Hecklers and Thieves at Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult

I'm a big fan of Mike Daisey's work (which I have written about here many times), and we went last night to see his new show, The Last Cargo Cult at the public.  Some spoilers follow, so what you should do is go buy a ticket RIGHT NOW, see this show before December 13 when it closes, and then read this later.  OK, stop reading this now and go buy a ticket!  And then I can tell you about the heckler and the thieves (in my opinion, at least) and the aftermath of the show.



OK, since you saw the show, you know that when you come into the theatre, you are handed some US currency.  My friend got $1; I got $20, others even got $100's.  It's not initially clear what the money is for, and in the first scene, Daisey recounts a hilarious/terrifying plane trip to the South Pacific Island of Tanna (I had no idea where it was either, see interactive Google map below), where he attended (and became part of) the John Frum cargo cult celebration.

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Daisey wraps up this scene by saying something like Tanna is "an island beyond money", and as he's moving on, some clueless dolt in one of the front rows said loudly, "Is that why we got the dollar bills?"  Daisey handled the heckler amazingly well, and told him, "Sir, this is a monologue".  Daisey then explained that he would find out what the money was for in scene three, and then would get further information in scene seven.This is not the first time Daisey's been interrupted in performance of course--there was widely discussed incident in 2007 when a Christian group left a performance of Invincible Summer at ART, and it was caught on video.  It's about 10 minutes long and well worth viewing (NSFW language), and Daisey writes about that amazing incident here.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, the shows I love most do not have fourth walls, and it was fascinating to me as Daisey started back up again (something he also has to wrestle with in the video above) how long it took me to get absorbed into Daisey's story again.  But Daisey is an engaging master of this form, and I was happily re-absorbed soon enough.  We saw the heckler in the bar after the show, and I wish I had taken a picture of him--he was probably in his 70's and had on a (fake) captain's hat.

As promised, the heckler and the rest of us eventually found out what the money is for: it is actually Daisey's pay for the night.  And Daisey gives the audience the choice as to what to do with it.  They can keep it, or put it into a bowl on the stage (under the supervision of a staff member, to make sure no one runs off with the whole bowl).  All my friends gave back all the money we were given (and some put in more), and, interestingly, the self-aggrandizing heckler was onstage putting his money into the bowl even before Daisey finished explaining what was going on.   Sadly for the reputation of NYC theatre-goers, though, apparently, not everyone felt compelled to do so, since last night Daisey wrote up an entry on his blog, where he stated:

Tonight was a fantastic evening—one of those nights when the theater has an ecstatic charge, when the thought and its intellectual meaning are in sympathetic union with the passion and the emotional intensity. A fantastic audience—I could not have asked for better.

After this particular monologue I’m always careful to figure out how I feel about the audience as an experience before I find out how they treated us financially. It’s a wise precaution.

They took my money.

This crowd, the fastest ever to its feet in the curtain call, was the fastest out the door with my money.

We talked to Mr. Daisey after the show, and they are using some pretty sophisticated techniques to track the money very carefully (although the audience is free to take it), and in a few months, when the run is over, he's going to publish the stats, which I'm really looking forward to reading.