Monday, July 07, 2008

The Coming Mike Daisey-Teresa Eyring Smackdown?

I kind of figured it might happen -- someone in a public way would take on Mike Daisey and his belief (and monologue) How Theater Failed America. It's odd for me because I consider them both friends and I also think the world of both of them and I also think they both have a learning curve in terms of issues surrounding institutional and nonprofit and regional theatre (if I may trifurcate). But I'm very glad that Mike has posted a long, dramatic and well-reasoned reply to Teresa's editorial in the current issue of American Theatre.

I am myself going to take some time to reread both Teresa's essay and Mike's reply and then post some thoughts. In the meantime, does anyone want to take a side? Or offer a third way?


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Dennis Baker said...

Hi Clyde,

Long time reader and first time commenter. I saw Daisey's show twice and also read Eyring's article. I go into detail about my ideas in my blog post, "Letter to the Editor of American Theatre Magazine".

The summary of the post is that this topic is too huge and complex for it to be given two, one page articles and let that explain how the whole of the American theater is just fine. BTE works in Bloomsburg, PA but what about the rest of the United States? Is American Theater saved in the states that don't have any professional theater companies?

She disputes Daisey's play, one which most of the ATM readership probably did not see, and leaves the reader with information from one side of the argument without the reader having knowledge of Daisey's point of view.

ATM needs to dig deeper and spend a whole issue exploring both sides. They have a chance to be a great bridge to some of the biggest concerns currently in the American theater. I need to hear more from both sides of the debate and would hope the magazine that bears the title American Theatre would be the place where I could find that information.

Ben Turk said...

In these contrasting opinions I've noticed something bigger than the questions about theatre being presented. I really really like a lot of what Mike Daisy says, most of it is stuff that was obvious to me as soon as I started producing theatre and it's great to have my perspective validated by someone much more connected to the "real" theatre world.

But, i strongly disagree with Daisy's claim that theatre artists are entitled to benefits and garaunteed long-term employment. Eyring's claim that this problem doesn't exist is specious for the reasons Daisy points out, but it does open the door for my conclusion: theatre should not provide such things.

I look at these things from an economic trends perspective. The institutional patronage system that Daisy is looking for is old school capitalism. He seems to want the theatre artists to become "The Company Man". That's regressive. Corporations are doing that less in every sector because innovators found greater efficiency in loose freelance, subcontracting and flextime arrangements. Trying to establish (or re-establish) old school capitalism on theatre artists where it seems doubly inappropriate given casting and the project orientated nature of theatre work, is bound to fail, as it should be.

It was the creative class that spearheaded this rearrangement of labor relations, and yes, the transition is sloppy, leaves people out of things like health insurance and benefits, but as labor relations go, freelancing and shifting employment can empower workers as well as benefiting companies. What's more, it's a radically different labor relation, which is a step toward a post-capitalist society, something i think theatre will be VERY invovled in.

Art said...


I disagree to a certain extent. The best, most innovative corporations are still trying to find ways to KEEP their most valued creative employees.

You are correct: The younger, creative workforce is much more mobile and it is not uncommon for 20-30 year old creative workers to leave and return to companies, (with three or four years in between,) and one of the most recent statistics said that the average gen-mil/gen-Y spends about 1.1 years at a job.

However, the most innovative and forward looking companies are the ones who succeed in trying to secure the best talent.

While it is true that we are increasingly living in a "consultant" culture, it is also true that innovators want the creative people working for them as employees.

You think theatre would be regressive by doing this? Ask Netflix who would routinely tell headhunters: "Money is no object."

Companies like Google are constantly finding ways to lift corporate impediments to creativity.

Of course, this is all about the pursuit of excellence as well. Which is why this whole thing cannot be looked at as apples to apples.

There is a bottom line in the companies I am talking about here. But what is the bottom line in the arts?