Mark Daisey Questions American Life

March 11, 2013 | by michael m. clements | Pursuits

Mike Daisey tackles subjects from Disney to Occupy Wall Street in his newest monologue.
Mike Daisey tackles subjects from Disney to Occupy Wall Street in his newest monologue.

Monologist, author, and solo performer Mike Daisey incited controversy after taking a bite out of Apple mania in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Daisey’s revised run of the contested performance at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company saw a special appearance in August 2012 from Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, who participated in a post-performance discussion. This March, Daisey returns to the theater with American Utopias—a romp through Disney World, drug-fueled excesses at Burning Man, and our nation’s Masonic underpinnings.

Are there parallels between your most notable monologue, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and American Utopias?
MIKE DAISEY: Aside from the fact that they are both stories about things I’m obsessed with [and that] matter to us in our time, I think they’re quite different. Agony identified a secret social ill that we all knew about but had a lot invested in ignoring [working conditions at Apple assembly plants in China]. American Utopias is a celebration of what community really means, a look at the messy nature of modern tribalism, and a vision of what our dreams mean to us.

How does Disney get wrapped up in all of this?
MD: Because if we’re talking about American visions of utopia, Disney’s dreamscape looms incredibly large in our shared consciousness. If you want to reckon with what dreaming means, and the commodification of dreams in our age, you have to talk about Disney. [Think of] animatronic presidents, absurd utopian plans to build a city of the future, and much more…. It’s a very rich vein of material.

Why do large corporations have recurring roles in your storytelling?
MD: Corporations are clearly the dominant social structure of our age: They are utterly amoral and have no feelings whatsoever—making them the most inhuman social structures ever imagined—yet we’ve given them immense power and now even recognize them fully as people. In an age like ours, what’s actually remarkable is how little we speak about the gods we’ve built.

Sounds like your work will push buttons again. Do you consider yourself an activist?
MD: I consider myself a monologist, a storyteller, and a working artist, though I don’t shirk away from the titles others choose to give me. Certainly all great art should entertain and provoke by turns, and I believe we all should be activists—the root of activist is “act,” after all.

American Utopias runs from March 25 to April 21 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, 202-393-3939

PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF URSA WAZ

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