Sunday, May 06, 2007

Now that MONOPOLY! has had its run at ART, in the brief window before I fully turn to TONGUES WILL WAG, I thought I'd follow up on the events from two weeks ago. For anyone heartily sick of rehashing those events, please feel free to use the Power of the Internet and look at some lolcats instead.


No, seriously--you do have free will. Last chance for lolcats.


It's an interesting coincidence--I had not been blogging about my work or life in any kind of traditionally "bloggy" manner for a number of years, and had embarked on a project to document this run at American Repertory Theatre when this all went down. I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't give full weight.

I've spoken via email with a lot of students from the school. The majority of them wrote me to apologize about what happened, and I told them that I appreciated the gesture, and there's no need to apologize. They're on a class trip, and even if they had decided to leave the performance (which any audience member is always free to do) they don't have anything to do with a chaperone behaving like an ass and destroying property onstage. And I apologized to them, for any of them that felt painted with a broad brush after what had happened--I stand by my words, but it's been hard watching some choose to use this as an opportunity for cruel and vicious ad hominem attacks.

One of the students I've been corresponding with let me know that he's actually more or less pagan, and I apologized for lumping him in under the banner "Christian", to which he responded, "Hey, I'm pagan at Norco--you're the least of my problems."

That was a good reality check for me--because I didn't invent the appellation "Christian" that this group adopted. The group used it themselves, and used it to identify themselves that way in the theater, in the lobby, to theater staff. In fact, I'd argue that they abused the term by appropriating it as shorthand for intolerance, as a quick and easy way of expressing why my words were unacceptable. I'm sure some in the group weren't Christian, but that didn't stop adults present from labeling them that way. It was only after that evening, once the light of inquiry from reporters shone in that they began referring to themselves exclusively as a public high school.

Some might argue argue that this makes it a less charged situation, but I actually think it's much worse--public schools should have a better grasp of the division of church and state, but it's hardly alien to me--I grew up in Maine, and when I was young we lived in Fort Kent, where it is 99% French-Canadian Catholic. My public primary school actually had a house of religious instruction built just off school property, and we'd have study halls like clockwork where all of the Catholic students would march up the hill, off school property and take CCD classes about the Virgin Mary and whatnot. If you were one of the few Jews or other branches of Christianity in town you couldn't go, and they would actually have those students put their heads down on their desks while we were gone--I remember seeing them in the classroom through the windows on our way back, sitting with their heads down on their folded arms. I remember thinking that it looked a little bit like they were praying.

Some of the students wrote to apologize for David's actions, but believed that the language was indeed inappropriate for them, which is totally fine--I naturally don't agree, but I thought it was very cool that they wrote, and in pretty much every case we had really good correspondence. Given the apparent politics of the Norco High School, it's regrettable that the students didn't see all of INVINCIBLE SUMMER--I think we could have had a truly inspired conversation after the show.

The one disappointing detail that came out of speaking with the students was learning that David never made good on his promise to speak with everyone about what happened. I had asked that he do this, being clear he didn't have to apologize or say anything in particular--I just really wanted everyone on their school trip to actually talk about what had happened out in the open, and he had agreed.

I also let the students know that if they ever want tickets to any of my shows anytime I'd be happy to set them up--I doubt I'll be playing Norco anytime soon, but life is long, and hopefully I'll get to meet some of them face-to-face at some point.

One of the less touched on elements of all this is that the other high school, the one that stayed, was a very different high school than Norco--it was a private high school class made up of senior theater students, who stayed through the show and the talkback afterward.  One could posit that this indicates another conflict, a classist one between entitled private schools that teach theatre and public schools that don't, but I don't feel that's really the core of what happened here.

I think it's more a leadership issue. One group had leadership that prepared for their school activity, and the other had terrible leadership--they took their students to a show they didn't assess because they were planning at the last minute, didn't communicate well internally and brought questionable chaperones. If they had any kind of leadership they would have dealt with the situation--left a note at the box office after the incident, left someone to contact and speak with me and theater staff after the performance concluded--really, anything would be more than what happened.

Instead they had to be contacted by me and compelled to discuss this, and that hasn't changed--despite apologies appearing in the press, I never heard from Principal Johnson at any point. I've emailed and left a phone message, but I have heard nothing--and that's important, because it was the behavior I experienced through this entire affair, and I believe without a doubt that if I hadn't posted and called about these events they never would have dealt with at all. One person made a mistake, but all the teachers and chaperones and school officials compounded this by never choosing to communicate. Their silence tells me that if there had been no video, nothing would have ever been said about this--they intended to never look back.

For me, things have returned mostly to order. Talking to David was very helpful for me, and it was a really good conversation--we are very different people, but not nearly as different as these circumstances initially made it seem, and I'll always be grateful that he was sincerely open and spoke with me. I wish he'd talked to the students and everyone, but hey--I'd like a lot of things to happen, and they don't always come true. That doesn't change the conversation we had together, and I remain thankful that he helped me get some closure.

The show outline and notes David destroyed is destroyed--we had hoped it would be usable, but it isn't--so we ran with a photocopy for the rest of the ART run. Now that INVINCIBLE SUMMER is down for a few months I will rebuild it. Between the photocopies and archived notes it should take less than a week, and who knows--maybe it will yield some interesting changes, as I've never had to wipe the slate clean in quite the same way before.

The run passed without further incident, and houses were solid without showing any kind of measurable increase in sales from this kerfuffle, which didn't surprise me. As usual, it was a rave review tied to building word of mouth that sold the last week well. There were a few very strange moments in all this--I received a supportive letter from Harlan Ellison, and I had to tell INSIDE EDITION that I would rather drive a ball-peen hammer into my eyes than be on their show--but with the run concluded I am now turning all my energies toward TONGUES WILL WAG and the future.


Okay, now you can return to the lolcats.


Link to the first post on the incident
Link to the second post

Link to Mike's homepage

11:32 AM