Five Questions for Mike Daisey
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in far northern Maine, around Fort Kent, on the Canadian border. It is an area that is very remote and very poor, though I trace my obsession with storytelling to the landscape and the people I grew up with. I went to college at a small, liberal micro-Ivy, also in Maine, and upon graduation moved far away from Maine to Seattle. In Seattle I found a garage theater scene that I used to discover the monologues, and began that work in 1997. I moved to New York in 2001 to further this work, and I live here today with my collaborator and partner, Jean-Michele Gregory.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
More than any single work of art, it was a deep obsession with games, game theory and all the fields that spring from this that had the greatest influence on me today as an artist. The idea of games as a metaphor, and the systems of desire that they create, informs my work.
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I wish I had more patience and compassion; as someone who is inspired to tell stories that I feel my culture is silent about, I’m nurtured by outrage and conflict, but I know that my character is deficient—my passions are very strong and can overwhelm my empathy. Most of the job of a monologuist is to listen, and I would like to work harder at listening closer and more deeply.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
I make my living through my work, which means I am on tour with Jean-Michele almost half the year—so in a sense there are no normal days. But when doing shows the day revolves around the performance, so I get up late from working the night before, and spend the workday usually managing future engagements, meeting with my collaborator to do notes on the show, lining up PR and marketing—it’s daunting. The 40 hours a week that I once spent at an office job years ago is re-allocated to keep this career happening, and then the art itself is ladled on top—it takes a huge amount of work from both of us to make this life and work possible.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
The choice is made, as it is for all of us, every single day. The ongoing struggle is to make the art and work one and the same—but this world doesn’t make this easy. I have been doing all I can to choose art, and make that my polestar, but I will not know the true outcome until the moment of my death, and perhaps not even then. Orwell once said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” In the arts in America, at this moment in our culture, that is more true than ever.
Mike’s show THE LAST CARGO CULT opens this thursday at The Public Theater.