I finally got over to The Public Theater and caught Mike Daisey’s new monologue, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The monologue alternates between the life of Steve Jobs and Mike’s own experience visiting the Foxconn factories in Shenzhen, China. He reveals how he pretended to be an American businessman to gain access and observe the atrocities, including child labor, 12-15 hour work days, and nets surrounding the buildings to catch workers attempting suicide. It’s a harrowing tale, and you should check it out before it closes on December 4th. If you’re a user of technology, it will change the way you think about, well…almost everything.
A few days after I saw Mike’s show, I discovered Brad Pitt making this statement about the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“If we were inventing the automobile today, would we invent it on a system that relies on a finite fuel source that pollutes the environment and we have to fight wars for to protect…? It makes no sense for us today. We would develop it like our laptops and our iPads. So, to start questioning…and I think what you’re seeing in America is questioning a system that has not served us very well…” – Brad Pitt
Clearly, Mr. Pitt does not know how companies make our laptops and iPads. Nor do the majority of Americans. As a country, we take and take, but we rarely ask “where is this coming from?” Mike’s monologue not only challenges us to ask this important question, but it further implores us to examine this meme he’s placed in our minds and do something about it.
As part of Mike’s show, I received a sheet of paper suggesting ways I can make a difference. I’ve done these. I’ve written Apple CEO Tim Cook and asked him to consider shifting how Apple creates its products. I’m waiting until my current mobile device is literally on the precipice of death and my contract with my wireless phone company lapses before buying a new device. This way, I pay as little to these corporations as possible and I minimize the hype surrounding the devices. I’ve educated myself, and I’m telling you. Look beyond the face of your mobile device or computer and try to see the thousands of faces of abused humans who created them.
Mr. Pitt is right about one thing. The Occupy Movement that started down at Occupy Wall Street questions and confronts injustices and imbalances in our system. In light of yesterday’s eviction from Zuccatti Park, I’d like to propose a new place to occupy:
Tim Cook’s email box.
This technology is here to stay, but the horrors of Foxconn and other technology producing companies don’t have to. I implore you to look at what Mike shared with me below and find out for yourself.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
That lies in your hands. If you choose not to ignore what you’ve learned tonight, here are some concrete steps you can take.
You Can Speak To Apple
Apple’s new CEO is Tim Cook, and his email address is email@example.com. He receives email sent here, and he and others at Apple sometimes respond. Don’t abuse this email address. Please be firm, polite, resolute, and clearheaded. Cook made his name at Apple by establishing Apple’s supply chain in Southern China as it exists today – everything you’ve heard about tonight springs from initiatives he spearheaded in his years as Apple’s COO. You can expect him to tell you about Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Report, a document written without any independent verification or oversight whose accuracy has been contested by a number of human rights organizations. Ask Cook to take the lead – Apple could be the first electronics manufacturer to allow independent, outside verification of working conditions in factories. They could reform, and in doing so begin a revolution in working conditions for millions of people.
You Can Think Different About Upgrading
When Apple releases their next amazing device, you can ask yourself if you really need to upgrade immediately. Instead of pumping money and support into the electronics industries, you can step back and try to only upgrade when it is truly needed, and drain some of the mania out of our endless upgrade cycle. Choosing not to participate is not only ethically defensible, but economically sensible—we pay huge premiums to buy brand-new technology at the moment it is released, and for many users it would save money if they weighed the human cost of each piece of technology, and became more stringent in their purchasing. You can push back.
You Can Connect and Educate Yourself
Like the beginnings of many movements, awareness counts. Making people aware of labor conditions in China, and the systems we’ve created to feed it, is an ongoing process. Organizations like China Labor Watch (chinalaborwatch.org) and SACOM (sacom.hk) work to track and hold accountable our largest corporations which routinely abuse, poison, and exploit China’s people to make electronics. Apple is hardly alone—every major electronics manufacturer uses the same inhumane labor practices in the creation of their products. We are advocating for pressuring Apple specifically because they are industry leaders, but some may wish to call Nokia, Dell, Samsung, LG, Motorola and others.
You Can Tell Others
This is a monologue—a single voice telling a story of a single experience. But if I have opened a door for you, consider opening a door for others. We do not like to think about our relationship with China and the true cost of our labor, but that silence can only exist if we are complicit with it. Talking about it, thinking about it when making purchasing decisions, and understanding it is not just symbolic. In world of silence, speaking itself is action. It can be the first seeds of actual change. Do not be afraid to plant them.
Spread the virus,
This morning, I woke up confused. And a little disappointed. It’s because of this.
I’m confused because it doesn’t seem Diane Snyder saw the same play I saw. Or, perhaps she was reviewing a play she wished she was seeing. Whatever the case, I’m troubled because I generally praise Time Out New York for reviewing a play for what it is, rather than what they wish it might be.
Specifically, Ms. Snyder wrote:
“This wickedly twisted premise unfortunately strays far from the path of logic, putting shock ahead of sense.”
So many great plays have done this. Absurdist gems like Rhinoceros, Pterodactyls, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, and The House of Blue Leaves paved the way for the smart hilarity that is Hand to God.
But maybe, Ms. Snyder thought she was seeing a play by Greenberg or Simon.
I don’t know.
The problem is: no one reading the review in Time Out New York will know how sorely the review misrepresents Hand to God. Readers will think it is a traditional comedy about a teenage boy trying to get over his father’s death. Sure, this is the plot, but more importantly, it’s a brilliant, absurdist morality play revealing how people manifest mythology, like the devil and sin. Any time puppets appear on stage they are a metaphor for something larger. If Ms. Snyder focused on the play’s raucous metaphors rather than its literal storytelling, perhaps she would have seen what I saw.
Here’s my perspective:
Steven Boyer knocks it out of the park with a career making performance. His nuanced performances as both Jason, the teenage boy who recently lost his father, and Tyrone, a possibly devil-possessed puppet, should win awards and earn him work. It’s a tour de force in the truest sense of the phrase. Through him, the funniest fight with one’s own hand since Evil Dead and the hottest puppet sex since Avenue Q currently grace The Ensemble Studio Theatre‘s main stage. The best thing Ms. Snyder wrote was that his performance is “a big hallelujah.” Amen, to that.
Geneva Carr is magnificent and slightly frightening as Jason’s tortured, widowed mother, knowing she doesn’t need the consoling, security of a man her own age. She wants the release of a teenage boy’s cock. She wants to feel the pain. If ever someone literally took the advice of Peaches, it is this woman.
Pastor Greg, earnestly played by Scott Sowers, grounds the play. He is that audience member asking “WTF?!” We accept everything onstage because this guy doesn’t get it either. In the end, it’s his blind faith and moralizing that is the butt of the play’s joke.
Bobby Moreno was born to play the part of Timothy. He has one objective: to get laid. Sometimes, characters only exist to make us laugh, push the story forward and offer some of the best physical comedy you can find in the theatre. This is Timothy’s role, but Bobby brings pathos to this single minded boy. And he’s funny as hell.
Megan Hill embodies Hand to God‘s ingénue, Jessica, with awkwardness, sweetness and a simmering sexuality. She’s the smartest of the bunch and the voice of reason. She makes us understand love, connection and sincerity and isn’t found in a book or set of rules, dead fathers or socks shoved onto one’s hand. These joys are discovered in other living human beings willing to turn the rock over and see a beauty no one else understands.
Then, there’s Tyrone. Oh, Tyrone. Like so many ids who’ve come before him, Tyrone is the embodiment of young Jason’s desires. He’s everything Jason wishes he could be. Jason doesn’t want to admit it, and he doesn’t like it. But the venomous words Tyrone spits at other characters and the audience are deep truths. And, as we all know, the devil speaks the cold, hard truth. He has since the beginning. And he does again here in the form of the potty-mouthed Tyrone.
Orchestrated with deft precision by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the hilarity of his mad-capped crew rarely lets up, but when it does, the simple offerings of human connection are never overly sentimentalized. Some of the best physical comedy this season is in this production, and Moritz deserves credit for bringing this brilliant play to life.
Like his predecessors before, Robert Askins’ wrote a new absurdist gem in Hand to God. He joins a young crop of smart and bizarre playwrights, like Leah Nanako Winkler and Josh Conkel, who create uniquely theatrical experiences bent on forcing us to examine our humanity and the silliness of it all. These voices must be encouraged and appraised for what they are, not what reviewers wish they were. They create outlandish scenarios that serve as metaphors for the overly sentimental, stuffed-up, class-driven realism passing for plays these days.
It isn’t experimental theatre. It isn’t kitchen sink. It is absurdity its best, and it’s a departure for The Ensemble Theatre. Artistic director William Carden should be praised for having the guts to produce it.
Okay. I’m done.
Please, don’t consider this a review. An open letter to Diane Snyder of Time Out New York? Maybe. An endorsement? Definitely.
In the end, I’m just a playwright, hoping to help another schmoe who’s in the same boat. Rob’s a brother in theatre, and he deserves for people to see his work for what it is.
Go see Hand to God before it closes on November 20th. It’s wicked good.
This week, I depart from the position of Associate Artistic Director of terraNOVA Collective. My decision comes after several months of weighing my career goals. At the forefront of these aspirations are my playwriting and pursuit of transmedia storytelling.
Eight years ago, I wrote a play called Baby Steps. I created it for Jennifer Conley Darling, and like so many other artists before us, we chose to self-produce. Little did we know it would lead to something much bigger than the production we mounted at The Lion in Theatre Row in the fall of 2003.
terraNOVA Collective grew into something fresh and stimulating. It is a vibrant not-for-profit theatre company in the heart of New York City developing playwrights and championing solo performers. No other company in the city provides this unique mission the way terraNOVA does. I’m tremendously proud of what we created, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. I learned to produce, curate, and be a strong leader both artistically and administratively. I’ve met brilliant people and received great opportunities.
The two pillar programs of terraNOVA Collective are the Groundbreakers Playwrights Group and the soloNOVA Arts Festival. Both enter their 9th seasons this fall and are extremely important. I received great satisfaction assisting other artists in their journeys over the past eight years; however, this dedication diverts energy from my playwriting, and it’s time to return to that path and see what it offers.
I consider terraNOVA Collective my greatest artistic accomplishment to date, and my decision to depart hasn’t been easy. To all of you who have supported terraNOVA over the years because of my affiliation: please, continue to sustain this exceptional organization. It is a company devoted to backing vital segments of the theatre community, and it presents
provocative new works to its audiences.
Thank you for your support over the years, and I look forward to sharing fun new art soon.
With warmth and anticipation,
On April 26, 2011, I gave a presentation about the transmedia of Feeder: A Love Story at the Transmedia NYC Meetup at JWT. After my presentation, Lance Weiler shared his Sundance project PANDEMIC 1.0 with Mark Harris. If you want to see where it’s all headed, watch the entire stream for some cutting edge creativity.
My presentation starts around 31 minutes.