Last Sunday, Mike Daisey finally offered a full-throated apology on his blog after a week of holding a defensive crouch following a scandal in which he was accused of being less than truthful in his monologue, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” The exaggerations and lies were uncovered in a retraction issued by NPR’s “This American Life” of their January report on abusive working conditions at an Apple products supplier in China — a report based on instances that Daisey purported to have witnessed and presented as fact in his hit one-person show.
Daisey’s recent apology — to his audiences, fellow artists, journalists, and human rights activists — came as a relief, especially to a number of producers in the untenable position of having to present a show now tainted by the controversy. Daisey is scheduled to perform “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont on March 31, after which he travels to Britain with the show and then returns this summer to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in D.C., where the production was originally developed.
“Of course we were upset about his lying and then his lying about his lying,” says Natalie Neuert, director of the Lane Series at the University of Vermont, which is a co-presenter of the show with the Flynn. “John [Killacky, who heads the Flynn] and I were never tempted to cancel the show. But we knew that we had to keep Mike onstage after the show for a talkback with the audience.” They were also reassured by a prologue and changes within the show that Daisey added to the performance. (The scandal broke just as he was completing a sold-out run at New York’s Public Theater.)
Neuert says they offered a full refund to those who had already purchased tickets but that the cancellations have been balanced by new sales. “People who are upset tend to be very upset,” she says. “But it gives us the opportunity, as a university, to look at the wider issues about truth, journalism, and reconciling fact with dramatic story telling.” Neuert says that she is not surprised that Daisey “danced around an apology” for so long before finally fessing up on his blog. “His career was on the line and it’s a hard-built career,” she says of Daisey’s slow climb to fame – and notoriety – as a monologuist, beginning in 1997. “He’d finally broken through with this show and he’s an extremely gifted man. I think his career will recover but I’m sure he’s going to be very careful going forward.”
Daisey’s next project, set to premiere in March 2013 at Woolly Mammoth, is titled “American Utopias.” The new monologue is described on the theater’s Web site as “a distinctly American vision of utopia — how we create civic spaces for ourselves in which we act out our dreams of a better world,” from Disney World to Burning Man to Zuccotti Park.