I’ve received thousands of letters, from the hateful to the incredibly supportive–this one is from an old friend, John Moe, a public radio host, recovering playwright, successful father, and man about town.
So I watched the video of the religious folks walking out of your performance and read all your accounts and everything, and came away with one question:
Wasn’t that theater? Like not in the sense of artifice but in the sense of public spectacle and interaction and a live event that all in attendance shared? Didn’t it have high stakes, surprise, a feeling of immediacy that couldn’t be had on film or YouTube? It was very upsetting, clearly, but isn’t it sort of supposed to? It wasn’t the show you had planned, but aren’t all performances subject to risk, though rarely taking the form of something like this?
I mean all respect to what you’re doing and all, don’t get me wrong. And yeah, it’s pretty stupid to walk out on a show and all that (why go in the first place?). But leaving aside the water pourer (more on him in a moment), I just don’t see what was so wrong about it all. They had a visceral reaction to what they were seeing, they decided it exceeded their capacity to endure, they wanted to leave, and they left. In a big group. I tell you, Mike, the look on your face as they did that was the kind of brutal honest shock few actors can ever muster. And you engaged with them, as was your right I think, and they chose not to engage back, as I think was their right too. They said what they had to say with their walking out. You had the kind of emotional life that some people waste years in Meisner programs dreaming of (John Moe, Rutgers Univ. MFA program).
I don’t know, with the exception of the water pourer, it seems to me like you’ve created this honest theatrical experience with your shows where you, under your own name and without a script, talk to people who you recognize as being in the room (and not, like, a Cherry Orchard). And then these people respond to your stories by up and leaving (en masse, high spectacle). Were it not for the water pourer, it seems pretty organic.
See, I don’t really like theater most of the time. Almost all of it sucks, I think, and so I don’t go much. I find it stupid and pretentious almost all the time. Just seems like a bunch of pompous people screwing around. Still. And I’m 38. I just don’t ever believe it because I don’t trust the motives of the practitioners and find the experience tedious. I’d rather read. Or go see a band. Or take a walk. But I really wish I was there at your theater that night.
Now, the water pourer. That was an interesting guy. I draw the line a while before pouring water on the stage. You shouldn’t do that. Did he know that was your only copy of the notes for the show on the stage with you? Do you announce that as part of the show? Is there a special reason for doing that? I mean, one mustn’t run up on stage and do something like that, of course, duh, but I wonder if in these performances you’ve created an environment where everyone is SO connected, if the 4th wall has been SO obliterated that the line of right and wrong is blurrier than it would be in a William Inge play or some sort of downtown, artsy postmodern fiasco. Not to blame you for his action at all but I wonder about the interpersonal vibe.
Years ago, I was in a really terrible late night at Empty Space and some drunks were yelling at us during the show. And we all just went on with the show, though flustered. Finally they got up and left on their own. But I will go to my grave regretting that we didn’t just pour off the stage and start a fistfight on the spot. Like, you want to change the show tonight, you douchebags? Okay then, it’s on, now it’s a fucking fight scene, right? I almost didn’t begrudge them their drunk bellowing, I just wish we had properly listened and responded the way actors are supposed to.
So really, Mike, my question is this: when all is said and done, wasn’t it all at least kind of fucking awesome what happened?