‘Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ comes to Breckenridge
Ryan Summerlin April 5, 2012
Despite this theatrical reading’s cancellation from “This American Life” due to fact checking not meeting the show’s journalistic standards, the monologue “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” remains an important commentary on humanitarian violations by Apple computers, and a fascinating insight into one of the greatest minds and personalities of our lifetime.
Breckenridge’s Backstage Theatre was the only regional theater in Colorado to secure the rights to this controversial one-man show before it was essentially shut down. The theater will present four readings of a shortened version of the piece, as well as a discussion of the nature of theater-versus-truth, activist art and other issues raised by the monologue. Performances will take place tonight, Saturday and April 13-14 at 7:30 p.m., at the Backstage.
The reading will be performed and hosted by Backstage Theatre artistic director Christopher Willard, who has been with the company for seven years. Previously, Willard worked with the Arvada Center, Town Hall Arts Center, and Theatre on Broadway, as well as other Denver metro area theaters. Backstage Theatre produces eight main-stage shows per year.
“Agony and Ecstasy” was written by off-Broadway actor Mike Daisey, who was forced further than usual into the spotlight recently when the script came under fire for not holding up to rigorous fact checking regarding statements about working conditions at Foxconn, the primary facility in China responsible for manufacturing Apple iPhones and iPads. Human rights violations, unsafe working conditions, long work hours and employee suicides have been widely reported by other media sources. Daisey has since removed approximately six minutes of the script to adjust for the supposed inaccuracies, leaving the reading at just under two hours, according to Willard.
The story is based around Daisey himself, who allegedly acquires a new iPhone and finds on it pictures of workers at the Chinese factory where the device was made. He then travels to China to visit the factory and
discovers the working conditions, history of suicides, explosions and chemical poisonings, prompting him to write the stage monologue which was performed and picked up by several television and radio broadcasts. Not surprisingly, the story, which was presented as fact, was investigated; and at that point some inaccuracies were discovered and Daisey admitted to fabricating some of the details.
In this way it became a story about the blurring of theater and reality and the impact of performance art on society, according to Willard. “He blurred his theatrical sensibilities with journalism and made some questionable claims of his own experience in the piece that he is now having to deal with in a very public trial by fire,” Willard said in a recent interview with Westword magazine. “In a lot of ways, he’s like Steve Jobs in that he created something marvelous in a less-than-transparent method and environment. Daisey must now come to terms with what he has done and to make amends to the public, and himself.”
According to the Chicago Tribune, a live broadcast set to take place tonight from The Chicago Theatre has been cancelled due to, “the revelation of numerous fabrications in Daisey’s story.” Daisey has been widely lambasted by the media. And while he has issued several apologies, he stands by his words.
“Given the tenor of the condemnation, you would think I had concocted an elaborate, fanciful universe filled with furnaces in which babies are burned to make iPhone components, or that I never went to China, never stood outside the gates of Foxconn, never pretended to be a businessman to get inside of factories, never spoke to any workers,” Daisey said recently on his personal blog. “Especially galling is how many are gleefully eager to dance on my grave expressly so they can return to ignoring everything about the circumstances under which their devices are made. Given the tone, you would think I had fabulated [stet] an elaborate hoax, filled with astonishing horrors that no one had ever seen before.”
Willard’s goal is to encourage discussion about the larger issue about how we as a society receive information, and, according to Willard, “The larger issues raised by this piece still lift above the fray.” Daisey’s blog also claimed that the transcript was made free for public use and was downloaded 27,000 times in one day. Since then, the script has been downloaded more than 60,000 times, according to Willard, demonstrating the enormous interest and impact of the monologue.
The reading and discussion is being offered as a fundraiser for the Backstage at $10 per ticket, which can be purchased in advance or at the door.