Perils of Live Performance

I have written about increasing the interactivity of performances at least twice before. While increasing interactivity is something that may be key to the continued survival of the performing arts, involving the audience more integrally in a show isn’t necessarily going to always be constructive and enjoyable.

Via comes the story of an incident that occurred while Mike Daisey was performing his one person show at American Repertory Theatre. The show had hardly begun when 86 people stood and exited the theatre with one man going up on stage and dumping water on Daisey’s outline for the performance. The whole thing was captured on tape. Daisey includes the video on his blog where he explains what happened.

What is so compelling about the video is that because the show is extemporaneous and has no set script, Daisey goes with the moment and gets up and asks why they are leaving. He mentions that he can regulate his language if that is what offends them and invites them to return so they can have a conversation. The only response he gets is one person saying they are Christian.

After the group has departed, Daisey engages in a conversation with the audience about what has happened and how the destruction of his outline, which he makes small alterations to everyday, means that he will have to spend the next day reconstructing his show.

According to his most recent blog entry he actually got in contact with the group and the man who destroyed his notes. His discussion of his interaction with the man shows sensitivity and empathy in a situation where anger and derision for those who offered insult might be expected. (Though on the night of the show he was quite angry and called those who were departing cowards.)

The quality of the writing and insight he offers is what I have envisioned when I suggested artists keep blogs about the creative process for audiences to access. It is just too bad an incident like this has to be the impetus of it.

Which is not to say that his other entries on the American Repertory Theatre blog don’t have value, he does a great job addressing why his extemporaneous performances may appear to be memorized for example. The entries and video on the walk out are just great examples of what the performance experience can be for artist and audience and superb lessons to artists about how to deal with people who are angered by your work in a constructive, non-dismissive manner.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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