The Playgoer: About Mike D

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

About Mike D

"We do not and cannot fact check our artists; we're a theater, not a news organization. The vast majority of what occurs on our stages is fiction. If we didn't believe fiction could reveal truth, we would have to give up our profession. With that said, it obviously matters a great deal to me that our audience understands what they are seeing."

-Oskar Eustis, AD of the Public Theatre, presenter and producer of Mike Daisey's The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs--which, if you didn't know already--came under a bit of heat this weekend.

I am just way too busy this weekend to weigh in on this coherently. But I think Eustis basically gets it right, from a theatrical standpoint.

On the other hand, someone who gets it wrong (at least in this quote) is the man who called him out, This American Life's Ira Glass, who complained: "The normal worldview is: somebody stands on stage and says this happens to me, I think it happened to them." Yes, I think Daisey did himself in when taking his stage show to NPR without accounting for the semiotic differences in mediums. But, man, the ambiguity of "truth" on stage...that's what theatre's all about!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree. Daisey put himself on a pedestal to trumpet this 'cause' all the while knowing that what he presented to the public as fact was not. If TAL had not found out about the inaccuracies, Daisey would have gone on promoting his work as fact. Ambiguity of truth is one thing but deceit is something altogether different.

Don Hall said...

I'm not on board to bash Mike - I think his Big Mistake was to lie (either through half truth or omission) about the veracity of the fictional parts of his piece to Ira Glass & Co. (because I don't see MSNBC, CBS, the NYT or Bill Maher as journalists in the strictest sense of the word).

That said, I believe when someone in the theater plays a character, truth is a flexible element. When playing oneself, I think the line becomes less flexible when it comes to misrepresenting facts and fiction.

RLewis said...

Context really is everything. If the show is presented as a documentary or docu-theater then it probably should be really documentable. But if it's just "based on a true story" then say what you want. I don't know what MD told Ira, and I haven't seen the show so I don't how it's presented, but on tv talk shows, MD seems to saying that these are the facts as I experienced them. The theater deals in Truth; it doesn't fare so well with Facts. We often interchange the words, but there is a big difference. For me, it's all about what you know going in - context.

Brian said...

I love Mike Daisey, but he has really shot himself in the foot on this one. I cannot agree with his justifications. Blaming the brouhaha on peoples' misunderstanding of what "theatre" is about does no favors for the rest of us.


Consider:

-The program bills the work as "nonfiction."

-What purpose do his overseas "research" trips serve if he's just going to come back and make up key points anyway?

-The old refrain "I am not a journalist" belongs to the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks out there. We never bought it from them, so why look the other way now if it is going to cost us our principles?

Let's not forget that there's a reason Mike Daisey doesn't appear in your friendly neighborhood Chekhov. In "How Theater Failed America," he mentioned the reason he doesn't "act" anymore is because he doesn't want to do anything in which he will lack control over the content. Now he has that, so he can't blame the audience or the outlets that have helped him promote his show.

I think this is going to set Mr. Daisey back, but I hope it does not remove him from the scene. That's up to him. If he can learn from this and commit to producing the same outstanding work by way of different methods, he may be like the broken bone that heals stronger than it originally was.

But I think he has to own up to it first. I think we all know what his next show will be about, eh?

Scott Walters said...

I am really glad that someone else agrees with me that Ira Glass' statement about the "normal" view is dopey as hell. Next week, will he do an expose on "Lion King" revealing that lions don't really talk? Glass went to a theatre to see a play and then decided to do excerpts on his show and present it as journalism, which is unbelievably stupid. Daisey should have bowed out at that point, but I can certainly understand the temptation to have a national platform for something you care about. As someone pointed out in an article, there is nothing about Apple in the stage production that is false -- what is being contested is whether the details of Mike's TRIP are correct. Well, compared to the abuses of workers in China, that's pretty small potatoes. ut Apple consumers will heave a sigh of relief because they won't have to feel guilty about their latest purchase and can still whip out their iPhones at the OWS rally and tweet.

Anonymous said...

While hysterical, this is an excellent point about responsibility.

http://www.artsjournal.com/newbeans/2012/03/this-is-a-work-of-non-fiction.html

Troubador said...

"Glass went to a theatre to see a play and then decided to do excerpts on his show and present it as journalism, which is unbelievably stupid."

Daisey told Glass (and others) that it was all true. Glass found out that Daisy had lied. So he wasn't completely dopey.

The most dopey (frankly idiotic) thing about this issue was Daisey telling an audience in a subsequent performance that:

"But I wanted to let you know that I stand behind this work. The work you're going to see today HAD HAD CHANGES MADE TO IT, SO THAT WE CAN STAND BEHIND IT COMPLETELY."

So if he couldn't stand behind the work completely before and can now, he has Glass to thank!

Matt said...

If the show had been marketed as something other than "the truth," then I would side with Mike. But this was not the case. Everything written about this show has been done with a spirit of "the journalist reports about what he's seen."

The Public, Daisey, and the producers benefited from this, and now want to keep smelling of roses. It doesn't work.

Last year in D.C., I sat and watched Daisey speak to CSpan for an hour on this show, and not ONCE did he say, or hint, that some of it is fiction. We all say how brilliant Daisey is. How did he miss this?