian Mikhail Daisovich saying, "Constantin, give it up and just direct another Chekhov show!" Or a German: "Karl, quit with all the theorizing and go out and start your own business!"

It's a false dichotomy. A single-minded focus on individual works reinforces the status quo; change requires perspective.

That said, he does have a point: the theatrosphere all too often gets wrapped up in personality and picking nits, and fails to engage the central ideas in any substantive way. But one of the things I've learned over the 2-1/2 years I've been writing is that all the comments and criticisms, even the most annoying ones, help me to clarify and strengthen my ideas, and so they are welcome. It turns a monologue into dialogue.

Mike said...

"He may be young at heart, but his broad dismissal of the blogosphere sounds like that of sclerotic, old-guard critics."

I suppose--mea culpa. That's me at 4am after a long day, and I think on days like that I feel like a sclerotic, old-guard critic.

"I kind of wonder why anyone would complain about the state of the blogosphere."

I agree--that's what makes my criticism a bit pointless, honestly, and more blowing off steam than anything else.

"Ouch, Mike! After all I've done for you! To betray me like this! *L*"

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Ahem.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You all win...next time I'll just be more forward and specifically say that I let somebody under my skin and just unload on them personally.

They said it never happens but it does—I do, occasionally, admit to being wrong.

I'll go do that on my blog now...

..stupid blog.

nick@ said...

Mike, for the record, I have never stopped praising you for the truthfulness of your writing and performance of How Theater Failed America.

As for my examination and criticism of your essay, I am sorry you have read my intent wrong and think me a troll.

The Alfred Jarry image of Ubu that I used for you was not meant as mock but as part of my examination of the public personas all of us are beginning to construct under the mandates of our FaceBookNation. What Jarry attempted with his public image and art over a century ago I think is instructive to us today. I am in as much horror as you are that these public representations would pretend a relationship beyond what they are. But I also have to say that I speak a lonely little truth at the public persona of Rat Sass and that I thoroughly cherish the few readers I do have. So I always noticed when you linked to one of my blog posts from your Dilettante. You did this even after my pointed critique of the Boston incident. I thought this act more than just magnanimous on your part. It told me that you were a fiercely honest and moral thinker. I still believe that regardless of your estimation of me now.

I wish you all the best with your work on your performance.

Mike said...

Thanks, Nick.

Adam said...

Art, what you're saying about the production process is true. But there is a trust in the room that I think would suffer if everyone feared blogging. There is a need to fail in theater--or at least in the rehearsal room you have to be able to try things and fail without someone reporting about it the next day.

But again, Hal Brooks does it, successfully I think.

But as for people writing, "I wish we had had more of an audience," or about the effect or lack of effect of reviews. or of the various neuroses of artists in a transparent way. perhaps. It's a line I'm afraid of crossing because I don't know what the future holds. But maybe I should be more unafraid. I don't know. It's something to think about. When it comes down to it though, I'm a playwright and not a journalist and will always write from that point of view.

Mac said...

While I would also disagree with Mr. Daisey's "peers" paragraph, I'm sympathetic to him here, having myself been jabbed repeatedly by Nick Fracaro until I also got very angry. Scott is right to say that we get excessively wrapped up in personalities here, but I would argue that Fracaro's repeated insistence on individually-directed bullying forces the conversation back to personalities and away from ideas every time. That said, it's clear that I dislike the guy to the point of having no credibility on this issue. (Again: personalities!)

I think it's important to read both George and Scott, but not to utterly subscribe to the views of either. They offer valuable extremist perspectives, I think. I get the sense from reading George that if the most vital and penetrating plays are being produced, it doesn't really matter how, and from Scott I get the sense that as long as theater companies are producing plays as community-based tribes, it doesn't much matter what they're producing. I think they're each battling for the ground on which they feel comfortable, and as long as we read with a critical eye, that's to the benefit of the rest of us.