Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’ve told this story before in one form or another. Excuse me while I repeat myself.
Exactly nine years ago today I found myself in a room full of intelligent, compassionate artists who had reached their breaking point with the longstanding and steadily worsening pattern of behavior from our company’s founder. The working relationship had completely broken down, and jeopardized our ability to continue producing our weekly late-night show.
I was supposed to be on sabbatical at this moment. My son was two weeks from being born.
Over the course of that meeting it was decided by the ensemble that the founder had earned a yearlong suspension from active status in the show, with an option granted him to petition for return at the end of that period, contingent on him showing real effort to confront his own character, grow from the experience, and figure out how to work more harmoniously with his fellow artists.
During the meeting, the founder issued a contrite statement that expressed a willingness to do better, and asked that we not suspend him for any length of time. Despite the statement, the ensemble voted unanimously to move ahead with the disciplinary action. The founder’s immediate response was to stand up, angrily declare that we did not have the right to take this action (we did), that he would not recognize it, and that he would continue pursuing his complaint with other members of the board. The board president was already at this meeting in an unofficial capacity as observer and mediator. The founder stormed out of the room and was essentially suspended in absentia.
He did not, over the course of the next year, take any steps towards self-improvement, and stubbornly refused to acknowledge that the action was taken legitimately. Indeed, this middle-aged white dude often referred to the event, without an ounce of self-awareness, as “my lynching.”
Nearly five years after that meeting, he attempted to destroy the company entirely by revoking the contracted rights to the show in the middle of negotiations. He did this via press release, declaring that not only would the show be ending its nearly three-decade run, but implying in his language that the theater would therefore be closing as well. He made a vainglorious attempt to tie his decision to the 2016 election, saying that he was taking back the rights to the show in order to relaunch it as his best tool for “fighting fascism.” Notably, he did not rescind the rights to do the show from the Chicago company’s sister ensembles in New York and San Francisco.
The Chicago company did not die, despite spending a very long time having to push back against the false narrative that the theater was no longer even in existence. The company adapted, in part because the company had spent several months making preparations for the possibility that the founder might make such a spiteful and poorly considered move. The New York and San Francisco ensembles chose to let their own contracts with the founder expire and instead collaborated with the Chicago company on creating a restructured version of the show, The Infinite Wrench, that did not require any of the founder’s trademarks. This year the artists within that current ensemble — very few of whom ever worked in the show with the founder — found a way to quickly and cleverly pivot away from live shows to a virtual format, allowing the company to weather the pandemic and keep its staff and artists employed.
The founder began a new ensemble and new run of his original show in Detroit. After having received notice that the name of his new company encroached on the business trademarks of the existing ensembles, the members of that new company recorded and posted on the front of their website a snide video explaining why their name had to change. It sounded more like his voice than any of theirs. I have not bothered to check in on the status of that company since watching that video.
Fascism, while flailing and on its back heels, remains undefeated.
Anyway. There are details I’m leaving out and there are absolutely things that I wish we had done differently. The point is that I’ve been thinking a lot about that meeting, nine years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about how it ended and what began afterwards.