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Mike Daisey Protest

I've spent some time thinking about an incident that happened on April 19th at the Zero Arrow Theater in Cambridge.  A performer, Mike Daisey, was doing a monologue called Invincible Summer.  By the way, see this if you can before Mike leaves town.  It's great.

As captured on this video, students and teachers on a field trip to Boston walked out of the show en masse.  One of the chaperones defaced Mike's script by pouring water on it.  Watch the video to see Mike's reaction.  He was incredibly mature and tried to engage them in a discussion, to no avail. Note that this video contains some significant profanity.

In reading news reports of this incident, particularly this one on Backstage, it seems that this was a school trip where the organizers decided to attend this show.  They were told by the ART that the show included profanity and adult subject matter.  They decided to attend anyway, but the chaperones became uncomfortable and decided to leave.  How do 87 people leave a performance in a 300 person theater without causing a scene?

What weighed on me was how to educate these students about the right way to handle this situation.  Leaving en masse is their choice.  Defacing the hand written notes of the performer is not acceptable.  An apology or a response is in order.

I wrote the following email to the principal of the school in southern CA.  We'll see if he responds.

Principal Johnson,

I’m a subscriber to the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA and have seen Mike Daisey’s Invincible Summer (and enjoyed it).  I was quite disturbed by the recent walkout your teachers and students did during the show on April 19th.  I’m guessing that you’ve been inundated with all sorts of hostile emails and phone calls relating to this.

I think that if you are committed that your students “make the most of his/her life through education” [Note: from the school web site], you should turn this situation into a learning opportunity.

I believe that your teachers and students have every right to leave a play if they are offended by (or just not enjoying) the show.  However, as citizens, we should not disrupt the experience of others.  And, pouring water on the hand-written notes in dramatic fashion is a sign of protest that is over the line in such a forum (no one made them buy tickets to this show).

No matter what your opinion is on this action, I think that you should take this opportunity to teach your students something about citizenship and leadership.

If you believe that the teachers and students’ actions were a justifiable protest against objectionable material, then you should encourage them to make a public statement which describes their protest and justifies their actions.  If they feel strongly about their position, they should make their position known so that it will have more of an impact.  Perhaps their thoughts will educate Mr. Daisey or other audience members.

If you or they believe that this was a big mistake and their simple act of leaving has been blown out of proportion, you should encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and apologize.  Again, they could explain why they decided to leave but, in this case, also take responsibility for disturbing the performance for the rest of the audience and damaging Mr. Daisey’s manuscript.

Remaining silent and avoiding commentary may make this situation go away, but your students and teachers will be worse off than if they take responsibility for what they did.  Too often today people try to blame others for their actions.  Taking personal responsibility is a key aspect of citizenship and leadership.

Best regards,

Mike Feinstein

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