Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, which staged a production of Mike Daisey’s monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs last March and has rescheduled it for this summer, yesterday issued a statement defending the “essential truth of Mike’s storytelling” but apologizing “for including the line ‘a work of non-fiction’ in our playbill.”
The statement, which was under the signature of Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz and Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann, also announced a public forum at Woolly on Tuesday, March 27 at 7 p.m. “[i]n the spirit of further dialogue.”
Woolly has no present plans to cancel Daisey’s upcoming performance.
Daisey, a monologist whose previous productions If You See Something, Say Something, The Last Cargo Cult and How Theatre Failed America also played at Woolly Mammoth, presented The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs as a report of his investigation into the labor conditions in those factories in the People’s Republic of China where our electronic devices are made.
Daisey painted a vivid and convincing picture in which he talked to hundreds of Chinese workers under the shadow of armed guards at ten different factories, spent all day talking with an underground Union with fifty workers, visited factory dormitories in which fifteen men slept in a small single room spied upon by factory cameras, and talked with substantial numbers of underage workers and workers who had been injured at the factory by machinery and the poisonous chemical n-hexane. His monologue had a sensational impact, and he delivered presentations on The Bill Mahr Show and PBS’s This American Life. In January, The New York Times did a report documenting some of the abuses which Daisey had discussed in his monologue.
Subsequently, This American Life did a follow-up investigation of Daisey’s assertions and discovered that many of them were completely fabricated. After meeting with Daisey’s translator (who Daisey had told them was unreachable), they discovered that there were no armed guards; that Daisey had visited three factories, not ten; that he had spoken to about fifty workers, not hundreds; that his meeting with the Union – which had about ten members – lasted only two hours; that there were no cameras in the dormitory (the translator said that they had never visited a dormitory); that he never saw any victims of n-hexane poisoning (although some were reported at a factory about a thousand miles away); that he spoke with only one underage worker; and that the worker who had been injured by machinery worked at a factory other than the one upon which Daisey was reporting.
“Mike’s performances fuse fact, memoir, and polemics with healthy doses of bombast and, for comic effect, exaggeration in order to passionately deliver an urgent message,” the Woolly statement asserted. “But his account of working conditions in China is not made up out of thin air. He went there. He talked to people and visited factories when few other Americans were doing so. All of the specific conditions he includes in his show have been corroborated by The New York Times and others—indeed, in the very same retraction episode where he was condemned.”
Nonetheless, “We don’t think that the show should have aired on This American Life, and we believe it should have been represented accurately in the theatre. But journalism seeks to be as objective as possible, while theatre and storytelling are more subjective, and they both have an important role to play. Journalism helps us know what we’re looking at, but theatre, and art in general, helps us know where to look. The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs did that, and this is something we stand behind,” Woolly said.
Woolly acknowledged that some of its patrons had been critical of Daisey and Woolly’s support for him. “Many of you have sent us emails, called us, commented on our blog and through social media. Some of you have praised us, and others have expressed anger and disappointment. We value all your responses.”
Although Tuesday’s open forum on Daisey and The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs will be free and open to the public, space is limited and Woolly urges prospective attendees to make reservations at 202.393.3939.