Monday, February 06, 2012

A feature ran Friday in the Guardian (and was then in the weekend Observer) about me, my work, and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Here's the article, and then this morning the article was summarized in a weekend news roundup at Silicon Republic. This is from the Guardian piece:

The Agony and the Ecstasy was devised after exhaustive research involving talking to allegedly exploited and abused workers in China, for almost 18 months.

I feel like this is getting perilously close to being misunderstood, with the meaning depending on that lonely comma, so I want to be clear—the research in China for the monologue was in May and June of 2010, and the eighteen months referenced in the Guardian piece is regarding the time spent performing the piece around the world. I create extemporaneously, so those eighteen months were creative—the piece was refined, honed, edited, shaped, and reshaped over those hundreds of performances, but the research in China was not a year and a half.

Daisey played to small but appreciative crowds across the US, winning critical praise but stirring little trouble, not even with the target of his ire: Apple itself.

I understand what the Guardian reporter is trying to do rhetorically, as the story I have been telling has definitely broken through to the mainstream in the last month, but this description makes it sound as though previously we were doing club dates in obscure locations, like the Beatles playing in Hamburg.

Over the last year, Agony/Ecstasy has played sold-out runs at the Sydney Opera House, the Public Theater in the fall (where another run is happening now), and many more. It was seen by over 70,000 audience members over the last year, and the theaters average a respectable 500-600 seat size, with some, like the Byham Theatre in Pittsburgh, weighing in at 1,300 seats and selling out. If you followed American theater over the last year, you heard about the show.

I think this goes back to the idea about whether a piece of theater can affect change—does the fact that theater is not a mass medium, in the traditional sense of having the potential to reach millions instantly, invalidate it as an effective form of effective speech? 70,000 is a mid-size town—does that work even matter if it doesn't reach millions?

It is interesting that we always think about this in live performance—many books have print runs well below 70,000, and books can often rot on the shelf unread. But there is no feeling in our culture that books, as a form, can't change hearts and minds, that they have the potential to change the world in a fundamental way.

The truth is that those who come to that room, who enter into the compact of the theater, have an opportunity to have a real exchange on a level our other mediums do not allow. I believe the theater allows us to touch individual hearts and minds more deeply than any other form, because the artist is intimately involved in that exchange—I am present at every telling of this story, and I have spoken with audience members after performances night after night, hearing their stories and speaking with them. Prominent movers and shakers in activism, arts, and technology have seen the show, from Michael Moore to Walt Mossberg to Steve Wozniak.

If this show hadn't existed in the form that it did, I never would have been able to keep this story humming month after month, for almost two years. I wouldn't have had the time to reach out to all the media that I did, and agitate journalists to start following the story.

If this show didn't exist, we wouldn't be having this conversation now.