October 20, 2013

Mike Daisey, raised in Maine, stretched the truth, then stretched his wings

His embellishments on a public radio documentary program led to an on-air flogging. But that didn’t end the career of this performance artist, whose talent for storytelling still awes.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Storyteller Mike Daisey performs his “All the Faces of the Moon,” a two-hour monologue, at The Public Theater in New York. Daisey embellished facts in a January 2012 broadcast of National Public Radio’s “This American Life.” Apologizing, he told the show’s host: “It’s not journalism. It’s theater.”

Joan Marcus photo

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Mike Daisey

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MAINE appearance

WHO: Mike Daisey will speak at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Maine International Conference on the Arts at the Collins Center, University of Maine, Orono.

COST: Conference registration ranges from $80 to $200

FOR MORE: mainearts.maine.gov

“There are people who are able to drop their insecurities and just do the task and get it done. Mike was one of those kind of people. He was a quick hand, so creative and so intellectual, and yet his intellect was very accessible.”

In 2008, Daisey performed a monologue called “How Theater Failed America.” The premise of the piece is that theater in America is flawed because it mostly is set up to make theater artists comfortable and rich people happy.

Each night, he invited a different group of theater professionals to see the show and talk about the issues. Greenham was among those Daisey invited to New York.

It was an uncomfortable experience because Daisey spent much of his performance critical of the people he asked to see the show, Greenham said.

He was proud of his former student.

“My view is that if people are threatened, then you probably are saying something that hits a nerve,” he said. “And that’s the thing about Mike. He’s a wonderful person, and his wife is very sweet. They are a great couple. He is really passionate and committed, but this stuff – these stories that he tells – they just come out of his pores. There is not a thing that could happen that would make him say, ‘I”m not doing this anymore.’ It is absolutely who he is. He is curious about things he doesn’t know about. He sees the world in a different way than a lot of people, and he’s not afraid to talk about it.”

Clearly, Daisey hit a nerve with “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” His errors diminished the impact of the piece in some quarters, but he contends that he accomplished his goal of exposing the labor practices in the Chinese technology industry, around which Apple built its empire.

That’s why he apologized only to a point. He may have stretched the truth, but its essence was accurate, he said. As an artist, he had the license to stretch.

The dichotomy of Mike Daisey is his success. He decries the state of theater in America, but has made a comfortable living in theater. He admits being financially comfortable but keeps ticket prices affordable. For his recent run of “All the Faces of the Moon” at the Public in New York, he charged $25 a ticket. That’s considerably less than what theatergoers in Portland pay to see a show at Portland Stage.

In addition, fans can download podcasts of each performance of “All the Faces of the Moon” for free.

“I am dedicated to the price point of zero, which is a really provocative number. Things that are free can either be priceless or worthless depending on how people view them. In a better world, theaters would exist as libraries do,” Daisey said.


Seattle Rep artistic director Jerry Manning noted that most people compare Daisey to actor and writer Spalding Gray.

“That comparison is apt,” said Manning, who worked with Daisey a dozen years, “but considering the body of his work and his insight and his very deft sense of humor, I compare him to Will Rogers and Mark Twain. I think he is that profound. I really do.

“Every time I see him, I am reminded that Mike is a great writer and an amazing storyteller. But at every juncture, at every comma in a line, I am reminded that he is a (expletive) brilliant actor. His timing, his rapport with audience, the way he moves – he is a consummate actor. I really believe he is a great actor, and I put him among some of America’s best humorists.”

Manning most admires Daisey’s “absolutely crystalline passion for the form itself, for the theatrical form, which he adores, though he pokes fun at it and prods it with a stick at every chance he gets. He does it because he cares about the form. Mike is, for better or worse, a theater person. He comes from a place of deep, deep passion.”

He’s shaking things up, saying things he shouldn’t, making people squirm.

His former teacher from Maine compares Daisey to the Thomas Stockmann character from the Henrik Ibsen play “An Enemy of the People.” At the end of the play, Stockmann rises to denounce the masses, saying that “the strongest man in the world is the man who stands most alone.”

Mike Daisey is one of those guys, Greenham said.

“He’s perfectly willing to stand alone for what he believes, and to say it calmly and forcefully. He’ll offend you. He’ll oppose you, and he’ll be happy to sit down with you and talk to you.

“Pretty brave.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:bkeyes@pressherald.comTwitter: pphbkeyes
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