If ‘en you think them there good folk over in Norco don’t know how to have a good time, you ain’t never seen ‘em on a field trip.
Case in point: A group of Norco High choir students and their parent chaperones recently took a trip to Boston, a city so far removed in distance and culture from the IE that it might as well be another country. Indeed, had it been another country, what followed would have been described as an international incident.
Seems the choir group, in town for a music festival, decided to treat itself to a performance of Invincible Summer, a 90-minute show by monologist Mike Daisey, at the famed American Repertory Theatre. Not 15 minutes after the curtains rose, our local ambassadors of goodwill decided they’d heard just about enough of Daisey’s potty-mouthed humor. So they stood up in a single mass—all 100 of them grouped together in the front two rows of the theater—and walked out. The sight of so many audience members fleeing had the effect of temporarily disrupting the sold-out performance.
While that might have been enough to satisfy some people’s sense of propriety, it wasn’t for at least one member of the Norco group. As the students filed past the table where an open-jawed Daisey sat, a male chaperone in a hoodie sweater stepped up and wordlessly poured water from a plastic bottle all over Daisey’s handwritten notes. From the back rows, it must have looked like he was peeing on the performer. That had the effect of permanently disrupting the sold-out performance.
The entire incident was captured on video and posted on YouTube, where it quickly became a viral sensation. One YouTube poster commented, “Someone in that group must have blown a silent asshole whistle to signal the walk-out.”
The national media picked up the story, initially chalking it up to the work of crazy Christian protesters until they figured out that, no, it was just Norco High. The misunderstanding might have been the fault of a female school chaperone, who, when asked by an apoplectic Daisey why they had destroyed his work and ruined his show, can be heard on the video explaining: “There are Christians in our group.”
The hoopla over the April 19 incident has, as you can imagine, created something of a public relations headache for Norco High Principal John Johnson, who on April 20 suddenly found himself trying to convince a Boston Globe reporter that his school doesn’t sponsor public acts of Christian vandalism. A lesser administrator might have stammered out something about “a full and thorough investigation to get to the bottom of this deplorable incident,” but not Johnson, who instead opted to protect the chaperone and try to brazen his way out of the mess.
Who was that hooded man who destroyed a performer’s notes while representing your school, the reporters asked? None of your business, Johnson replied. Will the hooded man still be allowed to volunteer for the school? Won’t tell you, Johnson said.
Was the principal sorry that the incident happened? Well, yes and no. In comments to the Globe and Riverside Press-Enterprise, Johnson initially apologized for the chaperone’s actions, which he admitted was inappropriate, then went on to sorta/kinda take the apology back.
“It’s great publicity for him,” Johnson said of Daisey to a PE reporter, “ . . . at the expense of a great bunch of young adults.”
To Globe writer Geoff Edgers, Johnson suggested that both Daisey and the American Repertory Theatre were at least partially responsible for the episode.
“So I guess one of our chaperones had called (the theater prior to the show) and gotten the advertising about the storyteller,” Johnson said. “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.”
Once in the theater, Johnson said, the chaperones realized they’d been had when an announcement was made to the audience to “turn off your fucking cell phones or we’ll shove them up your asses.” Figuring that things would only get worse from there, Johnson said, the chaperones begged the house manager “to hold off on the monologue so we could leave.”
You know . . . hold the curtain for them, like what the school would do if the kids were late for an assembly.
According to Johnson, the house manager refused. Minutes later, after Daisey launched into an explicit (if you’re from Norco) bit about having sex with Paris Hilton, the chaperones pulled the plug.
“We got everybody out and the chaperones got up and they started to leave . . . (the male chaperone) just wanted to get them out of there as quickly as they could,” Johnson explained.
So, according to Johnson, the kids didn’t as much walk out as they escaped captivity. You have to hand it to the principal: Such a scenario—in which impressionable young minds are fearlessly rescued from lascivious theater types intent on corrupting them—can only play well with the citizens of Norco, a church-going, Ps-and-Qs-minding community where the only known civic vice is the annual Mounted Posse Rodeo. Less than a week after the Boston incident, Johnson—a Vietnam vet—proudly told the local newspaper that many of his students go on to join the military, and that no student at his school would ever dream of protesting the Iraq War.
“At this school, if you’re going to support the troops, you’re going to support the war,” the P-E quoted Johnson as saying.
In other words, the students can handle IEDs – it’s the F-bombs they’ve really got to watch out for.
The principal didn’t return the Weekly’s calls for comment. He’s probably pretty busy these days explaining to the school board why his choir students were cast as crazy Christian vandals in the national press.
A spokeswoman with the American Repertory Theater did speak with us, if only to call Johnson’s account of events a load of crap.
“A person identifying herself as a representative from Norco High called our group sales representative the day of the show and said they had heard about Daisey’s show and wanted to know if we could accommodate about 90 people,” says ART spokeswoman Katalin Mitchell. “Our representative, Nicholas Peterson, told her that, yes, he could accommodate them, at which point she asked him if the performance was appropriate for high school students. Peterson told her that the performance contained strong language and powerful and emotional imagery.”
Having been advised that the show was, in fact, for mature audiences, the Norco rep should have then moved on to cleaner pastures, Mitchell said. Instead, the woman seemed more concerned about the question of group discounts.
“She said that they had heard about our special offers, and wanted to know what we could do for them,” Mitchell says.
You know . . . special offers, like what they’d get at the Norco Dairy Queen.
Mitchell says the theater has no intention of suing the school district for disrupting the show. When asked whether groups from Norco High would ever be allowed back in the theater, she said, “Well, if they promise to behave.”
Nor will the theater press criminal charges against the chaperone, though destruction of property and disturbing the peace are crimes in Massachusetts, if you want to get technical about it. The incident, Mitchell says, is behind them.
Not so much for Daisey, who just can’t seem to get over the fact that Norco High destroyed his notes. They were, after all, his only copy, and had taken him three years to prepare.
“If you look at the YouTube video, you’ll see that the pages have sticky notes on them,” Daisey tells the Weekly. “That’s because the notes were constantly amended and changed. I’m an extemporary monologist, so the story changes. The written outline is both part of the set and signals a compact between myself and the audience. (The notes) occupy a very important position in the show, since the set is very spare. Every time I turn a page, it’s essentially a scene change. The notes are hugely important.”
Well, not any more.
Daisey says he hasn’t yet decided whether to sue. He might be in a more forgiving mood, he says, if someone in an official capacity at the high school would have the balls to say sorry to him. But, despite a published comment by the school’s choir director that the “mortified” male chaperone had called the performer to apologize, Daisey insists he’s still waiting for his phone to ring.
“Let me be really clear: No adult from the school has contacted me,” he says. “I had to contact them. It’s very clear to me that if I hadn’t done that, no one would have so much as spoken with me. I don’t understand why the principal didn’t call me. I find it hard to believe that people with his group destroyed my work, and in response he makes these snide comments.”
Daisey says he called the school and managed to convince an administrator to give him the male chaperone’s phone number. He posted a detailed account of his subsequent conversation with the man on his website, mikedaisey.com.
“His name is David,” Daisey wrote April 24. “He has three kids—one is 21, and two are 17—and he’s terrified of the world. Terrified by violence, and sex, and he sees it all linked together—a horrifying world filled with darkness, pornography and filth that threatens his children, has threatened them all his life.”
According to Daisey, David admitted to having “anger-control issues,” used “a coarse racial epithet to describe black people,” talked about his religious faith, and finally sorta/kinda apologized. The conversation ended with Daisey forgiving him.
Daisey also says he forgives the Norco students, adding that several of them sent him messages apologizing for what happened.
“They’ve been incredibly warm and deeply ashamed and embarrassed,” he says. “I told them that I was in high school, and know what it’s like to part of a group and know what a group mentality feels like.”
Several YouTube posters identifying themselves as Norco High students who were at the April 19 show stated that they had no problem with the material and would have preferred to stay, but once the chaperones pulled the plug, it was either leave or walk home.
That’s too bad, Daisey says, because had they stuck around—as did another high school group that night—they might have actually learned something.
“The piece, if they had waited, is in large part about 9/11 and the effect it had on my city and my neighborhood, and—beyond that—about the social and cultural impact on our country. It’s unfortunate that the school didn’t have the ability to deal with adult language.”