Prologue Added and Revisions Reflected in Final Weekend of Mike Daisey's Agony and the Ecstasy
By Adam Hetrick
Mike Daisey, who came under fire after an national media report called into question the truth of his personal experiences in the acclaimed The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, offered audiences a prologue to a newly edited version of his monologue prior to its final performances at the Public Theater this past weekend.
As previously reported, following Daisey's January appearance as a guest on "This American Life," NPR "Marketplace" China Correspondent Rob Schmitz reached out to Daisey's Chinese translator to substantiate Daisey's personal stories of his encounters with laborers. The translator disputed portions of the information Daisey presented, including claims that he visited a factory in Suzhou and his gripping account of a factory laborer who sees a working iPad for the first time.
"This American Life" interviewed Daisey again during the weekend of March 16 to speak to the claims that his experiences had been fabricated. You can listen to the podcast here.
The story broke just as Daisey was wrapping up a successful return engagement at the Public Theater, where it played a sold-out run last fall. The recent engagement ended March 18. An April 7 Chicago presentation, which was to be presented in association with "This American Life," was canceled in the fall-out following the reports.
In a response dated March 16, Daisey stated on his website, "What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theatre are not the same as the tools of journalism."
In the past several days, a host of journalists and bloggers, including the New York Times and "This American Life" executive producer Ira Glass, have weighed in on the accountability of theatre artists whose work incorporates journalistic elements. The New York Times' Charles Isherwood said, "Mr. Daisey may not claim to be a journalist, but there is little question that in his show, which he has been performing since 2010, he gives no indication that some of the events he describes as having witnessed himself were embellished or based on incidents that took place elsewhere. The program at the Public Theater described it as nonfiction.' Nonfiction should mean just that: facts and nothing but the facts."
The Public Theater also issued a statement regarding its production of The Agony and the Ecstasy: "In the theatre, our job is to create fictions that reveal truth -- that's what a storyteller does, that's what a dramatist does. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs reveals, as Mike's other monologues have, human truths in story form.
"In this work, Mike uses a story to frame and lead debate about an important issue in a deeply compelling way. He has illuminated how our actions affect people half-a-world away and, in doing so, has spurred action to address a troubling situation. This is a powerful work of art and exactly the kind of storytelling that The Public Theater has supported, and will continue to support in the future.
"Mike is an artist, not a journalist. Nevertheless, we wish he had been more precise with us and our audiences about what was and wasn't his personal experience in the piece."
Daisey has also made available the audio of the prologue he delivered prior to the final weekend of performances of The Agony and the Ecstasy... An excerpt follows below:
"I wanted to take a second before we do the show because I wanted to let you know that 'This American Life' is airing an episode this weekend that calls into question the veracity of some of the personal experiences that you're going to hear about in this monologue. And I want you to understand that what's being called into question is the personal experiences. The facts of what the situation is in China in manufacturing are undisputed and they're reinforced by the New York Times, CNN, NPR – all these organizations have gone and done the hard journalism that's necessary, and when you leave here, if you feel interested, I'd really urge you to go out and read about those things.
But I wanted to let you to know that I stand behind this work and the work you're going to see today has had changes made to it so that we can stand behind it completely and includes this controversy in it, so that you can have a full picture, and then you can do what you want with it..."
In a March 19 post on his website, Daisey also spoke of his recent "This American Life" interview and addressed audiences who may have been left disenchanted following the media reports.
"To my audiences: It's you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details," he wrote.
"I believe the truth is vitally important. I continue to believe that. I believe that I will answer for the things I have done. I told Ira that story should always be subordinate to the truth, and I still believe that. Sometimes I fall short of that goal, but I will never stop trying to achieve it."
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