Friday, July 24, 2009

Watch Your Status Updates

Well, since, apparently, I'm back (back-ish), and I'm talking about the clash of new tech and old ways, I should talk about this. It's not New York theatre, but it should be something on our radar, especially those of us out here in the blogging world. And, not to beat a dead horse too much, it explains some of the lack of fire of the theatre blogosphere.

If you don't feel like linking through, the short version is this: the board and managing director of a music-theatre company in Milwaukee* withdrew job offers to two actors in their upcoming season based on statements made on Facebook. On Facebook. This following on the heels of firing a long-time and apparently beloved artistic director. The board president's stated reason for the firings: the Facebook comments "violate...the obligation of artists who perform at the Skylight Opera House."

So much for open dialogues with management and artists.

I don't profess to know all about this situation. Interestingly, a friend of mine has been regularly posting on Facebook about the situation and the heartbreak it's been causing. It's very clear that the artists who work at this theatre feel a strong connection and a strong stake in the theatre. That's supposed to be good, right? That's the ideal that Mike Daisey and others, including me, are talking about. Artists invested and engaged in the management of the theatre.

The problem is that, in most cases, management's idea of investment is like the Republican's idea of bipartisanship: you agree with everything I say and you're invested. Any disagreement, questioning, or dissent is viewed as disloyalty and somehow damaging to the theatre. You either stifle it or...yeah, there's really no other option there. Stifle or security will escort you out of the building. And that goes quadruple for anything said on the internet.

And, listen, I know the reasons: bad news is bad news. If people who work at your theatre are out there, slagging your management, investors, uh, er, I mean, donors (yeah, donors) get nervous. Audiences won't come to some theatre run by a bunch of idiots, of course. Right? I'm being a bit facetious, obviously. The interesting thing is that these two guys, despite disagreements with the management, were apparently still willing to work there. Because they loved the work. Which should be the point.

Rather than engaging these guys and whatever their issues and comments were, they freaked out. Which always makes the situation worse. It's funny; I've read a couple of things around the internets talking about this post by Marc Lynch about how the current beef between Jay-Z and The Game can be seen through the lens of geopolitics. I think it applies here, too.

In a way, and I'm crashing through some kind of Overton window or invoking some variant of Godwin's Law here, I know, but, as near as I can tell it, basically the establishment views people on the internet as terrorists. Unshaven, mentally shaky, passionate fanatics who are willing to throw bombs and kill innocents to make their philosophical points. Whenever someone writes something on the internet, the terror threat level jumps up and the establishment has to decide how to deal with it: root out the evildoers, cover up the attack and ignore it, sometimes take political advantage of it, whip up some populism and set them on your foes (a la the recent dust-up in Boston). Negotiating with terrorists is not an option. It would be surrendering.

Of course, out here in the internet, the old truism applies: one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. We're Che Guevara out here in the hills of Bolivia (yeah, I'm making a hash of history, what of it, you want to fight about it?), reading Kant and Marx and trying to make a better world. Yeah, we'll break a few omelettes, but that's how the cookie crumbles (or the metaphors mix). We don't want to destroy everything, just the bad parts. We're willing to negotiate to get what we want (well, most of us are).

This is true, I think, across the boards, but very, very true in theatre, and I think the Skylight situation highlights that. Sooner or later, the theatres will have to ask themselves what the other options are. Especially once the unwashed masses are storming the Bastille.

*Edited because, in my vast East Coast ignorance, I thought that Skylight was in one place, but it's completely in another place. And I should love Milwaukee since I've fallen desperately in love with Schaefer in a can. Apologies to both cities for not being able to tell them apart.


tony said...

here's the original post with the skylight theatre "dismissal" letter, and offending facebook comments.

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