I think the truth always matters, truth is tremendously important. I don't live in a subjective universe where everything is up for grabs. I really do believe that stories should be subordinate to the truth.—Mike Daisey, "Retraction," This American Life
Looking back, perhaps it was a tremor foreshadowing the coming earthquake. In March 2012, American monologist Mike Daisey was publicly exposed for having exaggerated or outright fabricated some of the details behind his one-man theatrical exposé of Apple Inc., The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. The show was enjoying a successful run in New York when a truncated version was broadcast on the popular radio show This American Life. Perhaps because of the radio show's wider audience or its reputation for rigorous journalism, questions surfaced immediately about the veracity of some of the details Daisey reported about the working conditions and use of child labour by Apple's suppliers. Some denounced the liberties Daisey had taken with the facts, and this led to an excruciating follow-up episode, in which the show's host, Ira Glass, berated Daisey for lying to the public and the producers made an official retraction of the episode. But not everyone saw the issue in the same light. Toronto-based actor David Ferry defended Daisey on the basis that art should not be subject to purist journalistic standards. He opined in an interview, "I wasn't really upset at all over the fact that Mike had fudged the facts slightly on some issues, without him none of the revelations about Apple would ever have come to light" (Ouzounian). Ferry collaborated with Outside the March's Mitchell Cushman and Daisey himself to stage a version of Agony and Ecstasy in May 2012, in the wake of the controversy, a pop-up performance appearing in a garage, a computer lab, and a corporate boardroom on different nights. Was Daisey's methodology a forerunner of post-truth?
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The notion of post-truth has multiple genealogies, some of which come from philosophical inquiries and others from political opportunism. In today's supposedly post-truth climate, in which "alternative facts" are carted out to defend untenable positions and accusations of "fake news" are levelled against political opponents, the relationship between fact and fiction has catapulted to [End Page 5] the foreground of public discourse. However intense its reappearance, the deliberate conflation of truth and lies to nefarious ends is hardly new, as witnessed by a set of coinages appearing over the last century to describe it, such as "terminological inexactitude" (Winston Churchill), "doublethink" (George Orwell), "strategic misrepresentation" (Harvard Business School), or "alternative facts" (Kellyanne Conway). But the first problem with the notion of post-truth is its suggestion that there is—or was—ever an unproblematic 'truth' to be departed from. A century of critical thinking across the disciplines of psychoanalysis, phenomenology, poststructuralism, and deconstruction has put pressure on the notion that truth is accessible in the first place.
We place our 'post-factual' issue of Canadian Theatre Review at the convergence of two discourses. The first concerns the debate over the aesthetics of the 'real' in theatre and performance studies, which has arisen in response to a set of trends in contemporary practice, including documentary and verbatim theatre, post dramatic theatre, and immersive or participatory performance. The second discourse is that arising in the public sphere over the last two years about truth/post-truth, facts/alternative facts, news/fake news, objectivity/bias, or reportage and opinion. CTR Editor-in-Chief Jenn Stephenson, in a blog post titled "Theatre of the Real in the Age of Post-Reality," outlines the conflict at the intersection of these two discourses. Finding herself writing a book about the former while the latter caught fire, Stephenson posed the difficult question of whether there was something about theatre's unsettling of certainty, of fixed identity positions, of knowledge itself, that had helped create a public sphere in...