My final piece is about the debate about artistic license vs. lying and truth in the theater which has stemmed from the Mike Daisey controversy. I went to a panel at the Public Theater two weeks ago where theater artists (documentary theater artists specifically) and journalists (from Time Out New York, the New York Times and the Washington Post) discussed the ethics and the controversy of Daisey’s piece. Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public, was there as well and though he wasn’t officially on the panel (he was sitting in the audience), he had some of the most interesting things to say. He was unsatisfied with the original statement that The Public released after This American Life ran the “Retraction” episode, and he revised it to focus on the unspoken contract that the theater artists have with their audience.
“We were leaning on a distinction between journalism and theater that upon further intelligent reflection, I think, does not hold water… this is not an appropriate distinction particularly for a theater like the Public that has prided itself for half a century on saying, asking, at times demanding that the theater has a place, not just in the entertainment world but in the discourse of the large civic issues of the time. We don’t get to say that we deserve a place at the table but that we’re not accountable for what we say there.”
–Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public
Something I need to do this week is listen to the whole of the panel on the podcast to transcribe all the quotes I want to use.
Regarding Oskar’s quote above, this relates directly to one of the books I’m citing in my piece, Verbatim Verbatim: Contemporary Documentary Theater, which says, “This claim to veracity on the part of the theatre maker however hazy or implicit, changes everything. Immediately we approach the play not just as a play but also as an accurate source of information. We trust and expect that we are not being lied to…theatre and journalism overlap, and like a journalist, the dramatist must abide by some sort of ethical code if their work is to be taken seriously.”