Truth in Theater: The Mike Daisey panel
Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs set off a charged debate at the Public Theater. Here, for the first time, is a full transcript.
Wed Jul 25 2012
Photograph: Stan Barouh
Four months ago, the public-radio program This American Life issued a brutal retraction of Daisey’s supposedly nonfictional piece about Apple culture and Chinese labor (which it had broadcast two months earlier). The theatrical monologuist—widely considered one of the most talented storytellers of his generation—became the object of national outrage, and his attempts to explain the fabrications in his piece were angrily derided.
At the time, Daisey was playing the final weekend of a return engagement of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Public Theater. Amid the anti-Daisey firestorm that week, I hastily convened a panel of major theater artists and journalists to discuss issues raised by the controversy. Participants included writer-director Steven Cosson (This Beautiful City), playwright-performers Jessica Blank (The Exonerated) and Taylor Mac (The Young Ladies Of), and critic-reporters Peter Marks (The Washington Post) and Jason Zinoman (The New York Times). The Public provided a forum for our discussion, and the company’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, used the evening as a platform to make an official statement on the Daisey question.
The conversation received considerable attention, was made available as a podcast on 2AMt and helped prompt Daisey to issue a straight-up apology for his actions. “I listened to a podcast of the discussion some of my colleagues had a few nights ago discussing ‘Truth in Theater,’” he wrote. “What a gift: to just be able to sit and listen, and to hear these people I so respect discuss these issues with intelligence and humor, and to hear the civility they extended my way even when they took serious issue with some of the choices I have made.”
Now the questions that we discussed in March are once again in the news. This month, Daisey is performing The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., but a revised version of it: one that eliminates the material whose veracity been challenged and recognizes the piece’s storytelling aspect. (“If I expect them to build an ethical iPhone, then I had better build an ethical monologue,” wrote Daisey in a blog post this week.)
So this is a good time to revisit the questions we discussed at the Public, which remain important. It had always been my intention to transcribe our conversation for for the benefit of those who hadn’t seen or heard it. Now, finally, here it is: the full record of the “Truth in Theater” panel that took place on March 22 at the Public Theater.
Can we handle the truth?