Mike Daisey’s fabrications in his hit play, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” Several weeks ago, Public Radio International’s “This American Life” covered Daisey’s play, which investigated labor conditions in Apple’s manufacturing facilities in China. They followed that episode with a lengthy show retracting Daisey’s claim that his play was non-fiction. The monologist revealed several aspects of his show were fictionalized, throwing into question its entire premise.
The irony is the New York Times and other media outlets have documented questionable labor practices at Foxconn, the manufacturing plant in question. Daisey alleges that his show put pressure on media outlets to look further into Foxconn’s labor practices. Other journalists, however, dispute that claim.
Going forward, one of the biggest challenges theater artists face is around credibility. The Daisey debacle was a national story that captivated the country for several days. Critics and commentators in the tech, media and art worlds tried to understand the relationship between reality and theater. Artists who venture into journalistic theater will likely face questions about sources. Theaters may begin to fact-check scripts, or steer clear of the genre altogether.
As well, this incident will undoubtedly have an effect on audiences. Rather than being engrossed in a play, they may wonder how much of the story is fictionalized. If a monologist or playwright says a work is non-fiction or a memoir, will they remain skeptical? Will they abandon the genre?
No one wants to see a theater artist get taken down by the media. Daisey’s work brought positive attention to theater. Many experts believed that nonfiction theater was the wave of the future. Some people even thought that the form could replace newspapers and corporate media. It is difficult to know the long-term effects of the Daisey debacle. But it has likely made a theater’s job a whole lot harder.