Just a thought…
Last night we went to go and see ‘The Money’ at County Hall in London. County Hall was the home of the GLC and basically the permanent seat of Ken Livingstone and the Labour Party. It was also a thorn in the side of Margaret Thatcher’s government across the river in Westminster. So she closed it down.
One could argue that the entrenched views on both sides of the river allowed there to be a space in between where ideas could flow; fixed points that allowed movement.
The movement of ideas is, to some extent, being reawakened in the show/event/experience that is ‘The Money’. It’s actually very hard to define what ‘The Money’ is (a producers nightmare!); I have no problem with not being able to define it - our need to define things and draw circles around them, to categorise things, is leading us into an increasingly divided world. This is as true of the Arts as it is in all aspects of society. So, you don’t need to define or categorise ‘The Money’, but you wouldcouldshould get a lot out of going and being part of it. You can really be a part of it by going to it as a ‘player’, or you can keep a little further back from the action by going as a ‘silent witness’ - that doesn’t necessarily make you passive to what unfolds, but you are choosing not to be an active part of what occurs. You can, as it happens, join in the action by stumping up some cash (£20) in order to enter the fray… so, the richest get heard…
Everything about ‘The Money’ is a great mirror to our society; from the group and power dynamics that reveal themselves before your eyes, as well as the fact that those with the most money get the biggest say in what happens in the world. I’m deliberately being vague about what actually happens in the Council Chamber of County Hall, because I think you should go and experience it for yourselves.
We saw it last night as a family - 2 parents plus a 15 year old boy and and an 11 year old girl. I should say that we were lucky enough to have been offered some free tickets to be ‘silent witnesses’. It’s also worth saying that, before having seen it, I would have balked at and probably refused to pay the cost of entry (certainly 4 tickets worth). It’s not cheap (as far as I’m concerned), but it’s a damn sight cheaper than going to see a West End show, a stalls seat at the opera or anything without restricted view at most other theatres. It isn’t very long and there’s no-one famous in it. You do get a free drink at the end (very good move). What we also got was hours of interesting, challenging, fun and sometimes tense debate between the four of us after the show, on the journey home and at breakfast this morning. I suspect that the things we discussed will continue to come up for many months to come. Our 11 year old is keen to be a ‘player’ in the show at a future date. I don’t think we’ve seen any show/event/experience that has sparked quite so much discussion and argument amongst the four of us. Well, there are frequent arguments, but over much more banal and tedious subjects!
There is a larger debate to be had about ticket prices and Arts subsidy and therefore who gets to go to events like this, especially where the young are involved - but this is, I believe, a commercial enterprise that has to pay for itself, so I’m not hugely surprised at the cost of the tickets. If you can, go along to it - take your children, and if you don’t have any, take someone else’s (always ask first!). I’d say that with kids under 11, it may be trickier, but that’s just my view.
The brilliant actress, Martina Laird put a post up on Facebook that is a wonderful text explaining her experience of the show - I’m pasting it in here:
“On my way to #TheMoneyLive and dealing with another Google Maps route gone wrong, I passed some laughing school kids on their way home. It got me to thinking about what the world could be if we had citizenship as part of our education. Local, national, global citizenship where we learned to understand ourselves as part of the whole. Responsible for but also able to count on each other.
Funny then to find myself sat in the ranks of the old County Hall, where such debates would have been held. We were formally instructed on strict guidelines for the evening by two formidable yet brightly attired women, already mixing the signals of structure and accessibility. The idea is that the audience are divided into Players who have bought special tickets and sit at the big table at the centre of the room and Silent Witnesses who observe from the ranks behind. Silent Witnesses can join the table debate by ringing a rather impressive bell and paying £20. The Players are given a pot of money (£200) and one hour to reach a unanimous decision of what to do with the money. They can’t share it or give it to a charity and it must be legal.
I got tetchy with that feeling of tedium as they tried to figure out the rules and started with a banal discourse on ways of “doing the right thing”. One woman began a quite forceful campaign to get the money for her daughter’s wedding which through some misfortune seemed to be short some kind of glitter detail. The rest of the table leaned more towards finding one ‘lucky’ homeless person to give a special treat. A girl who’d been sat near me got up and paid to join the table to ask for the money for herself for some dance shoes. I reflected with some degree of judgement on a sense of entitlement that allows people to ask for a pot of money for themselves.
The woman with the wedding was not impressed by this girl needing shoes for her ballet course. The fact that it was ballet was clearly registering some kind of privilege and this was discussed by the adults at the table. Without really considering what it is to be the young person on a dance course associated with privilege and the one person not able to afford the shoes.
Until one woman, a Black woman, paid to join the table. She brilliantly and humanely pointed out that there was a young person right here who had appealed to a group of adults for help, who were now ignoring her need in favour of some hypothetical unknown stranger. What message were we giving if we ignored her need?
Here was the perfect opportunity for the citizenship I had been reflecting on and we couldn’t recognize it without this woman’s bright light being shone.
This light led to a mini revolution as one of the Silent Witnesses refused to be silent just because she couldn’t afford to join the table. What were we saying if those without means weren’t allowed a voice? The new community effect meant that she was paid for and was allowed to express that even from her position she saw the importance of this young girl being afforded the support of her group.
A tagline for the production is “what can we do together that we can’t do as individuals”. Making a difference to one homeless person’s life is something we can do individually. And everyone there could have left the room and done by themselves (and hopefully did), without a collective pot being provided. But to collectively create a community where a young person’s future and the belief in the Arts was centred as essential, and a young person felt seen and supported by her elders, that was something we could only do together.
We had learned so much as a group about community, even though a couple were clearly still disgruntled and only carried by general consensus. Maybe that makes it an even more accurate depiction of community relations.
Now I mentioned the woman’s race for a reason and another level of community dynamics it revealed. When she stood up to pay to join (and save) the discussion, the man who stood at the same time as she with the same purpose assumed that she was staff and tried to pay her his money. Thus, back footing her before she even got to the table. Once there she was the only table member called out by another for speaking at the same time as him. Having her “behaviour” checked by an equal. She also had a couple of other table members accuse her of being a plant, as opposed to an equal audience member who paid her money, because she had in their opinion spoken too articulately and naturally taken authority. A collection of microaggressions (so familiar to my own and the lives of many) which she batted off as she advocated for a young white girl’s dreams, as she humanized her by asking her name and what she loved about dance. I was moved and awed by this Black woman’s ability to hold on to everyone’s humanity even whilst there were blows to her own.
The proceeding of the evening brought out everything that is a challenge and a joy about how we live as our community. It was a truly collective based experience. The very best of what theatre can deliver. The audience is the very essence of the production. And every show will be unique because every audience is unique. What prevails is what we bring and what we permit. We had one brave 12 year old with dreams of being a ballet dancer deliver us the best gift we could hope for- Hope. What will you gift and be gifted? Go! Before this amazing production finishes.
Thank you, Stella Kanu for shining your light.