The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
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.”
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, Retraction, host 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.”
Like many Herald-Leader readers, I have read my fellow Life + Faith columnist Paul Prather’s recent columns about the movie Fireproof with great interest, but probably from a different perspective.
As an arts and entertainment journalist and critic who covers faith-based pop culture, I know that criticizing art made in the name of Christianity or other faiths can be quite a minefield. If you say something negative, no matter how constructively, some people invariably take it as an insult not only to their taste but to their faith.
That can make it a little bit hard to do what Paul was doing, essentially writing an aspirational column asking: Shouldn’t we as people of faith strive to create art that doesn’t just advocate our point of view but stands on its own as great art?
Many, many times, Christianity and great art have come together. Just think of the music of J.S. Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and other composers who wrote religious works, or some of the great visual art in works by Michelangelo that represent biblical images. That has not stopped happening.
In modern music, artists including Phil Keaggy and Switchfoot make faith-based rock ’n’ roll that can stand with anything on the mainstream charts. Whitney Houston’s death has reminded us of the great influence that gospel music holds in numerous forms of modern music.
Christian pop is a genre that has long labored under the criticism that it is not as good as mainstream music. I know that has made some people angry and resentful — and it hasn’t always been the most constructive or best-informed criticism — but I think it has helped to strengthen a genre that wanted to prove not only that Christians can make modern music about faith but that they can do it really well.
With one-third of the world’s population identifying as Christians, it stands to reason that there will be great artists among them.
But the fast lane to mediocrity is when we assume that good intentions automatically equal good results.
Controversial album covers typically are not the province of classical music.
The last time I can remember a classical artist raising hackles with a choice of album art was Lara St. John’s 1996 album Bach: Works for Violin Solo, which featured the fetching musician apparently topless, holding her violin over her breasts. By the standards of Britney Spears and Katy Perry, the image was modest. But in the classical genre, St. John’s photo was seen as tantamount to porn.
When we talked to St. John a few years ago before a Norton Center for the Arts concert, she acknowledged the album cover had remained an issue well past its release date.
And no doubt, controversy over the cover art for the forthcoming recording of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 by Kronos Quartet on Nonesuch Records will stay with that work for years.
The cover is based on Masatomo Kuriya’s iconic photo of the second plane approaching the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, as smoke billows from the crash of the first plane. In Barbara de Wilde’s design, the beautiful blue sky of that day is replaced by a sepia-toned brown haze.
The music itself, which has been presented at Carnegie Hall in New York and at Duke University in Durham, N.C., incorporates 9/11 radio communications from air traffic controllers, New York firefighters and recollections by friends of Reich, who lives four blocks from Ground Zero.
The announcement of the album cover at Nonesuch’s Web site drew a distinctly negative response.
“Your art direction is vile,” the first commenter wrote. “On one level it’s pitifully ham-fisted, on another despicably exploitive. I put this on the same plane with the ghouls near the WTC site who sell photo albums of the burning towers.”
Away from the label’s home, on sites like NPR Music, response is more mixed: “It certainly isn’t showing anything more than we’ve been able to view for years, with just two or three clicks on Google,” wrote a commenter on the contemporary classical music blog Sequenza 21. “That the cover is so dark when it all occurred on such a sunny perfect day, I think highlights the visceral, almost apocalyptic emotion so many had and hold to this day.”
The freshness of those emotions undoubtedly fuels the vitriol in response to the album art announcement.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich