Monthly Archives: March 2012

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West

Buffalo Bill is well-known for organizing Wild West shows which toured in the United States and Europe in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born February 26, 1846 in the Iowa Territory, and held a variety of occupations including buffalo hunter, US army scout and guide, Pony Express rider, Indian fighter, and even author.

In December 1872, Buffalo Bill traveled to Chicago to debut his first show, The Scouts of the Prairie with his friend, Texas Jack. During the next season, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack added another friend to their group, Wild Bill Hickok, and changed the name of their show to Scouts of the Plains. This group of friends toured for ten years before creating Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

In 1893, Buffalo Bill changed the name of his famous show to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. This circus-like show featured horseback riders with elaborate costumes, a reenactment of the Pony Express, staged races, feats of skill, and other side shows.  Included in the cast were sharp shooters Annie Oakley and her husband which propelled her career to become the first American female superstar. These shows were typically three to four hours long and attracted crowds of thousands of people daily.

These shows featured some historical scenes such as The Battle of Little Bighorn with other scenes portraying life in the Western frontier such as buffalo hunting, rodeo cowboys, a wagon crossing the plains, and defending a homestead. In these portrayals, Buffalo Bill used his poetic license to glorify and exaggerate what life in the West was really like—gunfights, savage battles, and stagecoach attacks did happen but were not typical everyday happenings.

At the turn of the 20th century Wild West shows were extremely popular, especially with Easterners who were eager to enjoy the thrill and danger of the west while not having to uproot themselves from their lives in the East. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show toured for a total of about 30 years across the US and Europe including England, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany.

The show vanished after 1913 but it has influenced many 20th century portrayals of “the West” in cinema and literature. Jump in your stagecoaches, pack your cowboy hats and best sharpshooting skills to get ready for Wild Wild Woolly on April 21st and celebrate Woolly’s pioneering spirit with a healthy dose of Western style and theatrics!

~ Elizabeth Timms, Spring Benefit “Pioneer Posse” Member

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Further Thoughts on the Mike Daisey Episode

Dear Friends,

When you last heard from us, the transcripts from the retraction episode of This American Life had not been published, and we had yet to hear the conversation between Ira Glass and Mike Daisey about fabrications in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. We made a statement supporting Mike, that the performances of our summer remount of the show were going ahead as planned, and that Mike’s piece had—and continued to—spark conversation and dialogue around a topic of great importance.  Many of you have sent us emails, called us, commented on our blog and through social media. Some of you have praised us, and others have expressed anger and disappointment.  We value all your responses.

Our initial statement was not our final word on the matter, rather, the beginning of a series of conversations about truth, about art, about activism, and about this particular decision.

Having heard the episode now, we can all admit to feeling discomfort, anger, pity, disappointment, and a whole host of complex emotions. We acknowledge, as Mike does, that nothing excuses his deception of Ira Glass and This American Life. There were so many moments when Mike could have clarified the difference between things he actually witnessed in China, things he only heard in China, and the storytelling inventions he deployed to illustrate each.  He could have accurately labeled his work from the outset—to his producing partners in the theatre and on the radio—as something other than a work of non-fiction.  He didn’t, and many who saw the piece in the theatre or heard it on the radio felt betrayed.

We have spent every minute of the last several days confronting this issue, and trying to best articulate—for ourselves and you—why we have made the decision to go ahead with our scheduled performances of the show.

**

We believe in the essential truth of Mike’s storytelling. Mike’s performances fuse fact, memoir, and polemics with healthy doses of bombast and, for comic effect, exaggeration in order to passionately deliver an urgent message.  But his account of working conditions in China is not made up out of thin air.  He went there.  He talked to people and visited factories when few other Americans were doing so.  All of the specific conditions he includes in his show have been corroborated by The New York Times and others—indeed, in the very same retraction episode where he was condemned.

We believe in the power and impact of Mike’s work as a theatrical piece. When Mike Daisey made his trip to China, the US was barely focused on the appalling conditions for Chinese workers.  We blithely ignored the fact that Apple and many other companies were exporting working conditions that no American would tolerate to millions of people worldwide.  The best art opens our eyes and makes us want to take action, and that is what Steve Jobs accomplished.  Letters were written, stories reported, and Apple actually committed to revealing a list of its suppliers and investigating its supply chains.  The problem was big, and Mike’s show had a significant impact on the way it is now being addressed.

We believe in conversation, discussion, and lively debate. Woolly deeply values active dialogue around vital socio-political topics.  After the run of Steve Jobs at Woolly, audiences left the theatre wanting to learn more, ask more questions, and argue.  The death of Steve Jobs (after the Woolly run) changed the show and added new layers of complication.  Now this episode on This American Life has revealed important new questions about art and artifice and truth that Woolly is excited and committed to explore further.  Mike’s shows are not scripted; they are living things that evolve as they interact with audiences and events.  We believe the brief run at Woolly this summer will be an important chapter, perhaps the most important chapter, in the evolution of this show and the relationship between the show and the world around us.

We believe there is a difference between art and journalism. We don’t think that the show should have aired on This American Life, and we believe it should have been represented accurately in the theatre.  But journalism seeks to be as objective as possible, while theatre and storytelling are more subjective, and they both have an important role to play.  Journalism helps us know what we’re looking at, but theatre, and art in general, helps us know where to look.  The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs did that, and this is something we stand behind.

**

For Woolly’s part, we want to specifically apologize for including the line “a work of non-fiction” in our playbill.  In hindsight, we wish we had interrogated Mike on this point.  (In a recent radio interview, we said this line was not included in our playbill, and we were mistaken—a case of bad fact-checking on our own part.)

By his own admission, Mike stepped over some inappropriate boundaries in his zealousness to get his point across in Steve Jobs.  We are confident that he will learn important lessons, as we have, from the scandal surrounding this show.  We’ve already seen evidence in Mike’s appearance at Georgetown University on Monday, during which he publicly began the process of identifying the choices he made with Steve Jobs, good and bad, with scrupulous honesty.

We have a long-standing history with Mike, and believe he is an artist of passionate commitment and bravery who invests himself in each new piece with a level of purpose and determination that are rare.  Moreover, we are committed to our artists, without whom Woolly would not and could not be what it is today. We believe Mike understands the impact of what he has done, and has, and will continue to, apologize.  To make mistakes is human.  But as a member of our artistic community, we will not abandon him in tough times.

If you have written to us, thank you. We will be responding personally in the next day. If you would like to email us, please do. We would love to talk more deeply about any of this.  In the spirit of further dialogue, we will be hosting a discussion at the theatre on Tuesday, March 27, at 7pm. This discussion will be free and open to the public.  We encourage reservations with our Box Office (202-393-3939). It will be hosted by the two of us, and allow us to engage with you in a nuanced way about a complicated subject. We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts in person.

Yours,

Howard Shalwitz and Jeff Herrmann

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Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Responds to This American Life Retraction

Dear Friends,

As you may have read by now, the radio program This American Life – which aired a segment of Mike Daisey’s theatre monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs has retracted the story due to what it calls fabrications in Mike’s tale. We wanted to let you know that The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs will run at Woolly Mammoth as planned from July 17-August 5, 2012.

Woolly Mammoth is proud to have hosted the birth performance and a highly successful run last season of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a daring work of theatre that opened people’s eyes to some of the real working conditions in Chinese factories where high-tech products are manufactured—conditions which have been documented by subsequent journalistic accounts in The New York Times and other sources.

It is rare and exciting when a work of theatre has the kind of impact on world events that Mike Daisey’s show has had. One of Woolly’s core values is to present works that spark conversation around topics of socio-political importance, and we’re pleased to have played a part in bringing the issues in Mike’s show to national attention.

We look forward to welcoming Mike back this summer for the newest version of the show, which has continued to evolve as events have swirled around it. We encourage you to learn more at Mike Daisey’s website, This American Life’s website, and many others. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have further questions.

Sincerely,
Howard Shalwitz, Artistic Director and Jeffrey Herrmann, Managing Director

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Wild Wild Mustaches

Outlaw or Lawman?  Cowboy or Dapper Gent?

What does your ‘stache say about you?

No Victorian Wild West costume would be complete without the most essential accessory of all, the mustache!  Grow your own or stick it on, wax it up or wax it down, but be sure to be wearing your ‘stache proudly on April 21st at Wild Wild Woolly.

Here are just a few ideas to inspire you:

Outlaw or Lawman

Jesse James

Bat Masterson

Cowboy or Dapper Gent

Buffalo Bill

Luke Short

If you can grow your own, get started.  Or you can order from this seemingly authentic establishment.

I also found these at Paper Source locally.  And for your favorite Saloon Sally, how about a ‘stache necklace like this one.

And just for laughs check out the Mustache Me iPhone app.

~ Elizabeth Duncan, Spring Benefit “Pioneer Posse” Member

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Connectivity Wrap Up for Civilization (all you can eat)

Have you been in our lobby recently or taken a look at our Facebook page?

If you haven’t—shame on you!

If you have, you’ll have noticed that we had a few pretty huge events happening around Civilization (all you can eat) all engaging folks in three distinct conversations with one bonus conversation:

1. What does it mean for a civilization to be “great”?

You may be familiar by now with our Civilization SMACKDOWN competition that has been going on for a while (we wrote a blog about how it was going to work a while ago). The results have been SUPER fascinating. There have been some nail biting throw-downs (Hunter-gatherers versus Twitter last week… Twitter squeaking by with the victory 51% to 49%) and some crazy upsets (Iron Age Ireland decimating Disneyland… and The Amish taking out Apple Inc. in the second round).  As our final five matches get T-ed up, I can’t help but think about the most heated arguments—mostly how The Amish continue to win matches because “they’re still around today… that’s what makes a great civilization!” Is that what makes it great? That it’s still around? But what if it has a long-lasting and incredible legacy that has elevated humanity for all time?

Unfortunately, I don’t have all of the answers. I just ask the questions. 😉

2. How far will you go to get something you want?

In the lower lobby, folks have been CRAZY to stick on a pig nose or stamp their face with a temporary tattoo to get a free snack or drink at concessions. In fact, people were so eager to do it that I upped the ante a bit by having folks do an extra performative bit to garner their free concession. Want a snack? Stick on a pig nose AND squeal as loud as you can like a pig. Want a free beer? Stamp a pig on your face (where I can see it!) get on all fours AND THEN squeal like a pig. Woolly staffers working down at concessions reported that while some folks were totally turned off by this extra step, most people did go the extra mile. It’s fascinating what people will do for something free…

…like take a sticker, filling in the appropriate adjective, and put it on an unwitting person or thing and then sending it to us…

Meta pig? I hope this guy took off his sweater later VERY confused.

Milk pig and Slut pig? What’s slutty about breasts?

BBQ pig? Good point.

3. Do we have any viable alternatives to capitalism?

All of the post-show conversations around Civilization sought to pursue a conversation about capitalism—not necessarily condemning it or critiquing the system in any way, but wondering if we, America, has any alternative modes of economy or culture to the capitalist way.

We invited slew of fascinating guests who had stakes in both spectrums of the conversation—Adrian Parsons, an active member of Occupy DC, Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, and William Rice of Wealth for the Common Good spoke one evening and Harold Meyerson, editor-at-large at The American Prospect  (also a regular Washington Post op-ed columnist) and Karen Dynan of the Brookings Institution spoke on another.

BONUS! What do we consume, and how do we consume it?

So if you’ve happened to be at Woolly on a Friday or Saturday night (or even just walking by) you’ve noticed that we’ve turned into a BIT of a restaurant. José Andrés’ restaurant Oyamel next door put a few tables in our upper lobby and topped off the dining experience with a special Civilization prix fixe menu—two options, one comprised of pork product and one that is primarily vegetarian. Watching patrons experience fine dining just before experiencing a show which talks about consumption gets me thinking: what do we consume? Why do we consume it? What are the rituals behind consumption in our culture? This was a super exciting experiment which will hopefully lead to more Connectivity & Food in the future! (Fingers crossed!)

Connectivity is still growing and changing as a department; we’re constantly yearning for new and innovative ways to hatch conversation in our theatre. What are some ways that you would have liked to engage with us around Civilization (all you can eat)?

~ Melanie Harker, Connectivity Assistant

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