How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes
a Sojourn Theater production
at Cleveland Public Theater
By Scott Myers
Alejandro Tey in the Regional Premiere. Photo Brud Giles
Field Trip Report
So many cool things happen in Cleveland that we in Akron could tap into to our benefit, but somehow that 40 minute drive up 77 seems overwhelming. Gina Burk instigated an Akron contingent – Stephenie Leonardi (aka Leo) with Summit Lake Build Corp, Beth Vild with Big Love, and myself – to visit a performance at Cleveland Public Theater Saturday evening, January 27th. Here’s what we found:
Cleveland Public Theater (CPT) is like the older sibling to the Balch Street Theater in Akron. Both produce and stage theater events that speak to our times and places.
This past week CPT hosted Sojourn Theater’s (www.sojourntheatre.org) production, How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes with 119 People You May or May Not Know.
Obviously, the title refers to the 90 minutes the audience and theater company spend together. The cast and the 119 people we did or did not know did not solve poverty by the end of the evening.
We did (the 119 members of the audience), however, choose how to direct $1000 taken from the ticket sales for the evening. United Way of Greater Cleveland provided a list of agencies in the Cleveland area who address poverty in each of the five categories identified by the play: Daily Needs, System Change, Education, Making Opportunities, Direct Aid.
Pictured (right, from left): Bobby Bermea, Hannah Treuhaft,
La’Tevin Alexander, Andy Haftkowycz, Rebecca Martínez,
Emma Bridges and Jake Simonds. Photo Brud Giles
At the pre-show, interactive posters around the theater with facts and questions about poverty prompted visitors to respond with their opinions and experiences. Three members of the cast presented a high energy, mini play – “The History of Poverty America” – from a small seating balcony above the stage. And, video from a booth interviewing audience members was projected on a screen over the auditorium. All just a warm-up for the main event.
At the theater before the show
The show consisted of staged, scripted, and choreographed performances – drama, music, dance – all related to “ending” poverty, as well as 90 second interviews on poverty themes with area government figures present in the audience (at our performance: Hon. Nickie J. Antonio, John R. Corlett, Hon. Frank LaRose, Natalie Leek-Nelson).
Following each act in the performance, cast members ran to each of five audience groups to lead brief, intense discussions of the poverty theme just presented. When time was up, cast members ran back to their spots for the next act.
At the end of the entire performance, the cast handed audience members five dollar bills to use as ballots. We submitted our “ballots” for the area (Daily Needs, System Change, Education, Making Opportunities, or Direct Aid) we thought- based on the presentations and our discussions – would make the biggest impact on poverty in Cleveland. When the votes were tallied and the winner announced, cast members presented and opened The Envelope, announcing which local agency would be granted that evening’s $1000.
The evening we attended, the audience chose Making Opportunities as the most impactful strategy. Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry received our $1000.
We were in good company in choosing our impact area (Making Opportunities) – an earlier performance for a grade school audience chose the same strategy! However, each of the four other performances in Cleveland chose different impact areas.
Sojourn presented six performances overall. In total, $6000 went from this play to different area agencies.
The gang and Bobby
After the Show
As we left, the cast handed out Resource Guides prepared by United Way of Greater Cleveland identifying dozens of agencies working in each of the five impact areas, for those looking for further involvement.
People didn’t leave the theater right away. Half the audience stayed around in conversation groups for 15 to 20 minutes after the show ended.
The Akron contingent spent time with Bobby Bermea, the cast member who facilitated our seating area’s discussions. His impressive resume in the program didn’t prepare me for how much interest he had in our little group and what we could tell him about what goes on in Akron. Based on the little we heard, it would be fun to interview him along with other cast and staff members about Sojourn Theater. They seem to have more cool stuff going on than their website conveys Our conversation with him was just getting really interesting when everyone had to leave.
Talking with Bobby Bermea, cast member, after the show
Learnings for Akron?
How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes with 119 People You May or May Not Know provides a wonderful opportunity for friends and strangers to learn and interact about themes and causes relating to poverty in their community.
It probably would have the most impact connected to an on-going community dialogue and an action group in a community. The intense, brief presentations and discussions were intense . . . and brief! If a community isn’t already seriously engaged in this discussion and in wide-spread, active participation to address poverty, this evening could be like a rainstorm over hard, dry land: a flood that quickly runs off. The theater company did its job. The community hosting them is responsible for what comes after.
People didn’t want to leave
Akron – it would be very cool to stage this production here sometime!
Could we prepare our soil to make good use of the rain from this storm?