Monday, March 28, 2011

DC Theatre Scene on Daisey

Peter Certo at DC Theatre Scene does a really astute and thorough interview with monologuist Mike Daisey about his show THE AGONY AND ECSTACY OF STEVE JOBS. I'll pull a few questions that really resonated with me. You can read the full article here.

# # #

We’re talking here about products that can collapse space. But in a theater, people fill space. What’s the significance of giving this performance in person as opposed to, say, broadcasting it over the Internet?

It’s a live performance, so there’s an inherent depth of connection that doesn’t exist in transmission. I work extemporaneously, so the presence of the people in the room, our gestalt together, influences and directs in a very literal way the course of events throughout the evening. The things that I speak of, the way I speak of them, change in response to the people in the room and my relationship with them. It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s actually the core of the theatrical experience. The reason I work in the theater is that I believe it’s possible to reach people in a very deep way.

Of course I reach less of them because they physically have to be there… But the bandwidth in the theater, in a live environment, is quantumly greater than the bandwidth available via a YouTube clip. The amount of data that can be transmitted is so much greater in a live space. Technologists today fetishize the bandwidth they’re able to provide, the video and audio they’re able to deliver over the Web. These are marvelous in their own way, but they do not substitute for actual communication. As a consequence, the kind of work that I’m interested in is only possible in person.

That’s why the monologues are built the way they are, and this monologue in particular. It’s talking about issues that most Americans are in active denialism about: our relationship with China, the labor circumstances under which our objects our made. It’s very important to actually try to compare notes in conversation about it. That’s why I work in this form. And, in fact, I think this belief in the primacy of the actual human connection is the only compelling reason to work in the theater. It’s entirely possible that there will be Web versions of parts of the story, but they can’t actually substitute for the experience of being in the room.

Personal narrative is very integral to your monologues and the messages you try to get across. How does this change as you become a sort of celebrity figure? Is it a challenge when people go into your performances thinking they know something about you already?

It’s challenging at times – there’s an intimacy gap between myself and the audiences because people who’ve seen my monologues do feel like they know me, and when I’m speaking with them, I obviously don’t feel like I know them yet. But most human beings are really good at navigating that gap. In terms of the actual work, I try not to allow my feelings of privacy or shame to prevent me from telling the stories that need to be told. At the same time, the reality is that sometimes it is difficult to tell certain stories. Like with anyone, there’s a very healthy tension between the desire for a personal life and the desire to tell the truth. In my life, because of my obligations to the theater, I try to do everything I can to tell the stories that need to be told as clearly and openly as possible.

Instead of trudging through the ranks of various theater companies, it seems like you’ve very much created your own space for yourself as a performer. Do you have any advice for other prospective monologists or otherwise ambitious performers?

I do! My largest piece of advice is to cheat. It’s very important to cheat. People are prone to not cheating, but they need to cheat. The system of the theater as it’s designed is to prevent people from rising, because there are more people, more artists, more actors, more people who want to work in the theater than there is capacity. So the theater is actually dedicated to getting rid of as many people as possible. The dominant paradigm is actually to get rid of people.

So if you follow all the rules – if you go to the right grad schools, if you do everything exactly by the letter – you’ll probably fail, because the system is built to get rid of 99.999 percent of the people… Everyone I know who’s been successful in the theater is so because they cheated in some way or another. They discovered what advantages they had that no other people could emulate, and they worked to exploit those things. They used the talent they naturally have, but they also found edges and angles other people couldn’t exploit or emulate to game the system.

I really think that people who want to be successful in the arts have to carve a space out for themselves. The only way to do that is to follow unconventional wisdom. If people truly want to be successful, they have to learn how everyone is supposed to do things, and then figure out how they’ll subvert it.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daisey on Steve Jobs

Good interview with solo performer Mike Daisey about his new show THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS on 94.9's "Weekday."

Listen to it here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Only Try Not To Lose Them...

This post was originally posted in December of 2009 during the run of THE EIGHT, a play I was performing in. I'm reposting it here, even though it was an multi-actor play, because I think it offers some nice insights for the potential solo performer. ~BDM

I performed my monologue in THE EIGHT tonight and the audience was not into it. It wasn't that they were not into my performance, particularly, but they were not really into the whole show. They were really quiet, there was lots of shuffling, occasionally I'd see the glow of someone's phone shining up into their faces while they texted (I will politely step away from addressing this last piece of deplorable behavior here, because it needs a full ranting post of its own someday).

Here's what I observed both through my own experience of being on stage as well as watching my fellow actors handle the situation.

First off, it should be established that we are doing a monologue play. What this means is, essentially, a series of characters are paraded in, one after another, each giving a 4-9 minute speech directly to the audience. It should be noted, that in this sort of performance, with its lack of mutiple actors interacting with each other behind a fourth wall, on display for the audience, as it is in traditional theatre productions, here the audience actually is the other character the performer communicates with. In a way, it is a very direct sort of performance, in that the audience is activated. They are part of the performance: participants as well as observers of the performance.

It should also be noted we are performing comedy. Comedy is the easiest form to gauge as a performer if your performance is effective or not (i.e. it is making a genuine connection). In very stark terms, you know: they laugh if it is funny and don't if it is not. This is just a barameter, though. Sometimes it really is funny even if the audience doesn't laugh, after all, the audience is a mass, and therefore follows the laws of the masses ( which in the theatre has it's own rules: crowds laugh easier if the house is darkened and the stage is illuminated, there must be 10+ people in the audience to instigate "contagious" laughter, and a slew of other ones...).

We performed these monologues last week and people laughed and laughed, so barring some weird anomolies, we can reasonably assume that both the material (the play itself) and the presentations (the performance of the the play) are effectively funny.

So, when a performer expects one reaction (laughter) and gets another (silence) several things happen:

1.) The first response of most performers is to try a bit harder. This is similar to when a person simply speaks slower and louder if they think they are not being understood, such as when giving directions or (ironically) speaking to a foreigner who doesn't know your language. In acting, it often shows up as pumping the piece with a little more energy, or increasing volume. The thought is, fundamentally, "What's going on here? This is not what I was expecting from the audience."

2.) Next, the performer starts to question themselves and their performance. Maybe they made wrong choices? Are they doing something differently today that they did the last time they performed this piece? In essence, the thought is "It must be me. It must be something I'm doing/not doing that is preventing the connection, and therefore the reaction I expect."

3.) Often, the third step is an unfortunate Fuck You to the audience. Much like a little kid lashing out in spite when they don't get their way, a performer will turn on the audience in a subtle, but apparent, way. The performer will become antagonistic when it is clear the audience is not going to give them the response the performer was expecting. The thought is "I'm working my ass off up here for you, so if you don't like it, fuck you. In fact, you aren't even worthy enough anymore for me to do my best for. Here, take this watered-down fuck-you version of my performance."

This last step is a self-defeating one. It is futile in that the audience is not going to get on the side of a performer who is openly hostile to them. At the same time, the performer is going to be hostile because the audience seemly refuses to get on his or her side.

Years of improv have taught me not to go down the road of step three. The best bet is just do your job, deliver a performance that you, the performer, can be proud of, and try again with the next audience. Audiences are like blind dates. There is always a relationship, usually brief, and sometimes it is not all that rewarding for one or both parties.

Tonight, I went through step one and then downshifted into step two. I did not resort to step three. The audience did not ge tthe most dynamic, energetic performance of my monologue that I've ever done, but they did get a clear, solid performance. And they could take from that whatever they wanted. I felt kinda Zen about it.

My fellow actors ran the gamut. Some said "fuck it" almost immediately and gave sub-par performances to their "unworthy" audience (I call this zombie-ing through or phoning it in). Some were confused and saddened when they came off stage, wondering still, what was so wrong tonight? Some thought of it as a challenge ("I will succeed where you have failed") after the performers who came off stage before them didn't hit it out of the park.

All in all, it threw into perspective that oft-talked about, but seldom experienced aspect of theatre: unexpectedness. The bottom line is: Don't take anything out on the audience. In fact, don't come in with any expectations at all. You, the performer, can not control the audience or their responses and you certainly can't demand anything from them. You can only try not to lose them...

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I had the pleasure of catching Faye Lane's delightful solo storytelling/cabaret show Beaty Shop Stoies at the Addison Water Tower Theatre Out of the Loop Festival earlier this month. The whole show was just delightful and Faye is a warm, easy-does-it raconteur.

I met Faye last year at the New Orleans Fringe Festival (where I was doing my solo show, Chop) and interviewed her for the Stage Directions Blog. She was part of Andy Christie's The Liar Show, in which she was a regular storyteller. You can see a bit of that interview here. Faye comes in around minute 14:30.

NO Fringe Interviews Pt. 1 from Christopher Taylor on Vimeo.
According to her website, her original show Beauty Shop Stories has been in development for several years. And she's working on a memoir of the same name. Faye is a big part of the thriving New York storytelling and comedy communities and has been telling individual stories from the book on the stage. In New York alone, stories and songs from this show have been presented at Caroline's on Broadway, Comix, The Pulse Theater, Stage Left, The Time Out New York Lounge, 92nd Street Y Tribeca, Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, and most recently, in an extended run at the prestigious SoHo Playhouse.

In 2007, one of Faye's Beauty Shop Stories won the celebrated Moth StorySlam, hailed by The Wall Street Journal as “New York's hottest, hippest literary ticket.” And since winning the Los Angeles Moth StorySlam in 2008, (She's the only storyteller to have won it on both coasts!) she's been performing the stories regularly in Los Angeles as well. She's told stories in LA at King King, Tangier Lounge, Tongue and Groove, Hotel Cafe, BANG, and El Cid.

Faye Lane's Beauty Shop Stories is a solo show that sneaks up on you. Sitting in the audience, from her soft opening to a triumphant ending, the whole evening of theatre just washes over you. Faye is adorable and infinitely likeable. And she sings "purty." Her show is ultimately about faith, especially faith in one's self and the impression I left the theatre with was a big ole smile.

Check out her website.