Making a monologue for Whitehorse

When the lights go up at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight, Mike Daisey will have no idea what he's going to say to the crowd. The American gonzo journalist cum storyteller doesn't use a script.

When the lights go up at the Yukon Arts Centre tonight, Mike Daisey will have no idea what he’s going to say to the crowd.

The American gonzo journalist cum storyteller doesn’t use a script.

And he feels strongly about it.

“What would be the purpose of a script?” said Daisey on Monday.

“I could write a script.

“Or I could cut off my own skin and wear it as a mask, but I’m not sure why that would be helpful.”

Daisey creates monologues that have spanned everything from spotted dogs to and neutron bombs to Tajikistan.

“The monologues spring out of my obsessions and come in collision with things that culture is not talking about,” he said.

Daisey is drawn to these “fracture points.”

“These are the locus of political issues – things we don’t speak about,” he said.

The Whitehorse monologue, The Last Cargo Cult, relates Daisey’s experiences on a South Pacific island where the inhabitants worship America at the base of a continuously erupting volcano.

But it’s also about the international financial crisis, and how money is the dominant religion of our time, said Daisey.

“My monologues have multiple threads,” he said. “There’s more than one story.

“And those threads weave against each other – I think there’s a hunger for that kind of complexity.”

In Monopoly, another monologue, Daisey manages to weave together the battle between inventor Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison over electricity, linking it to Microsoft’s historic antitrust lawsuit, the secret history of the board game Monopoly and the story of his hometown, with its one remaining retailer – Wal-Mart.

But Daisey’s not riffing on these subjects.

“I wouldn’t call it that,” he said.

It’s extemporaneous storytelling, said Daisey, comparing it to teaching, or preaching.

“Teachers don’t memorize lesson plans, and preachers don’t memorize sermons,” he said.

Even lawyers, making good closing arguments, aren’t following a script, he said.

Like them, Daisey works from a “factually based” outline.

Every night the story is new.

“I make an honest attempt to communicate,” said Daisey. “Working without a script, I’m forced to summon the story up live and create it again for only the people in this room alone, and only they will hear it that way.

“It’s a genuine attempt toward real communion.”

Daisey grew up on the gossip of northern Maine.

And it honed his storytelling skills.

“The best storytelling that I experience, and that most people experience, is commonly called gossip,” he said.

“It’s a wonderfully old form that takes the most urgent stories that people need to hear and communicates them.

“And each person picks up the story from the last person and braids it and exaggerates it.”

Most of the gossip in small-town northern Maine revolved around “the most essential human things – what people were doing; what dark things they were hiding; the things they said that they shouldn’t have said, and things they’ve done that they should never have done.

“It’s pretty suspenseful stuff.”

In his monologues, Daisey always attempts to tell the truth.

“But there’s an inevitable amount of reflection and refraction,” he said. “You edit out the many thousands of things you could have said and did not say, so any truth is always incomplete – all stories are fiction.”

Trained in both theatre and writing, Daisey was a torn young man.

“In those idioms there was always a suggestion I would be one or the other, but not both,” he said.

“Repeatedly my mentors told me to, ‘Give up the foolishness of theatre,’ or ‘Get rid of the ridiculousness of writing.’”

But Daisey ignored them, and did both.

“It was an effort to find a forum that speaks to all parts of me – all the things I’m most interested in,” he said.

To express himself, Daisey needs an audience.

Without it, the stories wouldn’t exist, he said.

“The monologue is alive – it’s a living construct that shifts from night to night.

“I hope we reach a catharsis in that room; I hope the audience and I together coalesce and reach a place we could not have got to on our own.

“And I hope the audience hears things that challenge them, and make them think, and make them laugh, and provoke them – then afterwards that they’ll find pieces of it resonate with them, and stay with them.

“I hope fruitful dialogue springs out of it.”

The Last Cargo Cult is at the Yukon Arts Centre September 30, at 8 p.m.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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