With the world still divided over whether it's okay to grab a disruptive theatergoer's cell phone and smash it, we turn to monologist Mike Daisey, whose electrifying performances tend to make you feel less like a spectator and more like a quiet intellectual participant. Daisey creates his monologues extemporaneously, without a set script, speaking directly to the audience in a manner that can be as spellbinding as it is fragile. So we reached out to Daisey to see what he thought of "hero" Kevin Williamson, who was ejected from a performance of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 for throwing a woman's cell phone. Here's his take:
I'm not comfortable with the word hero in this age, after what's been done to it by our leaders and the media, but he is certainly a conscious citizen of the theater. I hope he receives a fair and proportional punishment, which I have no doubt he'll fulfill and move forward.
Context is important, even in these seemingly fluffy questions. For instance: Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 is a breathtaking, visceral night of theater. When I saw it at Ars Nova it was one of the best musical theater experiences of my life, where the music and story and staging combine to shatter the traditional frame of the tired musical. This makes the aesthetic crime of it being flagrantly ruined much higher.
It is also early in their remount of the show under the High Line. Perhaps they have some chaff filling up some of the seats? Call me naive, but in my experience the number of people who go to the theater who are that obstinate and awful is low. I wish we knew more about her story here.
Finally: theater is a communal, social activity in an increasingly commoditized, corporatized world. We believe a ticket bought entitles us to ownership privileges, but it isn't true—it is an invitation to participate in a group activity. In a world where we cared about art, the theater at large should be working to make cell phone blockers legal for use in performance venues. In reality Americans don't care about art beyond a mild antipathy, and theaters have never had any political will or sense.
Technology and social norms are shifting—if theater wants a seat at the table it needs to work to create the kinds of social norms it wants in place in theater performances.
Kevin Williamson is doing what that theater's house management, and what the theater at large is failing to do: he stood up against assholery, and in favor of the communal heart of the theater. Once he has served his time for this deed, if we should ever meet, I will buy him a drink.
We asked Daisey to tell us about the worst cell phone incident he's ever experienced (here's our), and he replied, "All my worst cell phone incidents are my best—I am an unscripted monologist, so I use the powers I have. If it disrupts the performance enough, I talk about the person from the stage, and it becomes a fun, cathartic digression. Particularly gratifying are the number of people who have contacted me after shows where this has happened and personally apologized, which I think is a fantastic gesture on their parts and I always tell them it is forgotten."