Mike Daisey

The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

November 5 - 22
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Meet David!

After a Hollywood career that included roles in Splash, Turner & Hooch, Total Recall, and Spring Break, David Knell took his acting career north to Oregon. Now, Cardinal audiences have the opportunity to see him onstage in Mike Daisey’s razor sharp black comedy The Agony & the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Hi. I’m Rachel Glago, the new Marketing Coordinator here at Cardinal. Over coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I had the pleasure of chatting with David about Bloomington, the thrill of doing this particular one-man show, the controversy around Daisey’s work, and all things Apple.

Rachel: So, I hear you’re an Apple fan?

David: Yeah, I am! I actually saw the Steve Jobs film yesterday. It was amazing – so well done! It’s based on the Steve Jobs’ book, which I’m now reading. I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in that whole “Jobsian” culture. And while our story is partially the timeline of Apple, it’s also a story of our history with technology. Mike Daisey, the writer, talks about the history of Apple, his own history with technology, and the trip he took to China to interview people that work in the Apple factories. It’s sometimes challenging, because I know stuff – being the Apple nerd that I am – where I think, “That’s not really accurate.” So I’ll challenge the script, because Mike tells it in a way that’s sort of hyperbolic, and I kind of want it to be accurate. But as we go through it and explore it, we’ve gotten back to the original version, even though it’s sometimes over-the-top. Because really – it’s just better story telling!

Rachel: One of the biggest issues for Ira Glass on This American Life was the accuracy, right? So, what is your take on the whole controversy?

David: There are two versions of this show. Version 1.0 is pretty much the one that appeared on This American Life, where Mike Daisey is outside the factories and interviewing workers. In retrospect, when Ira Glass and others took Mike’s story apart and had people check the facts, they challenged Mike on what he says he personally saw or heard. Mike copped to the fact that he didn’t actually meet certain people there and that the guy who lost the use of his hand didn’t actually work for the iPad plant, so he kind of conglomerated people together to tell his story. The problem that Ira Glass had, I think, is that his ego was hurt, because they said they had vetted it and they did a really bad job of doing so before they aired the show. You know, there are rules in journalism that don’t apply to theatre and storytelling.

Rachel: I’ve always found that interesting. Mike Daisey writes monologues, he’s writing a story…

David: Exactly. He’s painting a picture, but some of that got challenged in Ira Glass’ piece. When we started working on the play, we read the first version and then we took a look at the second version, which is the “cleaned up” 2.0 version.

Rachel: And Cardinal is not doing version 2.0 anymore, right?

David: Actually, we changed our minds as we re-read the first one. The second one doesn’t have the specifics. For example, in Version 2.0, Mike talks to a girl who works on the iPhone line, but he doesn’t ask for her age. So, he doesn’t make the comment that she is a 12-year-old working in the factory. He replaces it with another story that is verifiable, but that isn’t his story. It was something that he read somewhere, but it is certifiably true. As we compared the two, we noticed that the first one is really making his larger point better. Really, it’s an experiment. We want to see if there is a way we can do it without undercutting our storytelling. Do we do the one that is verifiable or the one that we think is more powerful and let you make your own decisions afterwards? That’s kind of what we are leaning towards – the making your own decisions about the story.

Rachel: What’s your take on it?

David: I think that we are making the better choice because when we went back to what Mike Daisey’s original intent was and Ira Glass’ original thoughts on the play where he says, “I saw a piece of theatre a couple of weeks ago and it just blew me away. We all know that all our stuff is made in factories in China; we know that the conditions probably aren’t great, but I’ve never heard anybody communicate it to us in a way that makes us really feel it. And Mike Daisey successfully did it.” That’s what inspired him to put it on the show. Mike Daisey had said early on that his intention with this piece was to make you feel something about it. I think he does it very well with that first piece.

Rachel: So, whether it is factual or not, you’re going to feel something.

David. You will, you definitely will, because it’s storytelling and storytelling is by its nature manipulative. That’s part of the challenge for Ira Glass – he felt he had been manipulated into feeling stuff about this, but that’s the nature of storytelling. I heard a great thing about this two years ago. It’s a theory of storytelling called Dramatica. The idea is that stories are the model of how the human mind goes about solving problems. The reasons stories work the way they do and are constructed the way they are is because they are wired the same way our brains are. That’s how we experience a story. So, a good story will have in it all of the logical and emotional arguments to make a play. The emotional argument is the journey. Here, you’re getting the story of Apple that Mike Daisey is describing while also getting a personal story about him going to China and the stuff that he felt while he was there. More importantly, he gets you inside his head and inside his heart, feeling the story with him. As Randy and I were looking at this and going through it, we decided that this first version is the purest presentation of that idea. He is going to take you on his journey. And that’s my job, to make sure that we aren’t just telling the story, but also getting you to join me in the emotion of it. That’s the challenge and the fun part.

Rachel: So how did you stumble across the fact that we were doing this play in Bloomington?

David: My wonderful wife found it for me. She saw it listed and she submitted my work. Cardinal was looking for somebody that had a passion for Apple and I’ve worked for Apple twice – the only non-acting jobs I’ve ever had! I even had Apple stock when I worked at the Apple Store back in 2006. At one point I owned about 35 shares! Before doing my audition tape I had gone upstairs to change into something nicer to wear and I looked at my shirt and noticed it was an Apple shirt. So I decided to just do the audition in that. I also had my Woz phone. When I worked at the Apple Store and the first iPhone came out, we all got an email from Steve Jobs saying, “Congratulations for getting us through all this and you’re all getting one!” Woz actually signed it a few years later. I put a clear shield over it and at one point the shield started fraying, so I went to replace it and the signature peeled off like silly putty! My wife wrote to Woz and asked if he would sign it again, and he did!

Rachel: What are your first impressions of Bloomington?

David: It’s great! My dad had been doing regional theatre for the last 30-somethng years and he kept telling me to get into it. I think Bloomington is awesome; it’s just such a vibrant city and there is way too much good food!

Rachel: And you met Remy (the star of Buyer & Cellar) when you arrived in Bloomington, right?

David: He’s great. We are both doing really well.

Rachel: Both running lines …

David: Yup. He is younger and able to learn his lines astonishingly fast. I’ve been working at it for two months already!

Rachel: Well, it is a 70-page monologue.

David: Seriously! A 70-page monologue!

Rachel: Is this your first time tackling a monologue that long?

David: Yes, it is. It’s my first one-actor show. This summer I did something that had been the most challenging until now. It was a show in Portland where there were no rehearsals, well a few rehearsals with just the director, but not the cast. On the night of the show, you arrive with the rest of the audience, the lights come up, and whoever has the first line stands up in the audience, says the first line, goes up on stage and proceeds with the show. Whoever has the second line, gets up, says the second line, goes on stage, and so on. You do it never having worked with anybody else. I had to memorize the entire play because I had to not only memorize my cues, but also needed to know what was going on. I pretty much learned the entire show. It’s about being really present – which is the best thing in acting anyway. That was fun. And now I’m doing this.

Rachel: Would you say that was your most challenging role?

David: That was up until now. I haven’t done this in front of an audience yet, so it seems like it’s probably similar to doing stand-up, which I’ve also never done. But it’s happening! It’s really a dialogue between you and the audience.

Rachel: Why should people come see this production?

David: I think what the show is really good at doing is it opens up a dialogue – in your head if nothing else. You know, we are all enjoying the gifts we have in society now, all the technology we get to buy and have for a really good price, and at the same time, we build a wall of comfortability around ourselves. You come up with your own barometer of what you are willing to be aware of. I think that so many of us think that there is nothing we can really do about the things that are wrong. But there are a lot of ways that each of us can help to make things better. The point that we’re making in this production here is that the stuff that we have, our technology that we either really love or have been talked into really loving, has some cost to it, but it’s not all inevitable. It doesn’t have to be in bad working conditions; it could be made better. A lot of the stuff that is being done is because so many people want to buy these devices on the opening day. In order to do that they have quotas that have to be met and people at the factories have to make them really quick. Instead of a 10-hour shift, people are working 40-hour shifts because that’s what the client wants – because the customer wants it. Well, maybe if we all slowed down a little bit and didn’t have to replace our phones every 6-months, it would be better. Anyways, I don’t think we should be afraid to look at this show, because it might inspire you to do something. If you’re not, you can still build up your wall of comfortability, but if someone comes to see this and is inspired to do something with the knowledge, then great. Then we have kind of done our part here.

Rachel: We kind of owe it to ourselves…

David: To at least look at it. At least look at it and see if you are inspired to be an activist and get stuff done. If one of those people comes and sees the show, then things can change. And things are changing. They have already changed because of Mike’s show.