By Mike Daisey
I was the first theater artist to tackle Trump on a national level, bringing THE TRUMP CARD across the country in the months before his election, which was the last time I appeared on Woolly’s stage. That work has now proven to be sadly prescient, and now that I find myself again here it’s worth taking a moment to assess how our slowly unfolding national crisis has impacted my work over the last eighteen months.
This is an area I feel my work can be useful — we’re in the midst of this uniquely terrible moment, but without understanding how we got here we can’t hope to survive. Many delude themselves into thinking the issue is Trump, when he’s the vector — a symptom of a deeply ingrained disease birthed out of historic inequity, eroded faith in our systems, generations of deep-seated dogwhistling racism, and terror about the fading of American domination. All of my work since the election has been bent toward illuminating this.
I began touring THE END OF JOURNALISM within a two months of the election, addressing the systemic failures of that much-needed form, and as a way to begin a high-end conversation over Trump’s co-opting of the old Fox News technique of rotting out the supports that underlie the myth of objective journalism. Simultaneously I launched THIS IS NOT NORMAL, which did early work in the first six months of Trump’s presidency, which tracked out how authoritarian leaders rise, and the systems they use to take control of the mechanisms of democracy.
These works served as set pieces in preparation for my major work of 2018, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY. This is a full course in United States history, served up in eighteen full monologues — 27 full hours — premiered this spring at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. The show uses two principle texts: Howard Zinn’s seminal work “A People’s History of the United States”, and my own US History textbook from my high school classroom decades ago in rural northern Maine. This epic work, longer than “War and Peace”, has dominated my life for the last year.
If I am to be useful in a time when darkness is falling, I believe it is my art’s obligation to cast a light over our time…and while we are all mired in the news colliding with us day to day, it becomes vital to illuminate how the history that came before us connects and informs the present moment. We need history because it is never historical — true history burns us with the iniquities and abuses of the past, the crimes and perils that have brought us to this moment we live in now. History is story.
This brings me to THE STORY OF THE GUN, the monologue I am bringing to Woolly. It is a show about gun culture, the history of guns, and how this incredible weapon and tool is woven into the fabric of our nation. At first blush it can seem like this is a step backward — after all, with the current administration holding a lock on all the elected branches as well as the Supreme Court, what chance does sensible gun control have? What’s the point?
When change feels impossible, I’ve learned that’s the ripest time for art to act — after all, if things were better, artists wouldn’t be needed. The mistake here is one of emphasis — the question of the gun is larger than gun control, and larger than any set of policy decisions. The truth is that the gun underlies the genesis of this entire nation, which was taken at the point of a gun. The gun is the tool that was needed to make mass slavery possible, without which it would never have been possible. The gun is the primal American tool that defines our nation, as it created the two dark pillars that undergird and define the American experience — genocide and slavery. The gun was always fated to be a huge problem in America, because it has always been the same problem. It’s our birthright.
In THE STORY OF THE GUN I’ll be using everything I’ve learned in the last eighteen months to show how the story of guns, a story that feels old and tired and worn out from coverage by talking heads on tv, is absolutely a vital and vibrant way of seeing the chaos of our current world in a deeper light. I can’t wait to bring it to you.
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Get tickets to THE STORY OF THE GUN, opening July 31 at Woolly: https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/the-story-of-the-gun