The problem with the American Theater, says Mike Daisey, the dynamic and acclaimed performer who brings two of his solo shows to this weekend’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival at the Water Tower Theater, is that it invests in the buildings that house performances and not the people who do things inside the buildings.
Daisey comes to Dallas this weekend with a scathing critique of American culture at large and its theater culture in particular. It is a culture, he said during a conversation Wednesday, that has allowed us to “corporatize” the American theater. Think of it as an actor’s revolt. His play, How Theater Failed America, takes on the theater world in Daisey’s trademark style: a wandering semi-autobiographic monologue that mixes storylines and farce, serious critical satire and his bombastic sense of humor. Daisey has been described as a cross between Noam Chomsky and Jack Black. Jokes about sex with Paris Hilton cozy up against serious reflections on the craft of Bertolt Brecht. What keeps it all together is Daisey’s dynamism as a performer, an individual with the charisma and charm to make a one-man show feel like a an ensemble epic. Daisey will perform two works at this year’s Out of the Loop Festival: Great Men of Genius, a four part “bio-logue” that tells the life stories of Bertolt Brecht, P.T. Barnum, Nikola Tesla, and L. Rob Hubbard, and How Theater Failed America.
How Theater Failed America couldn’t come to Dallas at a more significant time. In fact, Daisey said the festival asked him to perform that work in particular. As we continue to celebrate the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in downtown Dallas, Daisey points a finger at such projects as exemplifying what has helped ruin theater in America, stifling it as an art and a practical profession for theater artists. “They say people will only give money to a building, but I don’t think that’s true,” he said. “Why not create an endowment that supports theater professionals instead?”
Daisey has forged an unconventional career in the theater world. In the early 1990s, he moved to London at age 19 from rural Maine to study theater, but didn’t find his groove until 1997 when he completed his first one-man show. The monologue form fit Daisey, who said he always felt pulled between his work as a writer and a performer. Since then he has written 13 more shows, published a book, survived a stint as an office drone at Amazon.com, and spent a year on a small Pacific Island writing about the financial crisis. He has become one of the most lauded performers in America today, and he said his success puts him in a unique position to turn his satiric wit to theater itself.
“If you are an actor and you say these kinds of things you won’t find work,” he said. “So I felt as a solo performer I had a responsibility to address it.”
Below, you can find an excerpt from Daisey’s show, How Theater Failed America, which Daisey will perform on March 8. He opens the four-part Great Men of Genius tonight, which will play through March 7.