How Theatre Failed America

Steve and I saw a great show tonight. I highly highly recommend seeing Mike Daisey’s one-man show How Theater Failed America, playing at Woolly Mammoth through next week. He’s a powerhouse performer. The writing is whip-smart: thoughtful, funny, profane, well-paced, and ultimately hopeful. We’re going back for the round-table  "The State of Our Union" on Monday, a discussion with the actor/playwright, two Woolly actors, a local Managing Director, and three big DC Artistic Directors.

Steve says it’s the best monologue show he’s ever seen. He sent off an email to all of his theatre friends urging them to see it (like the minute we walked in the door) . In fact, let me quote from his email (entitled YOU MUST SEE THIS!!!):

"This is so serious I used three exclamation points in the subject line, and I hate people who use three exclamation points in the subject line.

Sick with the flu? Fuck the flu, go see it.

Got rehearsal? Reschedule rehearsal (I’m looking at you, Ryan), go see it.

Lying dead in a ditch somewhere? Come back as a zombie, go see it.

If you have any desire for a career making theatre, go see it."

There’s magic in seeing an amazing play. It makes you want to go off and Change the World. Books have that effect too, I hope, but with live theatre you’ve shared the experience with a roomful of people and can foment your revolution right away instead of shoving the book at friends and having to wait hours or days or weeks for them to read it and enthuse with you.

Steve and I had an immediate discussion on the merits and futures of all the major DC theatres on the way home. We have our favorite of course (Woolly, because it has the balls to do shows like this) and there are others we like lots. Then there are a few to which Daisey’s show seems applicable. Theatres that seem more focused on their big shiny buildings than on the art going on inside. Theatres that, despite their cheery missions, seem more like soulless corporations than arts organizations that engage with their community. Theatres whose subscriptions are suffering as their bluehairs age, because their programming isn’t accessible/appealing to a younger audience (especially when you’re being asked to shell out $50 for a single ticket). Theatres that seem increasingly irrelevant and possibly screwed.

I’d be really curious to see what people who are not in the industry–who just see the occasional play–would make of this show. How much of its appeal is for insiders? Would it appeal to other artists too? I suspect that while it certainly plays to theatremakers’ righteous indignation, its appeal is wider than just that.

If you’re on the fence, go see it! Tix are only $25!

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