a bird and a bottle

Free Speech, Dialogues, & Performance

Sometimes I’m shocked by what people do in the name of religion. Yes, yes, the violence, of course, is the first thing that comes to mind. But really, what surprises and appalls me are the more mundane things. The daily acts of supposed piety that require the denigration of someone else. I’m not knocking all religion (please, trolls, do not accuse me of that). What I am knocking is religion that requires one person to hurt another — physically or emotionally — as act of religious observance.

Not sure what I mean? Here’s an example. KMZ just sent me the video embedded below. It’s from the actor/monologist/author Mike Daisey‘s Friday night performance of Invincible Summer, his monologue currently running at the American Repertory Theater here in NYC. On Friday, Daisey was performing one of his extemporaneous monologues to a sold-out crowd. Until, in the middle of a sentence, all of a sudden, eighty seven members of a Christian group got up en masse and walked out. In the middle of the show. One man stopped and poured water all over Daisey’s handwritten outline for the show, an original and irreplaceable document.

Daisey, understandably, was shaken and reeling. He wrote on his blog:

I’m still dealing with all the ramifications, but here’s what it felt like from my end: I am performing the show to a packed house, when suddenly the lights start coming up in the house as a flood of people start walking down the aisles–they looked like a flock of birds who’d been startled, the way they all moved so quickly, and at the same moment…it was shocking, to see them surging down the aisles. The show halted as they fled, and at this moment a member of their group strode up to the table, stood looking down on me and poured water all over the outline, drenching everything in a kind of anti-baptism.

I sat behind the table, looking up in his face with shock. My job onstage is to be as open as possible, to weave the show without a script as it comes, and this leaves me very emotionally available–and vulnerable, if an audience chooses to abuse that trust. I doubt I will ever forget the look in his face as he defaced the only original of the handwritten show outline–it was a look of hatred, and disgust, and utter and consuming pride.

It is a face I have seen in Riefenstahl’s work, and in my dreams, but never on another human face, never an arm’s length from me–never directed at me, hating me, hating my words and the story that I’ve chosen to tell. That face is not Christian, by any definition Christ would be proud to call his own–its naked righteousness and contempt have nothing to do with the godhead, and everything to do with pathetic human pride at its very worst.

And it wounded me in my heart, because I trusted these people. Scared parents and scared teachers running from a theater because words might hurt them, and so consumed by fear that they have to lash out at the work, literally break it apart, drown it.

[…]But they are not simply fools and idiots–I saw them. They are young and old, they are teachers and students, they are each and every one of us. We are the same family, even if it hurts. The hard truth is that you reap what you sow, and I will not sow hatred and discontent–I refuse. I will not forget what that man, older than I am today, did to my work. I will not forget the cowed silence of those who left. I will not forget their judgment and their arrogance–but I will not hate.

Daisey’s experience, and his reaction to it, included in the video below (which is 9 minutes, but well worth watching in full) is a reminder that religious extremism takes many forms, and is both big/political and small/personal.


6 Comments so far
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Presumably the FF (fundamentalist-fascists with a moniker rhyming with “SS”), paid for their tickets. Consider the irony of them paying for an encore performance: Mike Daisey would actually be able to make a living at this. I see opportunities for a new script … coming to a theater near you.

Comment by Swampcracker

This whole episode strikes me as ambiguous. I got through about half the video (after the walk out) before my connection was lost, but it was not clear to me who these people are, whether the walk out was premeditated or spontaneous, whether it was related to the specific content of the show or the raciness (sexual, verbal, etc.) generally.
It seems to me that a silent walkout is very much within the limits of acceptable protest. Personally, I would tolerate a lot more – esp. if it were coming from the Left. For example, I supported the Columbia University students in their more invasive protest of the Minute Men (though, as was later clarified, the Minute Men, rather than the protesters, must be held responsible for the brawl and the fact that the event had to be shut down).
I don’t know where the monologue started; but the video begins with a Paris Hilton joke. It seems to me that the conversation – for those who remained – was enhanced rather than diminished by the walkout.
So with very little knowledge of what actually happened and why, I would tentatively lend my support to those who walked out, even as I feel for Mike Daisey.

Comment by professorplum

I hear what you’re saying Plum. As someone who believes deeply in the right to speak freely, I agree that people speaking with their feet is not inherently a bad thing. But my sense is that thisi s different than the Minutemen thing in that his performance was not a political speech — it was his art. And in both leaving and throwing water, the protesters did violence to his art. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive about it, but my gut reaction (call me GWB if you want) was that the actions here were gratuitous. And if they were -as Daisey claims – motivated by the group’s Christian views, then perhaps the golden rule has had a fall from grace (well, I know it has, I’m just saying…).

Comment by bean

It seems like it’s important to draw a line between the water-pouring – which is unambiguously wrong – and the walking out. Professorplum points out that the walking out is much less disruptive than what was done at Columbia, and it’s hard to imagine that there’s a lot to be gained from a rule that requires anyone who decides to try something to become a captive audience. I know I’ve walked out of performances before.

I’m not very convinced by the argument that the Minutemen event was “political” while this wasn’t. It certainly seems like it was political to the people who walked out. I don’t really see why the “the personal is political” lesson should only be employable by liberals. I grew up among conservative Christians, and they’re about the most “the personal is political” people imaginable.

Comment by aeroman

My son was there
One thing most people are missing. It seems to me, Mr Mike Daisey, knew before he posted on youtube, who this group were and came from. In the info area of the clip It states 87 members of a Christian group. why?
I talk to him about this in messages ,he said he had posted before he knew who they were. It does not look that way to me . The one that puts the clips on youtube, are able to pull their clips, and repost, They can remove comments and block viewers from making a comment. Which he did to me.
Day of walk out 4-19-07
Talked with Cindy L. from the school and the man the poured water David 4-20-07 acording to news papers and his site.
Youtube shows posted 4-21-07.
Why? After reading much about Mr. Daisey and hid followers. I think I have the answer.
Seems as he forgave 1 and punished 86 others lets not count the other 11 adults just the 75 kids that were 14-17 years of age.
He heard there cries with their comments .
They were high school kids from s. California .there for choral competition.
To date 5-4-02 more info are shows Christian ,still. He said 4-21-07 is a repost .but he did not amend info

Comment by Jim

[…] Extras: The Anti-Choice Media Blitz Ramen Stew, $.39 a serving! Dealer prices gas over $4 in protest Free Speech, Dialogues, & Performance […]

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