“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard…” – Mike Daisey to Ira Glass, This American Life episode 460 “Retraction”
I’ve been following the fall-out from Ira Glass’s retraction of This American Life episode 454 entitled Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory about Mike Daisey’s trips to Chinese electronic manufacturing plants, specifically those that supply parts for Apple iPads and iPhones, and the subsequent monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs he has written and performed since 2011 about what he supposedly witnessed first hand Hopefully you’ve been following this story as well, especially if you’re a theatre artist because I believe what Mr. Daisey has done directly affects our craft, and calls into question our place in society as theatre-makers.
Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life have retracted the story, the full audio of which can be found here because the stories that Mr. Daisey purports as fact don’t add up. This news story broke six days ago, and in that time Mike Daisey has performed the monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Georgetown and continued to perform the monologue at The Public Theatre in New York City until it’s closing this past Sunday. This morning Woolly Mammoth Theatre, where the monologue was workshopped and premiered in 2011, stood by their decision to remount the production this coming summer with Mike Daisey performing. I believe that this decision is the wrong one, and I find any theatre company willing to produce his work at this point in time guilty of allowing a sycophantic, pathological liar to get away with willfully deceiving the American theatre-going public.
I’ve read the The Agony and the Ecstasy, because it’s available as a free download from Mike Daisey’s website (google it, I’m not going to link his drek here) and in fact can be performed royalty free by anyone who wishes to do so anywhere in the world. I’ve read the transcripts of This American Life, of both the original broadcast and the retraction. I’ve read commentary from both Alli Houseworth and Brooke Miller, the former marketing & communications director and current press & digital content managers of Woolly Mammoth Theatre. I’ve read op-ed pieces from just about everyone I could find, including Howard Sherman’s and The Guardian’s Michael Wolff. And the more I read and hear, the more I am sickened by some people’s assertion that Mike Daisey did not lie to his audiences during The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and the willingness to excuse a clear breach in artistic integrity as simply “good storytelling.” That conclusion, that Mike Daisey embellished to create a theatrical work, would be stomachable had he not gone on MSNBC, CNET, WBEZ, Bill Maher and countless other news outlets shouting about the work of non-fiction he had created. And I do mean shouting. And then when he is found out, instead of owning up to his lies, he hides behind the veil of taking theatrical liberties.
No, plays don’t have to be pure fact, and they can in fact embellish to create stories that are captivating, mystifying, delightful or terrifying. And those stories can contain truths, though they are not strictly the truth. Truths about human nature, or moments in our lives that we can connect to as being honest. When Richard recognizes his failures, and chooses to fight in the face of them at the end of Shakespeare’s Richard III, there is honesty and truth in what he does, even if the historical figure of Richard of Gloucester never did those things. However, Mike Daisey positioned his theatrical piece as a work of NON-FICTION. He had that printed in playbills, and went on talk shows describing his entirely true and factual experiences in China. But when it was revealed that some of the things he described in his monologue were not, and could not be true, he immediately went to the fact that he was producing a piece of theatre and therefore was allowed artistic liberties and could not be held to journalistic standards of fact. I hope everyone else can see the hypocrisy in this…
Perhaps what upsets me most about all of this is the fact that Mr. Daisey won’t just own up to making a mistake. Because that is ultimately what he did to begin with. He made a mistake in performing a piece that was advertised as non-fiction that contained non-truths. Then another one in performing it again the next night and so on and so forth. But his refusal to admit his mistake at this point, when the FACTS are on the table makes him a liar. He still has not apologized to the audiences who saw the original run of the show. He has not publicly apologized to Woolly Mammoth (Brooke Miller informs me he has apologized in-house to the personnel there), the Public Theatre or any other venue that he has preformed The Agony and the Ecstasy at. The closest anyone has come to a sincere apology is Ira Glass, when Daisey says to him
“I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it’s not journalism. It’s theater.”
But now after that half-apology, Daisey is taking shots at Ira Glass on his own blog, which is unfortunate and only reveals Daisey’s own egocentricity.
Many consider this week’s THIS AMERICAN LIFE episode one of the most painful they’ve ever listened to. In particular the segment with me is excruciating—four hours of grilling edited down to fifteen minutes. I thought the dead air was a nice touch, and finishing the episode with audio pulled out of context from my performance was masterful.
That’s Ira’s choice, and it’s his show. He’s a storyteller within the context of radio journalism, and I am a storyteller in the theater. (via Mike Daisey.)
He then goes on in that same post to once again posit that everything in his monologue is factual.
Mike Daisey will continue to perform his monologue this summer at Woolly Mammoth, no longer under the guise of non-fiction, but behind a false shield of “artistic liberty”. He will continue to make money off of the story he partially fabricated and then force-fed the American public, all because it was easier than actually working to create a piece of theatre that truly was non-fiction, and likely would have been just as powerful and moving.
There are no shortcuts in theatre, Mr. Daisey. It’s a painful, dangerous and sometimes tedious journey to create a piece of art with integrity. But that’s a big part of what makes it worth doing.
I hope you’ve learned that. Though it would appear you haven’t…