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Thursday, September 15, 2011

24 Hours with Mike Daisey

Posted by Alison Hallett on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 4:17 PM

daisey.jpeg

I'm sitting at a coffeeshop, working on this very post, when I get a text from Mike Daisey:

"Surprising development: there will be a tremendous amount of bacon cooked live when least expected."

Daisey, a New York-based monologuist who's gained a considerable local fanbase over the past few years (including just about every writer at this publication), is following up on an interview we did a few days ago about his upcoming All the Hours in the Day. All Hours is easily TBA's most ambitious, talked-about project: It's a 24-hour monologue, beginning at 6 pm on Saturday and closing out the festival on Sunday night. A few nights ago, Daisey and I sat down in a quiet(ish) corner at Washington High to talk about what inspired the performance, how he's preparing, and why everybody planning to see the show needs to calm the fuck down.

Anyone hoping that this article will provide a roadmap to Daisey's show might as well stop reading now: He was cagey about the specifics of the performance, because central to the show is the notion of Daisey and the audience embarking on an experience together, one that can't be contained by preconceived expectations of how performance should behave. He did, though, reveal that the audience won't just be sitting in the dark watching him talk, and he promises surprises—"some are technical elements, some are people." (And the aforementioned bacon, of course.) The show also has built-in opportunities for the audience to mingle—say, for people who have just arrived to catch up on what they've missed. "The object is to create a village," he says, "a community, for this 24-hour duration."

He's also a little obstinate about audience members who feel entitled to know how, exactly, a performance of this magnitude will unfold. "People have been calling PICA, demanding to know [when breaks are scheduled]... For the sake of theater, it is very important that you don't know that. I am sorry if some of them feel like they need to leave the theater and walk their dog, but if they need to do that then they should. They should probably handle their shit."

With All Hours, Daisey is clearly trying to bust the commodification and compartmentalization of art that occurs even within the context of an ostensibly experimental festival like TBA—the notion that his art needs to happen on someone else's schedule. "'How do you make something so long that I can't watch it, and then insist that it's episodic and that I need to see the whole thing?'," he asks rhetorically. "'Am I not here to see the 6:30 show and then the 8:30 show, to drink the interesting drink that is named after the art?'" (Note: I was drinking a whiskey sour called "All the Sours in the Day." It was delicious.)

I noted that he seemed kinda angry about festival culture and the self-reinforcing notion of "high art" in general. (Not the first time—remember this?) "Most worthwhile things in life are born out of anger," he responded. TBA, he tells me, is the only place where he received criticism for his last show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, for being too polemical or too activist in nature. "That says something about this high-art interface," he says, "this bubble."

Of course, this bubble also happens to be housing Daisey's monster of a monologue, and he's quick to praise the support staff at PICA, particularly Erin Boberg Doughton, with whom he and his director/wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, have been working closely as they develop the show. And he knows that the conditions required to pull off a show like this are very specific: a high art festival willing to take chances; a relationship with crowds that's been developed over years. "I am impressed that TBA threw themselves off a cliff for this," he says, and goes on to explain that the monologue is "built out of the pieces of the TBA fest. The clock started running when we arrived—it's drawn from things that are here," and has been influenced by fest performers like Taylor Mac. The monologue even has its roots in TBA's beer garden: "I conceived this project standing next to a taco truck. I will miss those taco trucks."

This is the first—and possibly last—time All Hours will be performed, and despite the scope of the undertaking, Daisey's "birthing" process is the same for this as any other monologue: a gestation period of research and investigation, followed by writing up an outline the day before the performance. That's right: As of this moment, Daisey doesn't have an outline for his 24 hours of performance. Not exactly comforting, is it? Comforting isn't the point. "You don't want your audience comforted. We think we want to be comforted, but we don't."

The show has lots of built-in surprises, he says, potential places for things to go wrong, including the physical challenges of commanding a stage for so long—will his voice hold up, will he remain lucid. I asked him if he had any exit strategies if things went horribly, horribly off kilter. Will he just lie down on stage and go to sleep? He could probably get away with calling that "art.". Absolutely not, he said. If he can't mange to complete the monologue, "I presume that it will end with me passing into unconsciousness, preceded by gibbering madness. That's... not my goal." But so long as he physically holds up, he's in it until the clock says Sunday, 6 pm. "I'm hoping we perform it. I'm hoping we finish it."

"If this works it will be because people came," says Daisey. As a performer, he considers himself a conduit for the audience's experience—and he's never been a conduit for 400 sleep-deprived strangers before. "I'm curious to see what happens to all of us."

And there's really no way to prepare for the show, no way to guarantee it's going to work. "Western civilization doesn't have 24-hour performances," he explains, at least not ones where the audiences is expected to stay for the whole thing. "Research indicated that [no preparation] was going to be particularly helpful. Your ability to think degrades the longer you're awake, and there's not much you can do about it. You can't cheat fatigue. If you could, long ago management would have figured out how to do it and workers would never stop."

Daisey says he's been reading responses to the show online, and he seems slightly consternated at the lengths some people are going to prepare for the show. "I actually wrote to one guy and told him not to wear Depends," he says. "People should just chill the fuck out. The audience will be taken care of. They won't be tortured."

PICA, meanwhile, sent out a press release this morning advising that people prepare for the performance as they would for an international flight—pack contact solution, toothbrush and toothpaste, a sweater—and promising that food, coffee, and water will be available for purchase at all times. Tickets can be purchased here (the show is not included in any festival passes).

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