Actors Guild going ahead with controversial Steve Jobs play

Mike Daisey in a scene from the 2011 production "The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," at The Public Theater in New York. © AP Photo/The Public Theater photo by Stan Barouh.

Despite revelations that significant portions of Mike Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs were fabricated, Actors Guild of Lexington is going ahead with a production of the play, albeit in an altered form.

“We are very well aware of the controversy, obviously, and we are going to incorporate it head on into our production,” Actors Guild artistic director Eric Seale said Thursday afternoon.  “Since we have the right to adapt the script, we will make the necessary changes and provide new material that deals directly with the controversy.”

Eric Seale. © Herald-Leader photo by Angela Baldridge.

For the past two seasons, Actors Guild has delayed announcing the final production of its season so it can have an opportunity to choose plays that address current events and culture. March 13, the theater announced it would produce Daisey’s play that covers the biography of late Apple founder Steve Jobs and conditions in Chinese factories that Daisey had visited.

The Chinese factory portion of the show was presented on the public radio program This American Life in January in an episode called Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory. In the program, Daisey recounted experiences such as meeting underage workers and workers exposed to hazardous materials and situations in factories that manufacture products such as iPads and iPhones.

Last Friday, This American Life announced it was retracting that episode following revelations by the public radio program Marketplace that Daisey had fabricated a number of elements in the show that had been presented as fact. In last weekend’s This American Life episode, Retractionhost Ira Glass apologized for the story and shortcuts that were taken that he said allowed erroneous material to get on the air. He also interviewed Daisey, who conceded the piece was not entirely factual but stopped short of saying he lied.

In a statement posted on his blog, Daisey said, “There is nothing in this controversy that contests the facts in my work about the nature of Chinese manufacturing. Nothing. I think we all know if there was, Ira would have brought it up.”

Seale said that while the veracity of the piece has been challenged, he thinks the story of the Chinese factories and the story of Jobs, which was not part of the This American Life presentation, are important to tell. He said there is now also the story of the truth and what role it plays in theater. He did say he had considered cancelling the show, and he suspended ticket sales for it while he and others involved contemplated what to do.

“At the end of the day, is it a compelling piece of theater? That’s what I wanted to answer the most, because that’s what I am supposed to do, that’s what I’m supposed to be putting on,” said Seale, who has also conferred with theaters in Minneapolis and Lafayette, La., that had planned productions of the show.

The play is a monologue, which Seale will perform under the direction of Lexington Children’s Theatre director Larry Snipes, May 10-20 at Actors Guild’s South Elkhorn Theatre.

Seale said that in the production, it will be clear to audiences what portions of the show have been challenged or proven false.

With the controversy, Seale said The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs may be an even more compelling piece of theater now.

“This story is still going on,” Seale said. “Who knows what may come out between now and the time the show goes up, and even while its going.”

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