Sunday, March 25, 2012

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.

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