I know there's been all kinds of crowing about the Mike Daisey walk-out on Friday (here's a link to Daisey's account and a video of the event, if you're unfamiliar). In short, a school group of 87 walked out on his show after an f-word-laced joke about Paris Hilton, and one of the adults walked onstage and poured water on Daisey's outline. I thought I'd share, just in case my small readership might not have encountered all this yet.
I don't have much to add, but one of the things I haven't read enough of was how TACKY all this was. I mean, could these school kids have had WORSE role models? Allow me to become Miss Theater Manners for a bit, and use this opportunity to point out what all went wrong here. Who knows? Maybe someone somewhere will Google "Theater Etiquette" and I'll be performing a public service. Here, I'll even spell it "Theatre etiquette," just to cover my bases.
1. How NOT to walk out of a theater.
It is occasionally necessary to leave a theater during a performance. We've all done it, either because we don't feel well or because the performance is unpleasant for whatever reason.
If you must leave, please consider the amount of disruption to the performers and the audience your leaving will make. You are not the only people in this room. There are lovely moments in plays like "intermissions," "blackouts," and "scene changes," that are great opportunities to take your leave.
Leading 87 young people out of a theater in the middle of a performance is not only terribly disruptive, it is teaching young people to treat their relationships with performers and other audience members casually. We share this world with others, people! Perhaps if these were grade-school children, a quick walk-out at the first sign of the f-word might've been understandable, but teenagers need not be treated with the same kind of protectiveness. It seems to me that an appropriate exit in this situation would've been at an intermission (if there was one) or at the end of the show. A conversation with the young people about the appropriateness of Mr. Daisey's language and commentary would be a far better learning experience for those kids than teaching them that it's okay to walk out of a show whenever they feel like it.
2. How not to be compared to Nazi youth in Triumph of the Will.
If you read Daisey's blog post, you read that he invokes Leni Riefenstahl while describing the misguided man who poured water on his notes. Walking onstage and pouring water on a performer or his props, while perhaps an effective act of protest, is a serious breach of the performer-audience relationship. Again, it's a reprehensible lesson to teach a group of students. You are demonstrating a shameless lack of respect for a performer's work, the artistic process, the rest of the audience, and the theatrical experience. Let's not forget, either, that if you do so, the performer might later publicly compare you to Hitler's Aryan masses.
3. Also, don't talk, and turn off your cell phones, and it's not a movie and there's no loud soundtrack to drown out your noisy snacking, so don't eat stuff, which means unwrapping loud paper or plastic is a bad idea too.
4. Oh, and try not to cough too much. If you've got a cold, save the coughing for the laugh lines. It's a good trick to remember.