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Performer backs off factory claims
Question of the Day
NEW YORK — Mike Daisey, the off-Broadway performer who admitted he made up parts of his one-man show about Apple products being made in Chinese sweatshops, has cut questionable sections from the monologue and added a prologue explaining the controversy.
Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater, where the monologue is being performed, said Saturday that Mr. Daisey has “eliminated anything he doesn’t feel he can stand behind” from the show and added a section at the beginning in which he addresses the questions over how he has been portraying the work to the media.
“Mike is a great storyteller, not a journalist. I wish he had been clearer about that distinction in the making of this piece,” Mr. Eustis said. “If we had understood the rules Mike was using to make the show, we would have framed it differently from the outset.”
Mr. Daisey portrayed his work as fact during a media blitz to promote his critically acclaimed show, and he misled dozens of news and entertainment outlets, including the popular public radio show “This American Life,” the Associated Press, The New York Times, MSNBC and HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”
But in an interview with “This American Life” host Ira Glass broadcast Friday, Mr. Daisey acknowledged that some of the claims in his show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” weren’t true. The show retracted its Jan. 6 episode because Mr. Glass said he couldn’t vouch for the truth of its claims.
Mr. Daisey, who admitted Friday on his website that the work is a mix of fact and fiction, did not respond to questions sent to his personal email account, and his publicist did not respond to a request for comment Saturday.
The controversy is unlikely to lessen the media scrutiny of the Chinese factories that make Apple products, since news outlets including the Times have reported about the dangerous working conditions in them, including explosions inside iPad plants where four people were killed and 77 were injured.
But some of Mr. Daisey’s older monologues might get a second look.
“If he had only chosen to actually utilize what theater allows you to do — which is to transform fact into something that retains an emotional truth,” said Howard Sherman, a former executive director of the American Theatre Wing and an arts administrator and producer. He didn’t see Mr. Daisey’s show but said he thought it might “call into question people who do this in the future.”
Mr. Daisey is just the latest artist to apparently get tripped up by the truth — joining a list that includes James Frey, who admitted that he lied in his memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” and Greg Mortenson, who is accused of fabricating key parts of his best-selling book “Three Cups of Tea.”
The controversy raised once again the question of the artist’s role in society and what his or her responsibility is to the truth. And has Mr. Daisey ultimately harmed the very people he was trying to help?
Terry Teachout, chief theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, called Mr. Daisy a talented artist but said the episode was “unforgivable,” and Peter Marks, the critic for The Washington Post, tweeted that Mr. Daisey’s “zeal seems to have gotten the better of his judgment.” Chris Jones at the Chicago Tribune suspected Mr. Daisey “was seduced by the glare of attention.”
The controversy put the Public Theater in a difficult spot, protective of artists, but also sensitive to audience concerns.
“We do not and cannot fact-check our artists; we’re a theater, not a news organization. The vast majority of what occurs on our stages is fiction. If we didn’t believe fiction could reveal truth, we would have to give up our profession. With that said, it obviously matters a great deal to me that our audience understands what they are seeing,” Mr. Eustis said.
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