At Woolly Mammoth Theatre
Special to DC Theatre Scene dot com
March 9th, 2011
Mike Daisey looks like an everyman, but don’t let appearances fool you. He’s a man with a plan and an agenda to boot with a powerful spotlight on workers’ rights that uses comedy and truth-telling in his latest monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. As both author and actor of his scriptless theatre verité, he has traveled to China and the South Seas and come away with a firsthand knowledge and what he feels is an obligation to share his story with his audiences. His one-man construct rips the veil off the industry as he rails against “the rise and fall and rise of Apple, industrial design and the human price we are willing to pay for our technology.”
Where are you from?
I grew up in Northern Maine and live in New York.
Where does your storytelling tradition come from?
I’ve been a monologist for the past 13 or 14 years and it has evolved in a way that is a living form of traditional theatre and I am actually communicating on stage so that it is unique experience.
Would you say you’re the Michael Moore of contemporary theatre writers?
No, I don’t write the pieces. They are created extemporaneously. In a better world there would be lots of proactive people that display that sort of citizenship.
Who were your influences? Who is looking over your shoulder when you create your plays?
I am strongly influenced by all sorts of extemporaneous performance. I’m really interested in public speakers, black speakers, and standup comedy. The naked singularity of the theatre is the heart of what I’m compelled by. So I learn a lot by listening to other people. I believe that non-fiction is going to assert itself, and I think that is important for American theaters.
Since your monologue speaks to workers’ conditions in China, would you like to comment on the current challenge to workers’ bargaining rights in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio? Do you think it’s any different?
Well it’s quite similar in some ways and widely in different others. What’s similar is of course the people in Michigan are fighting for the rights that people lived and died for 100 years ago. The local government is trying to turn back the clock. Since those battles were fought, we forget what was sacrificed to bring us out of those times. In China the conditions look the same as they always have. It is a place that has never had protections and rights.
Do you see the future of theatre as a socially responsible forum to address current topics?
Certainly the future and present of my theatre! We all have a responsibility to be social citizens. I think it is deeply unnatural to divorce that from our art. It’s bad for art and the theatre to divide those things. There is a drive to believe that the arts should be apolitical and to keep the arts pretty.
Do you consider yourself a radical or a social commentator?
I don’t know the difference.
Would you prefer writer Terry Southern or Tom Wolfe at your dinner table?
I think I would say Tom Wolfe. Ahh, those white suits! I have an affinity for characters.
Where do you eat when you’re in DC?
It’s challenging. I love dim sum in Chinatown and also Teaism and Busboys and Poets. I’m hoping to find a few more restaurants that I feel strongly about this time around.
Do you cook?
Inconsistently and fitfully. My wife [Jean-Michelle Gregory, his longtime director and collaborator] is an excellent cook and I am happy to cede control of it. Recently I cooked a successful dinner and I plan to branch out in the future.
Why is it important to you to perform “The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in DC?
I’m happy that we’re bringing the show to downtown DC. We are trying to get as many politicians from The Hill to attend because we’re trying to bring attention to the workers conditions in Shenzhen. I feel responsible for telling the story well and I hope I am up to the task of serving the people whose voices are not generally heard.
At the Woolly Mammoth from March 21st through April 17th. For tickets and information visit www.woollymammoth.net.