Mike Daisey's roles include performer, monologist, artist, storyteller, writer and activist. Though his central platform happens to be the stage, one wouldn't guess it simply from watching one of his one-man performances: It's just Daisey, the audience and some hand-scrawled notes. The shows flow like one side of an open, honest conversation with a deeply insightful friend, one who makes you laugh with ease.
When describing Monopoly!, Daisey starts with one word: "electric." Pun intended, with the performance centering around trailblazing inventor Nikola Tesla's battle with Thomas Edison over electricity, specifically direct current versus alternating current.
Of special relevance to Monopoly!'s staging at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs here: In 1899, Tesla moved to Colorado Springs, drawn by its high altitude and frequent thunderstorms. A field near the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind was the ideal place for many high-voltage experiments.
"Many of the things that we have in our day-to-day lives, we owe to Tesla," says Daisey, who says he's been fascinated with the inventor for years. "He was largely ignored, and I think it was because he died poor. We just seem to remember people who died with more."
Beyond Tesla's disenfranchisement, Daisey somehow manages in Monopoly! to weave in narratives about Wal-Mart, Microsoft and his own family. Oh, and let's not forget an elderly Quaker woman whose idea for a little board game called Monopoly was stolen from her. Essentially, says Daisey, she was screwed out of a fortune.
Since all of his performances are done without scripts, each show is completely different. Daisey relishes creating spontaneous, trusting relationships with his audiences.
"I can communicate these very complex ideas in a forum that is completely free from corporate interference," he says. "There aren't too many people who get to do that."
According to major critics like the New York Times and the New Yorker, Daisey has used his natural storytelling abilities and sharp wit (and tongue) to create a little empire. He can say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and folks really want to listen.
Not bad for a 35-year-old guy raised largely in a small town in northern Maine. He stayed in state to study aesthetics at Colby College, a small liberal arts school, then moved to Seattle after graduating in 1996. It was there that Daisey had an epiphany.
"I knew during my first monologue that this was my calling and this is what I had to do with my life," he says. "From then on, I would dedicate my life to the theater."
To supplement his meager income in the interim, Daisey worked at amazon.com, becoming ever more disillusioned with the corporate world. The experience birthed his first book, 21 Dog Years: A Cube Dweller's Tale, in May 1999.
"I had a very false idea of what was going on there," he says. "I thought we were reinventing the nature of commerce. We were just building Kmart. All of the promise of those days was never fulfilled."
Were he alive today, Tesla would surely understand.