Mike Daisey performed this month at Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, and judging by the overwhelmingly positive response he received from folks like Simon Ogden of The Next Stage, America’s most prolific and relentless theatre blogger seems not to have disappointed with his abilities as a performer in his visit to Canada.
While he was there, Daisey was not blogging about the scenic wilderness or the high quality of our maple syrup. He was responding to the firestorm he started off, when he pointed out the numerous parallels between American MFA acting programs and the characteristics of a Ponzi Scheme.
The basic premise of Daisey’s argument is thus: A system that encourages artists to incur $100,000 + debt while the average wage of graduates hovers somewhere below the poverty line, is a corrupt one that will eventually collapse under the weight of its inability to provide a return for its investors.
This scheme implicates academia, a large swath of artistic institutions, and of course American Theatre Magazine, whom in a matter of months it seems Daisey has singlehandedly de-legitimized as voice genuinely representing the interest of American artists through a critique of its role promoting and benefiting from deeply flawed institutional and educational models.
These are all very good and valid points, but they raise an even more interesting question for North American theatre artists who enjoy their beer with a higher percentage of alcohol under the benevolent rule of a Constitutional Monarchy:
If it costs roughly $40,000 a year to go to New York University, and $4000 to go to York University, is NYU ten times “better” than York? What added value does your extra $36,000 a year buy you?
Although there are a number of excellent undergraduate or certificate conservatory programs, there are actually very few MFA theatre programs in Canada period. What’s up with that? Are MFAs necessary at all - or do we not have enough? Two thirds of the cast of our recent production of Stranger (and the producer) trained in the US after completing an undergrad degree in Canada...