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Mike Daisey and Mozart

April 26, 2007

I don't mean to beat the Mike Daisey incident at A.R.T. into the ground, but a comment I received from a friend of mine regarding what happened during a performance of Daisey's solo show Invincible Summer a few days ago, brought the relationship between the artist and the xerox machine to mind.

When I first heard about Daisey's confrontation with the high school group, I emailed my friend a link to Daisey's blog. I did this because my friend, a technology journalist here in San Francisco, knows Daisey personally. (He wrote about Daisey's first tech-themed show -- 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com -- when it played at Berkeley Rep a few years ago.)

"Poor Mike, sounds like he got pretty traumatized," wrote my friend. "Why would he use the "original of the show outline" on stage, though? Weren't copy machines invented for a reason...?"

A valid question, this. It takes a tech journalist to ask it. I glibly responded, "He's an artist! Copy machines weren't invented for the likes of him!" However, my friend brings up a serious point.

Why does Daisey bring the only existing copy of his performance notes on stage with him? Why doesn't he make copies? The danger of nutty Christians marching on stage and destroying those notes is, after all, not half as much of a risk as losing them through simple negligence or a house fire.

I understand that some artists prefer to create using pen and paper rather than a computer. I also know that Daisey's shows involve a lot of improvisation. Things change from night to night. Little is prescribed, hence the lack of a complete, fixed script. That's part of the magic of what Daisey does.

On the other hand, in this day and age, there's little excuse for not pottering over to Kinko's and making a few copies of an important handwritten text. Mozart didn't make copies of his scores. People talk about this as a sign of the composer's genius. I personally consider it to be more a sign of his instability. For even in pre-Kinko's times, artists made copies of their work (or copies were made, both with and without the artist's permission.)

I feel terrible for Daisey. The destruction of his one and only set of performance notes on stage before hundreds of people must have felt like public gang rape. I wonder if the incident will inspire him to make copies of his notes in future? As my friend put it it the end of his email message: "Well, live and learn."

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