Arts & Leisure

The Flynn asks Middlebury what to do with ‘The Money’

PLAYERS IN A previous production of “The Money” in the Sydney Opera House deliberate how they will spend the pot of cash pooled from their ticket purchases. This interactive, theatrical experience will come to Middlebury next month as part of a series of productions organized by The Flynn Center in Burlington. Photo courtesy of Prudence Upton/Kaleider

MIDDLEBURY — Say you and a group of people have a pot full of cash and together you have to decide what to do with it. Would you put it toward a civic good, help out a neighbor in need, or make a claim to get the full proceeds yourself?

What would you want to do with the money? And how would you convince the others to go along?

That’s what participants in a U.K.-derived interactive theatrical experience called “The Money” will try to decide when the show comes to Middlebury next month. Presented through Burlington’s Flynn Center, it will run for two nights in four Vermont communities starting in Burlington on Sept. 22 and hitting Middlebury on Sept. 27 and 28.

In this unusual production, theatergoers can decide to be “players” and have their $15 ticket purchase get thrown into a pot of cash. Once the show begins, these players have 60 minutes to unanimously decide what to with the money in that pot. To be a silent observer in the theater costs $25, but if they get caught up in the discussion they can chip in the $15 fee to jump into the conversation at any point, further enlivening the group’s discussion.

Options for how to spend the money are endless, with past performers using the funds to help a fellow participant purchase a washing machine, pay for a couple’s honeymoon, and finance the dreams of a young ballerina. But if the group cannot agree on how to spend the money within the hour, the pot of cash moves along to the next round of players. The Flynn will stage eight shows in Vermont, so the pot could grow large.

But this is Vermont; will people here let the chance to spend the money pass them by?

“The Money” was first conceived and directed by U.K.-based theater director Seth Honnor in 2013. Since then, the show has been performed by Honnor’s production studio, Kaleider, and in noteworthy venues across five continents. Jay Wahl, executive director of The Flynn, said he was inspired to bring the show to Vermont because it felt like a fitting production for a state impassioned by civic engagement.

“I had been thinking about how we have an election coming up and Vermont’s beautiful history of Town Meeting Days where we get together to think about financial decisions and community engagement,” Wahl said. “Vermont has a specific character for how we think about community resources and what we do with money.”

THE AUDIENCE IN a theatrical production of “The Money,” like this one at the Sydney Opera House, watch the give and take of the players deciding how to spend their cash, but audience members can buy in and become players if they want to sway the discussion.
Photo courtesy of Prudence Upton/Kaleider

The Flynn will honor the state’s history of civic participation by hosting each of the productions in spaces where town meetings are typically held, such as the Middlebury Union High School, where the Addison County shows will take place.

Wahl sees the show mimicking acts of democracy in more symbolic ways too.

“The truth about democracy is the people who show up or volunteer are the ones who make the decisions,” Wahl said. “Just like Town Meeting Day you show up and you participate.”

And just like an election or town meeting, these performances won’t be available for streaming. Those who want to participate in any capacity will have to do so in person — that’s where the theatrical experience comes in. And Wahl is hoping a diverse group of Vermonters choose to come out.

“I would like representation of everyone in the community. People have different needs, people live different lives, people come with different expectations about how the community helps them and what their role is in the community,” he said. “What people want and what people bring up and how that’s communicated, that’s the work itself and I hope Vermont tells us that.”

Many details about “The Money” in Vermont, from the people who show up to the direction of their conversation, are unpredictable. But that’s the part of the show he’s most excited for.

“That’s the joyful risk and experiment that we take. What’s exciting to me about the arts and this show in particular is the journey that we take together that we don’t exactly know where it’s going. It’s special to use the arts as a vehicle for discussing community engagement, but what it exactly that looks like, I’m not sure,” Wahl said.

One thing Wahl is certain about; he wants participants to have fun.

“This is civic discourse and that’s important and we’re talking about money, which is also important. But we’re doing it under the container of a theatrical experience, and that’s fun. It’s something people will enjoy coming to be a part of,” Wahl said.

Vermont productions of “The Money” will kick off on Sept. 22 and 23 at Burlington’s City Hall with additional shows on:

  • Sept. 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. at Hartford High School.
  • Sept. 27 and 28 at 7 p.m. at Middlebury Union High School.
  • Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at Montpelier City Hall.

Those interested in purchasing tickets for “The Money” can do so at tinyurl.com/themoneytickets.

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