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.

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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.

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