This year at TBA I had a little mini "Mike Daisey Festival". I saw Mike Daisey perform his 'MONOPOLY!' early on in the fest, then attended a companion workshop 'extemporaneous, autobiographical, monologue' and finally finished with 'If You See Something, Say Something' at the end of the festival..and I enjoyed every minute of it.
After seeing Monopoly!, I attended Daisey's workshop. It was a lot like watching the behind the scenes content on a DVD. Daisey opened window into his work, his process and the art form of monologue. One of the key points Daisey emphasized is "there are no messages in good extemporaneous monologue". This perhaps is the key to why Daisey's pieces work so well. Daisey deals with incendiary topics in his work, rather than rant and rave, beating the audience over the head with messages, he deals with core themes and trusts his audience enough to process that material and make their own conclusions.
In the workshop, Daisey also emphasized the importance of imperfection in art, a concept which spoke to me. "If you smooth away the edges you leave no point of entry to your work," Daisey remarked. "Hamlet is a truly fucked up play. If I submitted it to a MFA program without including who wrote it, they would smooth out the edges to make it 'better'…I mean why doesn't the ghost of Hamlet's father come back, we need to have him come back… and what about these fucking Pirates!" Daisey teaches weekend long workshops in New York and after getting a two and a half hour taste I'd say it's required education for anyone pursuing a career in monologue.
After the workshop I had the opportunity to see Daisey's newest piece. If You See Something, Say Something previewed at this years TBA festival prior to its run at The Public Theater in New York (Wednesday, October 15 – Sunday, November 30). If you See Something is a poignant and engaging musing about security, what makes us feel safe and how governments use fear as a leverage point. Like many of Daisey's monologues, this one weaves several stories together to form the whole including: Daisey's trip to Laos Alamos in New Mexico to see ground zero at the Trinity Site, the story of Sam Cohen and his involvement with both the Atomic and Neutron bombs, the complete history of Homeland Security and 9/11.
What struck me the most about If You See Something, Say Something was just how many levels that it played on. The audience roared with laughter as Daisey exploded with self effacing comedic moments including eating the worst hamburger in history and then barely uttered a breath as he talked about the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. True to form, Daisey doesn't beat his audience over the head with messages about how bad Homeland Security is or the insanity of the Patriot Act, instead he dissects the history of both and muses on the relationship we all have with it.
If You See Something, Say Something is an exceptional monologue and Mike Daisey has shown this week that he is one of the premiere monologists performing today. Daisey hinted that he may be back again in Portland in the near future and mentioned an off the record piece he's proposing for a future TBA, I can't wait.