I’m glad to have received a return call from John Johnson, the principal of Norco High School, who told me he’s eager to give the school’s side to the Mike Daisey watering incident at the American Repertory Theatre.
First, we should clear up one piece of misinformation, first reported by Daisey on the ART's blog. The school group has no religious affiliation. It is a choir made up of 15-to-17 year-old students who were in town singing at a festival. As for the chaperone who poured water on Daisey’s notes… Johnson flat out apologizes.
"I agree with Mike Daisey," says Johnson. "With everything that's going on in the world today, to have somebody come up on stage and take the water and pour it on his script was very inappropriate. I want to make this very clear, I apologize for that happening."
But Johnson says he's not sure the school group should apologize for the situation itself. He says the American Repertory Theatre told the chaperone who called the theater that Daisey's monologue was appropriate for high school kids. Johnson says the chaperones felt it wasn’t.
I'll let Johnson tell the story.
"From my understanding, and this is third hand, [the chaperones] were looking for some kind of experience for the kids because they are a theatrical group and they obviously want those kids to see some professionals. So I guess one of our chaperones had called and gotten the advertising about the storyteller. When she called, she said, 'these are high school kids between 15 and 17. Is this appropriate for them?' According to her, they told her it was appropriate for them and, in fact, there was another high school that was there. They decided at that point they would go. They were 100 strong, I think they had 80 kids and 20 chaperones with them. They were sitting there, there was an announcement made. Something like this. 'Turn your [f-ing] cell phones off or we're going to shove it up your [expletive]. At that point, our teacher got real nervous that this may not be the place for our kids. He approached the house manager and said, something to the effect, 'this may not be the place for us. Can you hold off with the monologue so we could leave?' I think he felt uncomfortable. You have to understand, we’ve got chaperones, we've got 80 kids, we have … They're responsible for those kids and what happens and what’s said and what's done. They're obviously thinking this could possible be inappropriate for them. [The ART said] 'no, we have to go on with the show, we can't stop the show.' … By that time, [Daisey] was into his Paris Hilton routine, with the use of the f-word several times. We got everybody out and the chaperones got up and they started to leave... He basically just wanted to get them out of there as quickly as they could. What was inappropriate was one of our adult chaperones walked up and poured the water on the notes. As far as being a principal of this school, I am really sorry that that happened and certainly apologize for that happening. That shouldn't have happened and I'm not even sure why that happened."
I ran all of this by Gideon Lester, the ART's interim artistic director.
"The issue here is not that they decided to leave. That's fine. The real issue here is there was a real act of violation that took place."
Is Lester satisfied with Johnson's apology for the water-spilling?
"As far as the ART is concerned, that's enough. We have no plans to take this further. What Mike does as an individual is really up to him but my understanding is that he doesn’t want to take it any further. It’s captured the attention of the world at this point. As of this morning, the YouTube video had been viewed 70,000 times."
I also asked Lester how, by chance, Daisey got the idea this group had any religious connection. Here's what Lester said: "One of the teachers told a member of our staff, in the lobby – and again, this is all hearsay – that there are a lot of Christians in the group."