Daisey's Summer Interrupted as Audience Departs and Defiles His Work

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22 Apr 2007

Mike Daisey
Mike Daisey
Photo by Ursa Waz
The April 19 performance of Invincible Summer — extemporaneous monologist's Mike Daisey's newest show at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA — was disrupted when over 80 audience members left the production mid-performance. One audience member also approached the stage where Daisey was seated and proceeded to pour water over the outline of his show.

Daisey, who is best known for his acclaimed work 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com, told Playbill.com April 22 that his new show involves a number of intertwining stories, including the history of the New York subway system, his move to New York City, his parents divorce and the events of September 11. The ART press website explains, "Starting with the bizarre history of New York's epic subway system and his hilarious detailing of dog days in a cramped apartment in the hot city, [Daisey] crafts a startling vision of his neighborhood before and after one terrible day, setting an intensely personal story of a family in crisis against the backdrop of massive social upheaval."

It was during a portion of the show in which he was speaking about Paris Hilton that the audience walk-out occurred. Daisey said that based on comments group members made to the front-of-house staff, it was the profanity used in his monologue that caused the uprising. "A number of them," Daisey said, "expressed that they were disgusted by 'this filth.' . . . I'm very good at sensing houses — it's my job. The audience was unified and warm up to that moment. My suspicion is because they were there together as a group, they were compelled to leave as a group. When a group is together, it doesn't take that many people to make [everyone] act unreasonably." Daisey does say that a few members of the group apologized for their behavior as they were leaving the theatre.

On his official website, Daisey recounts the evening, stating, "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."

Daisey also writes, "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."



The entire incident was also captured on video. Daisey told Playbill.com that "because the show changes every single night and evolves as it goes — there is no script — we tape each performance." On his website is video footage of the walkout and the destruction of his notes/outline. Looking back, Daisey said that the event was "pretty shocking. Because I'm emotionally open during the shows . . . [one can see on the video] exactly what I'm thinking [as the events occurred]. It was a very shocking thing to see them rise up at once and come down through the house like that. It was most shocking when the person destroyed the original of the show's outline — both in terms of how he came into my physical space and the look on his face as he was doing it." Daisey said the man had "a look of hatred and complete and total arrogance and contempt. . . . and [a feeling of] superiority."

"What I think is interesting about that [video] clip," Daisey adds, "is how extremely chilling and simultaneously dorky it is. . . I'm really glad that we have the clip — I think it's valuable for people to see it in action because you don't think things like that happen. Who gets that offended by language? But people do."

Daisey has yet to hear from any members of the group, although "I have been endeavoring to connect with them. I'm hoping to have a conversation with them. I gather they were a Christian group, and that they were visiting Boston from somewhere else. I also gather that they didn't know much about the show before they came to see it. . . ."

When asked what he would like to say to the group, Daisey said, "I don't think I would say anything, honestly. The people I speak to every night are the audience. I kept on speaking to them after the cowards left. I don't know that I would want to speak to them in a public way. . . I'm hoping that we can speak privately, and I'd like to have some reckoning from this. I hope there will be a conversation, especially with this one person [who destroyed my work], to really get a sense of who he is. But I don't think I would give them the dignity [of a public response]. They really didn't earn that right with their actions]."

Daisey did continue with the show after the group — about one-third of the 300-seat theatre — left. He said the first full performance following this incident "was hard. I was a little shaky, but human beings are fairly resilient, and I've been doing this a long time. Throughout [the rest of the] weekend, it's been pretty good. The story is strong and coherent. It's been really nice to be back in the saddle . . . and I'm really happy that the people who are coming to the theatre are hearing [what I have to say]."

Daisey will continue offering Invincible Summer through April 29. His next monologue, entitled Monopoly!, will begin performances at ART in May.

Mike Daisey's other monologues include Great Men of Genius, The Ugly American, I Miss the Cold War, Wasting Your Breath and Stories From the Atlantic Night Cafe. His first book was titled "21 Dog Years: A Cubedweller’s Tale," and he is currently at work on his second tome, "Great Men of Genius." He resides in Brooklyn with his director and collaborator Jean-Michele Gregory.

For more information visit www.mikedaisey.com or www.amrep.org.