Cheol Joon Baek
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS (AND THE REPUDIATION AND REDEMPTION OF MIKE DAISEY) by Daisey, directed by Mitchell Cushman, with David Ferry. Presented by Outside the March at a variety of secret locations. From Saturday (May 5) to May 13. $25, stu $20. 416-504-7529, artsboxoffice.ca. See listing.
As Mitchell Cushman and I place our shiny iPhones on the table, we both chuckle sheepishly at the irony.
"My life revolves around it," he says, munching a piece of banana bread at a Bloor and Ossington café with free WiFi. "I used to be very anti-Apple, but not for any political reasons. Then I saw the iPhone and had to have one. I transitioned to the dark side. The next time I buy a laptop it'll probably be a Mac."
If there were an app for up-and-coming directors, Cushman's curly-haired, boyish, grinning face could be its icon.
Last summer, he made jaded Toronto theatre types literally stand up and take notice with his SummerWorks production of Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade. He set the disturbing play about a lonely girl's fantasy life in a Catholic school kindergarten classroom, complete with miniature kitchen, sinister-looking cubbyholes and chairs too small to sit on.
His take on Mike Daisey's The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs could cement his reputation as the city's newest wunderkind.
Cushman decided to mount Daisey's show several weeks before NPR's This American Life (which had excerpted the play) revealed that the playwright had fudged some facts in his exposé of inhumane working conditions in the Foxconn factory in China where many Apple products are made.
When the story broke, Daisey - formerly the truth-teller taking on the big corporate baddie and the evils of globalization - was branded a liar. A proposed Chicago production of the play was scrapped.
But for Cushman and his actor/collaborator, David Ferry, the news actually gave them a key to the work.
Written and performed by Daisey, the original show chronicles the storyteller's travels to the Shenzhen-based Foxconn factory, where he witnesses child labour, workers doing cripplingly repetitive tasks and logging spirit-crushing hours - all to produce shiny disposable toys for the privileged in the Western world.
So would Ferry, an actor, be playing Daisey, the writer/narrator?
"It's funny," says Cushman. "Early on we were trying to figure out who David would be in this story. He didn't go to China, he didn't experience these things first-hand. Then, after the controversy, it snapped into focus.
"Suddenly it became a show about how drama is constructed."
Now, through some creative revision, Cushman and Ferry have added details about the backlash, including the vilification and demonization of Daisey. (They've also added a clever, Daisey-style subtitle.)
In rehearsals, the pair have consulted a stack of supplementary materials, including a transcript of This American Life's retraction episode and dozens of articles and blog posts about the news.
"We're calling this the third act of the story," he says. Details that have been repudiated - that Foxconn guards carry guns, for instance - will now feature commentary.
"With each of these moments, we'll let the audience know the ‘full story' before they hear it, or right after," he says.
The decision to continue with the production has already raised eyebrows in the Toronto theatre community, with lots of lively and intelligent debate (see sidebar) that has even provoked Daisey himself to comment.
"I was thrilled that the conversation happened, and hopefully this production will spawn some more," says Cushman.
One thing that should also get people talking is where the show is being performed. Ticket buyers will be contacted the morning of the performance and told the address of the venue. Over five performances, the location will shift three or four times.
This isn't just a gimmick.
"There are so many sides to this story, so I thought the only way to do it properly would be to present it in a range of [venues]," says Cushman. "I've tried to find places that speak to the prevalence of Apple technology in our community today, but also places that speak to the kind of innovative spirit Steve Jobs represented."
A novel setting worked for his production of Mr. Marmalade, which caught the attention of Crow's Theatre's Chris Abraham, who asked him to work on the documentary play Seeds, and of Talk Is Free Theatre's Arkady Spivak, who's hired him to direct the cerebral show Possible Worlds next year.
Cheol Joon Baek
Suddenly, Cushman's plate is full. He and his company, Outside the March (which he runs with Simon Bloom), are remounting Marmalade at the same venue this July. In August he directs another challenging piece - an Irish play called Terminus performed fully in rap poetry - at SummerWorks.
He wants to polish his own script, which concerns two actors kidnapping an artistic director, this fall. Oh, and he's a resident artist at Theatre Passe Muraille.
That's a lot of theatre, but it comes naturally to a kid who grew up seeing and talking about theatre with his father, Robert Cushman, the theatre critic for the National Post.
"Sure, that was a real treat," he says. "[My triplet siblings and I] were very lucky to be exposed to the arts in a heavy way. We spent a lot of summers at Stratford and Shaw. And I think it instilled in me a love of going to the theatre."
He has many favourite shows. In grade 10, he was part of a playwriting co-op unit at the Tarragon, where he saw Kristen Thomson's I, Claudia for the first time. He also remembers being impressed by Adam Pettle's short play Misha, which he's been wanting to direct for years.
And as fate would have it, one of his most exciting Toronto theatre memories, Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot, performed in the unique setting of the Distillery District's Fermenting Cellar, was directed by his Mike Daisey collaborator, David Ferry.
Director, writer, producer: how does he find the energy for it all?
"You have to have as many tools in your toolkit as you can," he says. "But I'm lucky to have great collaborators. If you're working with the right people, work can feel effortless. The reverse," he smiles, "can also be true."
And will his dad be reviewing The Agony And The Ecstasy?
"Everyone's been asking that," he says. "No, he won't. It's too much of a conflict of interest. He's reviewed stuff I've assisted on, and he's owned up to that. But he'll be seeing the show. It'll be a shame if he likes it that he won't be able to write about it. But that's probably for the best."