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Monday, April 10, 2006

Great Men of Genius Debriefing #4: L. Ron Hubbard

Posted by on April 10 at 10:44 AM

The final installment! Featuring meth! And bovine death!

(Read all four!)

Mike Daisey (performer): I was behind the eight-ball all day because L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology has such an epic story that it’s hard to know what to keep and what to throw away, and the stakes could not have been higher—a totally sold out show, with the Church of Scientology expected to be in attendance. The performance for me was strange, surreal and alternated between great fun and sheer fucking terror as I felt the wide, staring eyes of Scientology members radiating their disapproval—at first I thought it was paranoia on my part, but I hit a section where I talk about my issues with psychiatry and I felt their approval, which was much more disturbing than when they were hating me. After the show I spoke with Scientologists and Scientologist survivors, and the survivors were extremely gracious and moved by the show, which meant a lot to me. The Scientologists I spoke with weren’t as happy. The series ended with a bang, and I’m delighted to have had the chance to birth it here in Seattle—now I am taking a nap, and then it goes up in New York City in May.
Anthony Hecht (audience member): The last night of Mike Daisey’s Great Men of Genius finally arrived, the night everyone had been waiting for—L. Ron Hubbard night. When we arrived at the theater a line snaked halfway down the block on 12th Avenue. My companion and I scanned the crowd, trying to pick out the Scientologists. Some women in the back held up their programs like protest signs briefly, but I didn’t have the angle to read what they said. L. Ron Lives? Daisey is an SP? Get me some Jujubes?
It must be strange and a little scary knowing that a percentage of your audience is there simply to witness what they consider to be a direct attack on their belief system, particularly when that belief system is not known for tolerating dissent. It felt a little tense from where I was sitting; I can't imagine how it felt under the lights. After a bit of a shaky start, Daisey found his rhythm. He related the two undisputed things we know about Hubbard's life—the dates of his birth and death—and filled in the middle with a very small subset of the thousands of wild tales of success, failure, wacky adventure, megalomania, and a distinct bovine death theme that make up the legend of "LRH.ā€¯ A highlight was his recounting of his experience with both the book and the magnificently horrible film Battlefield Earth. When he complained that the last 500 pages of the book are about space-banking, someone in my row—either a Scientologist or a sci-fi geek—hissed, "Booo! No it isn't!ā€¯ As for Scientology itself, Daisey's treatment was remarkably restrained and sympathetic. He only briefly mentioned the whole dead, 3-D movie-watching, brainwashed alien souls living in our bodies causing all our problems thing; he instead focused on the auditing process, the core practice of Scientology and how you purge those darn dead aliens. The process is not unlike meth addiction. It appeals to people at a low point in their lives, and it makes them feel better quickly, but not for very long. Soon they can't function without it and they have no money. Then their teeth fall out. He also compares the process to some kinds of corporate "team buildingā€¯ exercises and the Upright Citizens Brigade theater—many of us go through indoctrination rituals in our lives and they're all creepy and weird, but they have a strong appeal for some people at some times and we can never be entirely sure when those people might be us. Probably best to steer clear altogether.

After four nights, I feel like Daisey and I (and a few others) have been through something significant together. Daisey works without a script, so these monologues existed for the first time this weekend, and it's an exciting process to watch. He weaves many threads through all four pieces, but there were no grand conclusions about genius, except maybe that there can be no grand conclusions. Genius is slippery and mysterious, and that's how we like it.