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Paul Mullin

In fairness, the silence from the big houses that have staged Daisey's work is no longer pristine. This from Woolly Mammoth:


"For Woolly’s part, we want to specifically apologize for including the line “a work of non-fiction” in our playbill. In hindsight, we wish we had interrogated Mike on this point. (In a recent radio interview, we said this line was not included in our playbill, and we were mistaken—a case of bad fact-checking on our own part.)"

Good on ya, Howard Shalwitz and Jeff Herrmann.

Josh Parks

Came across this recently:

Words do not express fact,
Phrases do not reveal the delicate motion of mind.
He who accepts words is lost,
He who adheres to phrases is deluded.

Paul Mullin

If you grasp Josh's comment precisely, there is no Shakyamuni Buddha before you and no Maitreya Buddha after you.


Josh Parks

Let me be the first to admit that I am deluded.

William Salyers

The idea that theatre is a tapestry woven from falsehoods is a pernicious one. It can be seen at the level of individual artists when an actor, often but not always young in his/her craft, has the mistaken idea that theirs is the art of putting on a mask, rather than removing one. The audience knows this even when they don't know they know it, which is why they speak of a character being "believable" (or not).
This discussion of truth at the very heart of the craft is one worth having. Perhaps we can thank Daisey for that much, at least. And we can thank you, Paul, for another excellent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking essay.

Jim Jewell

I want to "like" Bill's comment because apparently I am addicted to Facebook.

It is an important discussion, and it is too bad we seem resistant to having it. Clearly, Paul and many others, me included, are willing to jump in, but the defenders of Daisey's position seem to have little to no interest.

Nathan Sorseth

When I read Woolly Mammoth's first "Thoughts" on the Daisey Debacle, I was extremely irritated at the way the theatre's leadership seemed to be rallying the troops on the wrong hill. I wasn't surprised, though, since this incident appears to be located on a fault line - the place where the tectonic plate of artistic integrity is steadily and inexorably shoved under the plate of commercial consideration and institutional reputation.

What really frosted me, though, was the way in which theatre voices were rallying to the "artistic license" argument, even though this was never (read: *NEVER*) the issue. It made me feel stupid, by association...

Now, reading the Woolly Mammoth's revised "Thoughts"... I'm not even sure what it is that I'm looking at. Is it an apology? Is it a retraction, or a clarification?... To me, it appears to be an attempt at self-justification: there are the same arguments that were used before about the "power of the storytelling", the "conversation" and "lively debate" sound-bites and, to top it all off, a blurb about the "difference between art and journalism" that is simply a re-worded version of Mike's own "mistaken context" excuse.

In short, I'm not really seeing anything different from Woolly Mammoth.

I hate to say it, but I don't expect anything to change until the theatres that book Mr. Daisey stop booking him. And I may be wrong, but I can't imagine that there's going to be much appetite among the general public for a discredited autobiographical performer's next piece...


Beautiful essay - very important! Thank you!


You wanted a Daisey defender, you've got one. I have seen most of Mike's monologues over the past dozen years, and I do not understand what is so different, and therefore unforgivable, about this one - other than he got a hell of a lot of attention for it. Mike's work is effective because they aren't about him so much as that his experience is a gateway to examining something much broader - the 90s tech boom, the finance industry, Nikola Tesla, to name a few. Mike's show '21 Dog Years' about working at Amazon.com was the first I saw. In it, he spoke of hanging up on customers mid-call to fudge his metrics. He described Amazon's main office building as overrun with packs of dogs. Were these things literally true? Maybe. But I understood that while the details may not have been true in a *literal* sense (unless they were), both spoke an essential truth about what it was like to work at Amazon at that time (there were a lot of dogs). As an audience member, whether I'm watching Mike or another monologist, I don't spend any time thinking if the incidents described - particularly personal ones - really happened, in precisely the way described, or not. Because the point of the personal stories is to set the correct scene, invoke the correct emotions. The truth at the heart of things, if you will. This is precisely the way 'Agony and Ecstasy' was built, and I don't see why it should be judged any differently. (I'm referring specifically to the monologue here - not Mike's subsequent appearances on news programs and TAL) Mike's experiences in China - and yes, in fact he DID have those experiences in China, not substantively different than described in the show - were not supposed to convey information so much as to set the scene, invoke the emotions, describe the emotional truth of his journey from Apple fanboy to someone genuinely moved by the sacrifices people made at work every day to make our crap. He didn't invent their suffering. He didn't dream up their frustration. At worst, some of these personal experiences in question (such as the bit quoted as "bad fiction" above) are composites of people he spoke to, or maybe punched-up versions of less dramatic moments (like the cone on the highway overpass). This isn't a guy sitting in his hotel inventing scenarios. It's a writer taking the inelegant messiness of his fumbling around China to learn about something that NOBODY was writing about, and turning it into a story. A story deliberately designed to inspire in his audiences the kind of awakening he felt while there - something that must be recreated more than simply told. And a story that is rigorously sound on *the facts of the situation* (that is, the state of electronics manufacturing in the Special Economic Zone), in other words, the facts that *matter.* After reading so much vitriol about how Mike Daisey is the Enemy of Truth, I still, honestly, don't get what enrages people so much. Is it that he probably visited three factories and not ten? That he talked to 50 people and not 200? That the guards at Foxconn maybe had guns or maybe they didn't? Or is it that he implied illegal union leaders met at Starbucks (which, in the context of his delivery in the show, is obviously a joke). I agree that printing "this is a work of non-fiction" in the playbill was overreaching - but printing "this is a work of fiction" would have been equally wrong. "This is a story about a fanboy and the company he loved meeting in a foreign land" - Would that have made everything all better?


Paul and Jim,
I've been hesitating writing this in public, but I'm going to take a crack at it, while possibly earning your wrath: Your efforts in NewsWrights United, while worthy, didn't end up making compelling theater, fact-checked or not.
Practiced enough, maybe it would move in that direction, but so far, it didn't ignite anything or change any hearts or minds.
Mike did. He probably could have done so, as Misha suggested, without those hyper-fictitious accounts of clawhands and poisoned kids, and so maybe that was his overreach.
When NewsWrights can get ahold of a story and tell it as grippingly and immediately and get us to necessarily pay attention we don't want to pay, then maybe you can equate your journalistic playwriting with Mike's work and call him out on it.
Right now, it just seems...high-handed at minimum.

Paul Mullin

Thank you, Miryam. I appreciate your candor. See? Honesty has a place after all.

Your argument seems to be that since my art isn't as good as Mike's I have no standing to evaluate his methods. This is a new tack. And it intrigues me.

I wonder what other people think. Is there anyone else out there willing to weigh in on this question? For the purpose of keeping the conversation flowing, I will provisionally allow those of you whose art is inferior to Mike's to comment.


I think my comment didn't apply to "isn't as good as" but to scope. James Frey's blunders regarding non-fiction did not then translate to impacting my book, Money Sucks! Money Strategies for Real Life, though both were purported to be non-fiction. Because his memoir turned out to be faked, that did not immediately discredit my work. Not a close enough comparison?

I previously compared the KONY 2012 initiative. That purports to be a documentary. It is selective in some of its facts, since they perhaps used to be true but are no longer. However, it's an advocacy piece.

Again, I think that Mike's advocacy might have gone too far in conflating other stories with his own. That Would Not have been a problem "just" in the theater realm, really.

I think it was a problem when moved to the TAL platform, without clarification or disclosure. Indeed, I think the TAL platform could have gone Ahead with the story if Mike had clarified which parts might be at issue, and they could have stripped those from his piece prior and then been properly contextual.

"News" is meant to be a report. It is not meant to stir emotions, necessarily, nor to evoke a "call to action." However, theater is not generally thought of as such a passive event. Your efforts at NewsWrights would seem therefore to need to elevate the piece beyond reporting.

I would like to know what you think NewsWrights is supposed to accomplish if it does Not move beyond reporting? Any move beyond reporting news changes the news and puts an intention on it that may never have been a part of the event. It advocates in one way or the other.

Game Change may be a double-fact-checked movie and every line uttered may be vetted, but the fact that it is a movie changes it to make it advocate more of One Point of View. That doesn't make it bad. It just inevitably has to take that on because it is not news. It is >their< retelling of history.

Your contention seems to be that Mike's actions threatens YOUR efforts to do something real, and have it not be believed. That is what I think is over-reach on your part. I don't believe that Mike's indiscretions impact you. One friend who says he doesn't believe any theater people doesn't a whole world of disbelievers make.

It's scale, not "good art".


In other words, people often feel reflected upon when a member of a larger group they identify with/in does something wrong and feel that they are personally diminished through that association. Like Jews with Madoff, though few Jews have ever had as much money as he played with, or some criminal who is black or Irish or Scandinavian....

It sounds more like you identify with Mike's getting caught in a lie with you being associated just because you're in "theater" with him.

Jim Jewell

Can't disagree more with your conclusion, Miryam, though I take some of your other points as valid. Maybe Paul just referred to one friend, but I've heard callers and read commenters who have said in fact this incident will make them question the veracity of what they see in the theatre, and especially from activist theatre. It matters that Mike chose to clumsily walk a fine line, and it matters even more the rhetoric he employed to defend it.

And, frankly, I'm fine with fact-checked theatre having to work harder to achieve change even if it falls short, and will always take the harder road over the shortcut.

Wesley K. Andrews

Nice work Paul. In conversations with friends, we all agreed that the "truth in labeling" aspect of all this was crucial. Your observation that two people having an invented dialogue is an intrinsic label (watermark) is really important.

I've always used the caveat "Based On A True Story" in my storytelling work and feel especially good about that now.

Louise Penberthy

I'll never think of Mike Daisey's work the same way again. Even at the time, I wondered why he was railing against Apple and Foxconn, while he was wearing clothing, and sitting at a table, and lit by lights that were produced under conditions that were just as bad!

I also don't think that Daisey's misrepresenting his work reflects on or affects your work, Paul. They're different enough that I don't think it matters. In any case, do what you're passionate about. Let him stew in his own juices. Do what you know needs to be done.

About “It's Not in the PI.” I agree with Miryam, it wasn't a good show. I wouldn't say this to any other playwright but you, Paul, but I left at intermission. Not because the story didn't need to be told, but because I wasn't compelled by the telling. Some of the stories were interesting and heartfelt, and well told, but most of them weren't.

Theatre needs to tell the Truth. We need to tell the stories that need to be told, AND tell them well.

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