A Night To Remember

Last night’s performance of INVINCIBLE SUMMER was disrupted when eighty seven members of a Christian group walked out of the show en masse, and chose to physically attack my work by pouring water on and destroying the original of the show outline.

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. They’ve made me afraid of my audience, afraid of my craft, just the smallest amount, and that’s the trust I will have to relearn tonight and every night. That’s the work–the only way out is through, I tell my students, and it is true for me and it is true for everybody.

I tried to engage with the group as they fled, but they ran out like cowards, and not one of them would stand and discuss with me what they’d done. That cowardice still takes my breath away–that they wouldn’t stand and speak like men and women and tell me in their voices their grievances. In spite of everything, I still believe–Jean-Michele says that’s one of the reasons I’m a monologuist–and I fought to the end to get a single voice to speak and reckon with me, but they ran and didn’t look back.

I had to stay onstage and tend to my audience, who was wounded and reeling–they looked stunned and shaken, as Jean-Michele and Kevin cleaned the table I talked to everyone, normalizing the pressures, rebuilding connections. We talked a bit, then I restarted the show, which was intense from a cold start–like passing a six pound kidney stone–and hesitantly, shakily, they came with me and we comforted each other with the story. At the end of the show they gave a standing ovation, which I didn’t earn–they applauded because they had been through the same thing, and worked as hard as I did to carry the story to its conclusion. They were magnificent.

After the show I told the audience something, and it’s been rolling around in my mind. It’s common to think things will never happen where you are–never in Cambridge, never in New York, never in Seattle–that sort of thing, whatever it is, never happens here, not in our community. Then it happens, right in front of you, and you realize you were blind to it, that you forgot that intolerance and zealotry and viciousness are human currency everywhere, and it takes your breath away. You want to curl up and pretend it never happened, because they were fools, idiots–you make excuses and move on. Do the next show. Breathe. Forget.

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.

I will listen. I will listen and learn and remember what has passed here, and when I tell it back it will be louder and longer and clearer. When I tell it back there will be place in the story for you and you and even you.


Crossposted to mikedaisey.com.


26 Responses to A Night To Remember

  1. afaic says:

    Bravo, Mike. What a moving account, and what a rewarding lesson you share. You give us courage to face the rude and menacing messages we encounter all too often these days. Wishing we all had more power to “listen and learn” and tell it back “louder and longer and clearer”. Way too often we shut it off hoping it goes away. Thanks for giving us all a better path.

  2. Treavor says:

    Wow, what a frightening experience. You handled it so well, though. I want to learn more of what your performance was about.


  3. yojimbouk says:

    Any idea what gutless, spiritually bankrupt church they came from?

    I ask not out of curiosity but from the hope that some unnamed citizen, burning with the same anger I feel right now but several thousand miles closer to your performance-space, might go and pour water on their pastor’s sermon next Sunday.

  4. Wonderful! I can definitely relate having done theater for a number of years. Nice portrayal!

  5. nephron says:

    I just don’t have words to express how horrified I am at what happened. You handled it so well, though. Taking some time to collect yourself and your audience…

    I’ll admit that I’ve only seen the video portion that you’ve released, but I just can’t imagine what anyone could possibly do to deserve that? Anyway, best of luck for the rest of your shows.

  6. karmakin says:

    To say that ones jaw dropped is an overused statement. How often does our jaw truly drop. It’s just a phrase…right?

    Watching that video, my jaw dropped. Everything you said, I could feel. I didn’t have to see faces. Just the smug strides of people proving…what point? There’s no point. Only arrogance and self-rightousness.

    You don’t often see this viciousness. It’s usually saved for dark corners of both society and the human psyche. But in this it comes through like a siren.

    It just can’t be ignored.

  7. ballofstringtheory says:

    As the great Frank Zappa once said “They’re just words’.

    I’m saddened by the actions of these people; that they cannot view your art with a critical eye and instead choose to protest as they did.

    I’m thankful that I went to a school where, during English class, we openly discussed literature that didn’t hold back on the themes and language used. I worry about the quality of the education these young people are getting.

    Keep up the great work.

  8. jpwayadmin says:

    As a Christian theatre artist (a diehard agnostic till I was 32 then had a profound conversion experience), I’m appauled and infuriated by events like this that could cause people to associate Christians with a plethora of prejudice and political camps with which not all concur.

    I penned a pretend exchange to demonstrate the Chrsitianity I know, as opposed to what was demonstrated in the actions of the “Christians” who defiled the work at Zero Arrow.

    By the way, for some reason, the quote from Hannah and Her Sisters comes to mind: “If Jesus came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

    Here’s a piece I call “no defense” …

    Child: Mom, as a Christian, how can I live in a way pleasing to God and becoming like Jesus?

    Adult: Well, you can get really angry when someone is doing something that you perceive to be an offense to God, so angry that you can lash out and destroy a person’s belongings. If you go to hear someone speak or perform, for instance, and you disagree with the content, you can make a scene, disrupt their work, and pour water on their paper if their reading from one. This prevents them from being able to continue.

    Child: But Mom, doesn’t the bible teach us to love, even love our enemies?

    Adult: Yes, but even Jesus got angry when people were treating the temple like a marketplace.

    Child: Yeah, but that was a temple, the place set aside for worship, and what you’re saying is that I go ANYWHERE and lash out. But Jesus didn’t do that. Like that prostitute, he didn’t condemn her when people wanted to stone her. Didn’t he tell her to go and sin no more, and made the other men who were going to stone her just walk away in silence?

    Adult: Yes, but he was Jesus. He can forgive a prostitute if he wants to. It’s not our place to decide who God forgives or doesn’t forgive.

    Child: But Mom, I thought the bible says all have sinned and fallen short and that Christ died for all people. It’s right here (opens to Romans 3:23-24), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” and (turns to 1st Peter 3:18) “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” … right Mom? Mom?


  9. lunarrose says:

    Wow. I followed the trail here from the video of the event, which made me shake and brought tears to my eyes. I can’t really imagine how that felt – it was as if that man had walked up to the stage and casually struck you. How very kind of you to write this post, and choose not to snarl or stab or hate, but just give your experience and your considered response.

    The world is screwed up, man.

  10. dvka says:

    Bravo man!!
    Happens,world is such now…

  11. barb42 says:

    Toughen up, Mike. You’re an actor – surely you have had to deal with tough critics before. Its no worse than a bad review….well, I guess it is, actually, a really bad review, all in all. I guess not everyone is impress with the advanced wit of dropping the f-ing word, to say nothing of the body motions! Wow – great moves! You should be on Broadway! Why would anyone walk out on such a clever act?? Barbarians! You must have been just, well, terrified…..

  12. yojimbouk said:

    “Any idea what gutless, spiritually bankrupt church they came from?”

    “I ask not out of curiosity but from the hope that some unnamed citizen, burning
    with the same anger I feel right now but several thousand miles closer to yoru
    performance-space, might go and pour water on their pastor’s sermon next

    Dear yojimbouk:

    Since the incident occurred, we’ve learned that the group actually is from a
    public high school in northern California, a member of which identified the
    group as having come from a Christian community.

    However, the group’s religious faith, whatever it might be, is irrelevant, as is
    their decision to leave a performance they determined to be inappropriate for
    the students. What is relevant is one chaperone’s decision to vandalize Mike
    Daisey’s work.

    I hope that we all can use this incident as an opportunity to stimulate dialogue
    in our communities, rather than encouraging other senseless and disrespectful

    -Gideon Lester

  13. I feel as if I went through this experience with you in reading your post. You are a magnificent storyteller and you do tell the story of our human family and the distortions we bring to our relationships with each other.

    That you are determined not to hate is what impresses me. I very much resonate with that determination. What I am finding is that to not hate we really have to feel our hurt all the way through. The hate is a way of fighting off how much it hurts when we are so open and vulnerable and someone lashes out at us.

    Whenever we “perform”, whether it be on stage as you do or simply by expressing ourselves freely and creatively, we open ourselves to this kind of thing. The more powerful the performance, the stronger the reactions, both “positive” and “negative”. It is indeed unfortunate that rather than feel the emotions that are invoked inside them and exploring their own inner life and learning from it, some people need to strike out at what threatens them. I admire your courage in carrying on despite this attack and ability to hold the space for yourself and your audience to process and move through the incident.

  14. Oh, I don’t know. I rather enjoy the thought of an audience one-upping an in-your-face performer. This group flouted the conventions of flouting convention. Sometimes the envelope pushes back–can’t get more engaged with a performance than that!

  15. memrob says:

    I’m left almost speechless by the conduct of the folks who made such an ugly scene and the angry guy who assaulted you — I’m sorry that these misguided folks who call themselves by the same name I call myself – Christian – did this. They bring shame and contempt upon themselves, upon Christ, and upon all of us who are Christians.

    Your subsequent forgiveness of David, the angry, misguided soul who punctuated the scene with his attack, was far better than he deserved. You, sir, showed much more of the character and compassion of Christ than did my fellow Christians. I’m so sorry for they did, and overwhelmed by the magnanimity and forbearance you showed in response.

    Thank you, friend. I salute you.

  16. Excellent story telling. I saw everything in my head as I read.

    Nice job,

  17. playwrightmike says:

    Mike D.–

    I saw your show this afternoon (Sunday, April 29). Excellent. It’s too bad those people walked out near the beginning; not only did the show get better as it went along, but it seemed to me that the density of “bad” language kept decreasing. 🙂

    I certainly don’t condone that audience member dumping water on your notes, but it got me thinking. How often do we accept and even praise disruption or minor vandalism, just because we happen to agree with the person doing it? For example, defacing posters (“this ad demeans women”, “fascist”), shouting down speakers, staging a sit-in, etc.? All of these interfere with other people expressing their opinions and/or exercising their rights.

    — PWM

  18. thisbroad says:

    FYI: It wasn’t a Christian group. They aren’t from a Christian school, they are from a public school. They also aren’t from Northen California, rather Southern.

    Take my word on it; they are from my hometown.

    So before you all get up in arms, throwing fits about what “gutless, spiritually bankrupt church” they came from [yojimbouk], or get on your high horse about what Christianity “should be” you should have all the facts.

    They are a choir and were in the area for a competition. The person that poured water on the outline was not a school official, nor a recognized chaperone. Instead, they were a parent of a choir member. They had gone to the show with them and when the school officials made the decision that they didn’t want their students seeing this performance [for whatever their reasons may be], this parent took matters into his own hands. The school doesn’t support it, but recognizes that it happened and has apologized for this persons actions.

    Get over it.

  19. joelthornton says:

    If this is the worst that happens to you, consider yourself lucky. While the response you experienced was surprising, it was up to the water on your script, more first amendment expression. The fact that the expression was against your humor does make it any less protected. I assume the audience paid to see you. So, they exercised their economic right to walk away as well.

    While I am sure that hurts, there is a world full ofpeople with real problems, not merely having their feelings hurt while they were at work. Instead of giving us a call to arms for this, why don’t you get us involved in a real problem. Maybe ending world hunger would be worthy of your angst.

  20. grot says:

    Thank you very much. This was a great help.

  21. Jeremy says:

    I think this says more about Christians than anything. I’m glad to see the show went on.

  22. Jade says:

    I think it’s fantastic that you don’t screen the spam comments, so people who commented on this oh-so-fascinating entry two years ago can have it show up again and again on our WordPress dashboards so we can read about Viagra and see the prettypretty links to various shady Russian (porn?) sites. Classy.

    Hey, if you care, there’s a place in your settings (Settings: Discussion) where you can check a little clicky box that automatically closes comment on entries after a set amount of time has passed. Six months, a year. But you don’t care. You’re the center of the universe.

  23. Mike Daisey says:

    I agree entirely, and I have written to the folks at ART, asking them to do something–it shouldn’t be hard, but they haven’t reacted yet. If others would like to try, feel free–I do not have access privileges to change anything, unfortunately.


  24. Jade says:

    All they have to do is enable Akismet, if they don’t care enough about their blog to monitor it in any way. It would take approximately sixty seconds to do that.

    The irony of this happening on a blog post about people behaving badly is not amusing.

  25. amandagutowski says:

    I’m a member of the marketing staff at the A.R.T. and want to let you know that we do have Akismet enabled on the blog, but some spam comments do still sneak through. I appreciate your bringing them to our attention and I’ve deleted them now.

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