Exodus: or The Curious Case of the Incident in the Theatre

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Two-time Spoleto Festival vet Mike Daisey got a shock last Friday night when, during a performance of his monologue Invincible Summer at the American Repertory Theater in Boston (he first performed it here for last year's Spoleto program), 87 members of his audience stood up and walked out en masse. As the group marched wordlessly out of the theatre, one of the walkouts stopped at Daisey's desk, picked up up his water bottle, and upended it over the notes Daisey uses to guide him through the unscripted show. Turns out the 87 were all members of a Christian group. (Surprise, surprise.) Although Daisey repeatedly tried to engage the walkouts in conversation about why they were leaving, not one stayed behind to either complain or explain. Incredibly, Daisey and his director/wife Jean-Michele Gregory, captured the whole thing on video (see below).

The exodus occurred near the beginning of the show, where Daisey's comparing how the city of New York feels about itself to the way Paris Hilton must feel about being Paris Hilton — in most animated, hilarious fashion. It's crass, yes, but it's nothing any regular theatregoer wouldn't see on a stage anywhere in the world on any given night.

Daisey sent an e-mail out to his friends in the theatre world about the incident immediately after it happened.

"I'm still dealing with all the ramifications, but here's what it felt like from my end: I am performing the show to a packed house, when suddenly the lights start coming up in the house as a flood of people start walking down the aisles--they looked like a flock of birds who'd been startled, the way they all moved so quickly, and at the same moment...it was shocking, to see them surging down the aisles. The show halted as they fled, and at this moment a member of their group strode up to the table, stood looking down on me and poured water all over the outline, drenching everything in a kind of anti-baptism. I sat behind the table, looking up in his face with shock. My job onstage is to be as open as possible, to weave the show without a script as it comes, and this leaves me very emotionally available--and vulnerable, if an audience chooses to abuse that trust. I doubt I will ever forget the look in his face as he defaced the only original of the handwritten show outline — it was a look of hatred, and disgust, and utter and consuming pride."

Now, apparently because of the video, news of The Incident seems to be making its viral way around the nation. I've been getting emails about it all weekend. Check it out for yourself here.

I wrote to Mike after seeing his e-mail with my congratulations. After all, you ain't legit in the theatre biz until you've been walked out on. Mass walkouts send your street cred through the roof. Besides, Daisey's monologues are famous for including unblinking looks at traumatic and hilarious moments in his personal life. It's a safe bet that a forthcoming new work from the monologuist will include a dramatic retelling of The Incident. —Patrick Sharbaugh

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