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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes

Or: The First Stone Cast

First understand: This Is Not A Play. How to End Poverty is what might be referred to as a “Rohd Show”: a devised performance (i.e. a show organically crafted from a central idea by means of multiple imaginations) coordinated by director Michael Rohd. It’s aim is to conduct and stimulate conversations with its audience around the ever-present issue of poverty in America and what should be done about it.

Thomas Edison (a loutish but brilliant man and a pithy one at that) once remarked that “People often shun Opportunity because it introduces itself as ‘Hard Work’”. How To End Poverty is going to be hard work for its audience: the basic premise is that you are expected to engage in conversation with the cast and your fellow audience members about the nature of poverty and what steps are best taken to solve it. At the top of the show you will be herded into a group of other audience members in various segments of the house. The evenings ticket sales, averaging about a thousand dolors, are brought onstage and placed in a giant plastic ball which is hoisted into the flies and floats like an all observing eye of judgment. At the end of the evening, once the conversations have been sparked and all the facts and figures (surprisingly well presented by Shannon Scrofano’s video projections, to date the best use of the medium I’ve seen) have been laid out, YOU get to vote on which of the five methods of alleviating poverty (Daily Needs, System Change, Education, Opportunity Creation, and Individual Needs) should receive the evenings thousand dolors. Which ever method is selected, a Chicago land organization (different every night) based around that method of alleviation will receive the full donation and use it to fight poverty. But in order to reach a vote you must talk to your group about what Poverty means to you. These conversations are necessarily prickly, and you run the very real risk of looking like a social sponge and a complete fool before your friends, peers, and total strangers. Fortunately, the show’s Outreach has managed to seed a significant number of knowledgeable and articulate persons throughout each group, so there will always be a “catfish” to nip your thoughts into shape.

It’s not what could be described as an enjoyable evening. It is possible you may walk away in a deep funk of depression. But if you shun this Hard Work out of fear of feeling the fool or facing facts, then you will never get the Opportunity to take a long hard look at yourself and the world in which you operate. The conversations here will fill you, in the words of Dramaturge Kati Sweany, with “the most productive frustration of your life.” Even though no answers are given, no secret master plan for equality and justice set down, the tools are laid before you that you might tweak yourself into a more conscious and understanding human being.

Also, if you don’t go you will also miss the opportunity to see the efforts of a lot of talented folks who have built the show from their hopes and doubts and talents and polished it with their sweat since last fall. From the very instant you walk in the theater they seek, like Baucis and Philemon, to welcome you and prepare you for the evening (I suggest getting there as early as you can to fully appreciate their antics and the explanation of the program). In small scenes or pointed movement pieces, these artists bare their passions for your appreciation. Sometimes these moments loose their pointedness and sometimes they may spring from left field and sometimes they tread of the feet of the whole production, but they are all honest and heart crafted. These good souls have given their all to the project and from their labors they give you a stone, shaped by the heat of their convictions and the pressure of the subject. That stone is for you to carry as a reminder of suffering, to strike a fire of action upon or cast into the waters of your home or community and see what ripples spread out.

Its an honest piece, this Rohd Show. And its worth your time and your trepidation. So go see it, come ready to talk, and go from it ready to share.

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