Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Video of Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

The latest tour of the megahit musical Les Miserables is here in Boston. Currently, a big screen version is being filmed.

Here is a video taken of Hugh Jackman as Valjean, tearing up his yellow ticket. The video gets closer as it goes on. Note the camera man quickly having to get on the lift, as the shot must soar up into the sky.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mike Daisey's Apology and Reflection

It seems Mike Daisey was also reflecting on the Chris Hayes piece I linked to this morning.

He has now posted some thoughts on his own website.  Here are just some of them:

And I would like to apologize to my colleagues in the theater, especially those who work in non-fiction and documentary fields. What you do is essential to our civic discourse. If I have made your path more difficult, or the truth of your work harder for audiences to discern, I am sorry.
I would also like to apologize to the journalists I gave interviews to in which I exaggerated my own experiences. In my drive to tell this story and have it be heard, I lost my grounding. Things came out of my mouth that just weren’t true, and over time, I couldn’t even hear the difference myself.
To human rights advocates and those who have been doing the hard work of bringing attention to these kinds of labor issues for years, if my failures have made your jobs harder, I apologize. If I had done my job properly, with the skills I have honed for years, I could have avoided this. Instead, I blinded myself, and lost sight of the people I wanted most to help.  

Read the whole thing here.

Another Game of Daisey or Glass?

Playbill from Mike Daisey's show
at The Public Theater
Photo by Esther at Gratuitous Violins
It has been over a week since the revelation that Mike Daisey fabricated and embellished some key incidents in his popular and successful monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  

The theater and journalism worlds went into reflection overdrive when the radio program This American Life posted an hour-long episode retracting a previous broadcast of excerpts from Daisey's show.

The centerpiece of the "Retraction" episode is a lengthy interview with Mike Daisey in which he is confronted by This American Life host Ira Glass about the fabrications. In the interview, Glass takes a journalistic, just-the-facts-ma'am stance, whereas Daisey retreats to a lies-in-the-service-of-a-greater-truth position.

I posted the other day about how it would appear that Ira Glass seems to have a flexible stance on the relationship of facts and story, and today I came across some pretty strong evidence that Mike Daisey does as well!

Last night Chris Hayes of MSNBC did a segment about the Daisey controversy.   For me, the most compelling part was when Hayes played audio from Seattle podcast host Luke Burbank's interview with Daisey last May, way before the This American Life retraction happened.

Burbank (at about 12:45 of the podcast) specifically asked Daisey about how a storyteller deals with reconciling facts with the the telling of a good story. (Emphasis is mine):

BURBANK: How do you reconcile the-telling of a good story with also trying to get the facts right? And when do you decide what is the more important goal? 
DAISEY: Oh, well, you know what I've found over the years is that the facts are your friends. Like, if there's ever a case where I'm telling a story and I find the facts are inconvenient, 9 times out of 10 it means I haven't thought about the story deeply enough.  I really believe in this because the world is more complex and more interesting than my imagination. So the world is full of really fascinating things, you have so many tools on stage as a storyteller.  Like, any time you want something to happen, you don't haveto pretend it happened and lie, you can use a flight of fancy, you can say, "I imagine what this must look like." You can say anything and you can go whatever direction you need to go, but be clear with the audience that you are, at one moment you're reporting the truth as literally it happened, and another case you're using hyperbole, and you just have to be really clear about when you're using each tool.  No, for me it's not actually, it's not actually that hard, if, and this is a big if--if you're pretty scrupulous about not believing, you know, the story before you see it.

Another new development, almost directly in line with Mike Daisey's statement above, is the posting of the official statement by Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theater, on the controversy:

Every performance creates a contract, implied or explicit, between the stage and the audience. That contract directs how the audience should view the performance, what the rules of engagement are. It covers everything from the physical relationship between actors and audience to the border between fiction and fact contained in the performance.

You can read the whole statement here.

Below is a clip from the segment on Chris Hayes.  Watch the whole clip, because Chris Hayes points out Daisey at his best, and why Daisey's monologue was so important.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Theater Company Deals With Mike Daisey Script

Shortly before last weekend's controversy involving Mike Daisey and This American Life, Daisey had released the text of his show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs online under a Creative Commons license.  

This made other groups,or solo artists, able to perform the piece anywhere, anytime, for free.  It also gave anybody doing the show license to use the text in almost whatever way they wanted.

I was wondering what was going to happen to all of the people who were planning to perform the piece.  

Codey Daigle found himself in just that position, and he has a post about it on 2AMT:

We decided on a four-performance run as quickly as possible: opening night was set for March 17. Our thoughts: “Being current is part of the way we sell the show, so let’s stay as current as possible. Let’s open the thing before Daisey finished his run at the Public.” I’d perform it as a reading, the tech would be minimal, so we could compress the time from idea to opening without much worry.
And anyway, it was the script that was the event. We wanted people to focus on the script.
On March 16, the day before we opened, we got what we wanted. NPR retracted their “This American Life” airing, citing fabrications in the script as a cause. The firestorm that ensued (that’s still churning on in some corners) is known – no need to detail it here – but while the large part of the theatre world was spinning on its broader implications for the theatre and journalism and ethics and the truth, we had a very different problem.
What in the hell are we going to do with our show?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Trivia: Ira Glass or Mike Daisey?

I have a little trivia question for everybody in light of all the columns and blog posts being written about the Mike Daisey controversy.


Who said the following:
"It seemed best for the story if this were kept a little vague, I thought it would be lousy and undermining and killjoyish if—at the end of a story—a radio host came on and said 'that wasn't true.' Seemed nicer and more artful to simply raise the possibility that it might or might not be true. I figured: the audience is smart. A little goes a long way."

If you guessed Mike Daisey, you would be...wrong!

It was Ira Glass.

In 2008 Jack Shafer wrote a piece for Slate about a This American Life episode that aired a story originally told at the popular storytelling event The Moth.  The storyteller in this case was none other than Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers and other bestsellers.

The story Gladwell told was funny and witty, but also contained parts that were at best unverifiable, and at worst completely made-up.

Shafer's reporting is interesting as it is almost a miniature version of the controversy that has arisen over excerpts from Mike Daisey's theatrical performance of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs that were also broadcast on This American Life.

However, unlike the tenor of the "Retraction" episode of This American Life, in which Ira Glass grills Daisey over fabrications and constantly assures listeners that TAL is journalism with the highest standards, the moods of Gladwell and Glass in the Shafer article seem to be the opposite of the positions of Glass and Daisey.

In the Shafer piece, Gladwell seemed hesitant to the idea of the story running on This American Life and says that he was assured it would be aired with a disclaimer clearly stating parts of it were made-up. Whereas, when contacted by Shafer, Glass offers the quote with which I started this post.

Yes, back then, Ira Glass chose being "artful" over being factual. This is almost precisely the ground that Mike Daisey is retreating to in this current controversy.

And if you want a double irony, the Moth story Gladwell told and Glass chose to broadcast, (apparently knowing there were fabrications in it,)  is about playing loose with journalistic standards.

Of course, Daisey's case is different in that his piece is alleging a corporation's unethical activity and he is specifically using it as a piece of advocacy.

I just wanted to point out that Ira Glass and This American Life do not appear to have a consistent policy or even a consistent attitude towards vetting and disclosure on their program.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Puddle Houses

Somerville Long Puddle  by arthennessey
Somerville Long Puddle , a photo by arthennessey on Flickr.

Theatre Critic as Referee in the Stage Direction Skirmish

It was only a few weeks ago that I posted about the question of loyalty to published stage directions

The subject was interesting enough to attract a number of comments to the post.

With this fresh in my mind, I happened upon Brendan Kiley's review of Seattle Repertory Theatre's production of John Logan's Red.  

It is not often that stage directions are quoted in a review, but neither is it uncommon, especially for a well-known play.  But Kiley, in just a couple of sentences, seems to encapsulate a large part of the argument about the obligation a director, or an actor, has to the playwright's written instructions:

Some moments painfully flatten Red's characters, as when Ken, an orphan, recounts the death of his parents. He kneels downstage and speaks his painful childhood memory with the hot, false anguish of television melodrama. The fault lies partly with the playwright, whose direction to Ken at the beginning of the scene says "reliving it." The rest of the fault lies with director Richard E. T. White for not ignoring the playwright. 

This brings up another interesting dimension to the discussion.  Namely, to what extent is the critic/reviewer obligated to referee this tug-of-war between director and playwright?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Out For A Stroll

Lord Somerville Out For A Walk Out shooting another entry into Lord Somerville's Diary this past weekend.