When Eric Seale took on the role of artistic director for the Actors Guild of Lexington (AGL) two years ago, one of his first moves was to ensure the continuation of an old AGL practice: securing a spot at the end of each season for a “TBA” production –– one that would be announced late in the season, leaving room to incorporate current events and eleventh-hour ideas.
This season’s upcoming final title, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” –– a one-man play starring Seale and directed by Larry Snipes, best known locally as producing director for the Lexington Children’s Theatre –– is mired in contemporary relevance and controversy alike. Originally written as a monologue, the production, which gained international attention when segments of it were aired on the public radio show “This American Life” earlier this year, explores playwright Mike Daisey’s love affair with Apple products and his fascination with the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, while at the same time decrying the corporation’s exploitative global practices. Daisey visited the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, where many Apple products (and other electronics brands) are made, and detailed the questionable labor practices he encountered in the monologue.
Less than a week after AGL announced the selection of the play in March, the very relevance and controversy that attracted the AGL staff to the play became even more pointed, when “This American Life” issued a retraction of the episode featuring Daisey –– which had gone on to become the show’s single most downloaded episode –– on claims that Daisey had made up entire segments of the story. Daisey’s facts about Foxconn’s practices were true, said “This American Life” host Ira Glass, but many of the personal anecdotes and encounters that Daisey recounted were revealed to be fabricated.
“The retraction was painful,” Seale admits, as his show was already in production. Seale and his staff wrestled for days about whether or not to proceed with the show, which he refers to as “a really good story, and a fascinating story, and a funny story.” Sure, it blurs the line between citizen journalism and storytelling, but so do many literary works that purport to be memoir –– including, as Seale points out, stories by David Sedaris, another frequent “This American Life” contributor. (AGL has performed Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries” a couple of times.)
“It’s very complicated,” Seale said. “In [Daisey’s] own bio, he uses the term ‘journalism’ at one point about what he does, but it’s gonzo journalism. It’s not journalism with a big J.”
Ultimately, Seale, Snipes and the rest of the AGL crew decided not only that the show must go on, but that they would take the opportunity to incorporate the controversy surrounding the fabrications and “truthiness” of Daisey’s original script into their performance.
“Our presentation will be much different than Daisey’s,” Seale said. “He gave us the right to edit, to change the work, to suit our needs as producers, [so] we can make sure our audience is informed on all aspects of the story.”
Seale recently took a few minutes out of his sleep-deprived schedule to answer a few questions about some of his favorite productions and thoughts on the Lexington theater scene.
What are some of the favorite plays you’ve directed?
“Pillow Man” will probably always be my favorite experience as a director, but more recently “Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer” would be high on the list. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “American Buffalo” by David Mamet.
What are some of the favorite roles you’ve acted in?
Harry Roat in “Wait Until Dark” is one of my all time favorites. He’s completely evil and amoral, which is a remarkable amount of freedom to have on stage. Bad guys are usually great to play, if they are well-developed characters. I really enjoyed playing Don Armado in “Love’s Labour’s Lost;” it was my first Shakespeare play and I was nervous, but Armado is so off-the-wall and funny that once we got going, it was just a tremendous amount of fun.
How would you describe the state of the Lexington theater community?
Evolving. Lexington is an interesting town for theatre, and we’ve been at it a long time, but recently there has been a lot in flux. There are more productions now than we’ve ever had before; however, even with so many great artists and dedicated people, you run into the trickier part of the business of doing art –– growing in a smart way, finding funding and not stepping on everyone’s toes. The Lucille Little Foundation is closing down this year, which has been a huge part of the local funding to the theatre scene. The future is going to be about sustainability.
Apple or PC?
I use both. My very first computer was an Apple, but for a long time I was on PCs. Since the iPhone, I will admit I have fallen deeper into the Mac cult, so I’d have to say I lean Apple, I just refuse to put a sticker on my car. (Full disclosure: I have a MacBook Pro, a first generation iPad, and the current iPhone.)
The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs
May 10 – 13; 18 – 20
8 p.m. opening night, Fri. – Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun.
Actors Guild of Lexington, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Rd.
For tickets and more information, visit www.actors-guild.org.