Why Tigers?

Posted on August 16, 2011 by Haymaker

What’s with all the tigers? They’re all over our website, business cards, events…and America?

One night last fall, we saw an episode of a show called Fatal Attractions on Animal Planet that caught our attention. In October 2003, police were called to a Harlem housing project to check on a tip that there might be a dangerous animal living in a fifth-floor apartment belonging to one Antoine Yates. They were shocked to discover that Yates owned a 400-pound tiger he named Ming. After a day-long standoff with the tiger, police were able to remove Ming from the apartment by rappelling down the exterior of the building and shooting him with a tranquilizer gun through the window. Even though Ming had mauled him, triggering the series of events that would lead to both of their incarcerations, Yates told reporters he wasn’t worried about his injuries; “it’s the pain in my heart that’s really bothering me.”

“Whoa.” “No way.” “That’s crazy.” Those were our first reactions. Followed immediately by “We need to make a show about that.” And thus began our tiger obsession.

Surprisingly, we learned that Antoine Yates’ case wasn’t unique. Tigers are kept in private hands in America at a rate unrivaled through the rest of the world. In fact, almost twice as many tigers live in captivity in the United States as live in the wild world-wide. Some live in zoos and preserves with trained professionals, but a significant number live with “private owners” like Yates, or like this lady or like this guy – who may or may not be our neighbors.

With so many tigers in private hands, the question that became the basis for our performance was not simply why a person would own a tiger, but rather what it is about Americans that makes this desire to own dangerous predators so common?

The pioneer spirit that built America makes us one of the most resilient and creative peoples in the world. We live in a remarkable place where we are allowed to define our own success. But where’s the line between dream and delusion? And when does a single person’s pursuit of happiness become a menace to society? Or is it all just part of being an American?

Living with the Tiger runs from Oct. 20 – Nov. 5 at Manbites Dog Theater.

More info on Fatal Attractions and an additional interview with Antoine Yates.

Postcard design by Liza Donovan.