Mike Daisey is a monologist with a bigger than life stage presence. You have seen him many times at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company with such solo masterpieces as How Theater Failed America, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, The Last Cargo Cult and If You See Something Say Something. Other works include Monopoly, Great Men of Genius, Invincible Summer, and Tongues Will Wag. He recently workshopped The Orient Express at Woolly Mammoth and The Spoleto Festival, and this Sunday evening will premiere his latest monologue called American Utopias at Woolly Mammoth. The proceeds will go to benefit their intern program. The full production of the show can be seen at Woolly Mammoth beginning March 19th.
I have to say Mike Daisey’s job is not an easy one. You try going out onstage with nothing but a table, a glass of water and your notes, and try talking to your audience for two hours. Mike Daisey creates wonderful characters and always picks interesting topics. Weather it’s Steve Jobs or homeland security, his work is always well performed and always leaves you thinking. That is the sign of a good writer. Mike Daisey, a master monologist and a very gracious guy.
Where do you get the ideas for your monologues?
I pursue my obsessions, the things I find myself thinking about constantly, and look for ones that are in collision with forces in our society. I’m especially interested in ones that crack open the dominant paradigm—when it opens a door that way, it has the potential to actually provide a transformative moment, which is the kind of catharsis I’m interested in within the the theater.
How did you go from being an actor doing regular plays to becoming a monologist?
I trained in the traditional theater, and moved from northern Maine out to Seattle after college, where I did strange plays in small garage theaters. It was a great place to find yourself as a young artist—lots of fascinating theater happening, and an opportunity to be in the thick of it all. Over time I wanted to find a new form—a form that could live in the air as it was performed, that had no script but had finesse and structure, that was unique every time it was happening with the people in the room. I performed the first monologue fifteen years ago, and from the very first night it was clear to me I had found something that called to me.
Are there any topics that you feel are taboo when creating a monologue?
No. We’re all human—I know that better than some—and so you can often feel there are things that can’t possibly be spoken of. It’s important to probe those forbidden places to determine why something is off the table, as often it’s precisely what you need to say.
Can you please tell us a little bit about your latest piece, American Utopias?
It’s a monologue about how we come together to create civic spaces in which we dream—and it talks about that utopian impulse by examining the nostalgic theme parks of Disney World, the anarchic festival of Burning Man, and the birth of the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park. It looks at these with an anthopological lens, and most importantly I hope it will be deeply, sincerely hilarious.
What do you like the most about workshopping and performing your monologues at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company?
The room is fantastic for the monologues, and Woolly has done a great job giving audience members looking for cutting-edge, living work that speaks to our times. We always get great audiences unafraid to think and to feel in the room, and that’s an incredible blessing in the theater.