The recent death of Apple chief Steve Jobs has drawn renewed attention to a show playing at the New York Public Theater in the East Village.
The one-man play, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” is not, as the name might suggest, a bio-play of Steve Jobs.
“It’s a monologue about two different stories that fit together,” says Mike Daisey, the play’s creator and performer. “One is the story of all our technology, where it comes from, how it works its way into our lives. It's also the story of the way that our technology is made – a kind of secret story that we don't like to talk about."
The story is China – specifically Shenzhen. That southern China city – not far from Hong Kong – has been elevated from a small fishing village to a center of electronics manufacturing for the world. The city’s growth started in the late ‘70s after China named Shenzhen a “Special Economic Zone” – opening up production and investment there to international corporations.
Daisey, who has been called “the master storyteller” and “one of the finest solo performers of his generation” by the New York Times, sees his role as a conscientious citizen.
“I choose work that I think engages,” he says.
“It is more like a coincidence -- a happy coincidence -- that when you’re engaged and alert with what’s going on in your world, it often has social relevance,” says Daisey, who spent an entire month in Shenzhen to see for himself what life is like for the workers who make the electronics.
Daisey wrote of his mission on this front, in an Op-Ed piece in the Times.
“The Agony and the Ecstasy” focuses on Apple because Daisey has loved the company and Steve Jobs since he was a child.
“We are advocating for pressuring Apple specifically because they are industry leaders,” he says. But Apple isn’t alone -- Daisey points out no other electronic company operates in what he calls an “ethically defensible manner.”
Audience members are given fliers when they walk out of the play, urging action for the cause. The suggestions include emailing Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, and thinking differently about upgrading.
Apple tells NBC New York it wishes Daisey wasn’t using the brand to make his point.
“Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base,” the company said in a statement. “We require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible processes wherever Apple products are made.”
Apple says it sends a team, including an independent observer, to Shenzhen every year to monitor and train the workers. On its website, the company spells out its commitment to protect its suppliers’ workers. It also makes public its annual safety report.
It is rare to spend an evening at the theater and leave “fired up” to take action. “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” may be the exception.
The play runs at the New York Public Theater until Dec. 4.