Go Deeper

Pushing Daisey

Posted June 2nd, 2009

Mike Daisey is unlike any other performer you’ll see at the 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. He’s not an actor. He’s not a dancer. He’s not directing or performing experimental site-specific work. He’ll be at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, home of the Philadelphia Theatre Company, seated in a chair, at a table. But his act is a bit of a high-wire one: Mike works with ideas, and without a script.

In a 2007 New York Times profile, Jason Zinoman wrote that, “At their best his shows recreate that rare moment when you can see a performer actually thinking through an idea.” Zinoman’s article details Mike’s process very well, but of perhaps greatest note is that Mike works with an outline, a framework for his monologues, and every performance evolves differently. Jean-Michele Gregory, Mike’s director, artistic collaborator, and wife, helps the flow of ideas cohere into a stream that illustrates Mike’s own thought processes, trials, and successes, and through these, explores broader cultural phenomena and problems. The wide-ranging subjects Mike takes on through his website,, hint at both the pleasures his shows, and at the challenges of unifying such disparate topics into one night of theater.

How Theater Failed America generated some controversy last year as Mike, a popular and respected performer, turned his both his wit and his critical eye on his own forum and on some of his own hosts around the country. Last spring, ran a great interview with Mike in which he talked about the show and the theater community’s responses. That PTC, a renowned regional theater company, is co-presenting a show that is often critical of regional theater, is most definitely to their credit.

We’re hoping to have a Q&A with Mike about The Last Cargo Cult up pretty soon. In the meantime, you should definitely check out his YouTube channel, where he’s posted a number of short videos, excerpts from his performances, and a pretty harrowing video of an audience member coming on stage and pouring water over (and destroying) his performance notes.

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Photo by Ursa Waz