Mike Daisey has managed to carve a living out of storytelling, which has become one of the predominant art forms of our time.
“I grew up in far northern Maine and did a lot of storytelling, something that happens in remote places that are desolate and poor,” he says. “I think it‚Äôs a confluence of several things; my family has a lot of storytellers in it and I‚Äôve always loved stories. It was sort of always in the cards.”
On Feb. 6, Daisey is making a solo appearance with a new monologue that he calls “American Utopias” for UCLA‚Äôs Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) at Royce Hall.
Perhaps his best-known story, told on the public radio program “This American Life,” concerned abusive working conditions at Apple‚Äôs factories in China. While presented as journalism, parts of the story were later revealed to be fabricated, and a second program took on the burden of correcting the first.
Subsequently, the story itself was reworked into a stage play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” made accessible on the Internet through an open license, that he revised, revamped and in which he acknowledged his factual inaccuracies. It‚Äôs since been performed by many people onstage across the world.
Daisey recently created a series called “All Stories are Fiction,” site-specific monologues “built for one performance only, that are unscripted and designed in the space they are in, to speak to the people who are there, and once they are gone, they are written on water. These days we record them, but the actual experience will never be performed in the same way again.”
You could say that the title of that series defines both Daisey‚Äôs process and his product. In a recent telephone interview he said, “It‚Äôs been an interesting journey of discovery. Those with puritan enough roots take issue with this, but the truth is obvious. All stories are fiction, the act of telling any story is the act of fictionalizing it. The act of storytelling inherently means that we choose what to include, what not to include, we excise details, we are our own editors and in the process we create the narrative that goes alongside it.”
At UCLA, we‚Äôll hear Daisey‚Äôs take on three “charged social environments,” as he calls them; he immersed himself for a week each in Disney World, Burning Man and Occupy Wall Street in New York‚Äôs Zuccotti Park.
“One person‚Äôs utopia is never another person‚Äôs, so this isn‚Äôt an attempt to find one perfect place but is trying to get at what community means to the people invested in it. When a vision is empowered by a large corporation we treat it one way, when it‚Äôs built by individual humans we treat it another way, and when it actually is in protest of how we run the world, we treat it a third way. It‚Äôs instructive to think about how we tolerate or don‚Äôt tolerate those sorts of changes.”
He continued, “We‚Äôre very individualistic so we like to believe each of us has our special dream, but the truth is we dream together. All through these environments are charged circumstances in which many people sharing similar dreams have come together to try to enact some of those dreams in the waking world.”
Daisey performs his one-man monologue “American Utopias” tonight only at UCLA‚Äôs Royce Hall. Visit www.cap.ucla.edu, call (310) 825-2101 or visit the Box Office at Royce. Student rush discounts are available an hour before show time with valid ID.
Santa Monica Playhouse is playing host to two Jamaican stage artists, each performing original one-person shows. You could call it storytelling, because it is, but these autobiographical works are scripted and performed as theatre, not as straight ahead monologues.
Debra Ehrhardt‚Äôs “Jamaica Farewell” chronicles the dramatic true story of her adventurous escape from revolution-torn Jamaica in the 1970s by transporting laundered drug money to America via the company of an unsuspecting government official, a man enamored of her.
After being staged in numerous venues worldwide, this theatre piece has lately generated Hollywood buzz. Watching an earlier performance at the Playhouse, actress/producer Rita Wilson optioned it and got director Joel Zwick (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) on board for a revised version that was presented at actor/director/producer Gary Marshall‚Äôs (“Happy Days,” “Pretty Woman”) Falcon Theatre in Burbank. Ehrhardt‚Äôs website says it‚Äôs currently being developed for film.
Ehrhardt‚Äôs a convincingly winning actress with a warm smile and a sweet accent. And although it is harrowing, the tale is simultaneously amusing and heartfelt. Spoiler alert: it has a happy ending!¬† “Jamaica Farewell” runs weekends only Feb. 8 through March 2. More info here: www.jamaicafarewelltheplay.com/
I have not yet seen “Doodu Boy,” and although it, too, is a memoir, it‚Äôs a very different kind of story containing adult themes, including sex addiction.
Stefhen F.D. Bryan grows up in a church commune in the ghetto of Kingston, Jamaica. His deeply religious mother loves him but frequently beats the sin out of him with a tamarind branch if she suspects any taint of the devil.
Later, as he moves in with his father in Yonkers, N.Y., he is cruelly rejected; and the revelation that he is a child of rape may help explain his harsh treatment. An atheist, he is then also rejected by his mother and leaves to teach English in Japan. He craves the sexual company of East Asian women, until he falls in love with just one, who will help get him through his unfinished family business in the U.S.
For tickets call (800) 838-3006. “Doodu Boy” is performed at Santa Monica Playhouse through Feb. 23, Sundays at 6 p.m. only.
Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She has also reviewed theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.