Touted as “part play, part town hall meeting,” How to End Poverty in 90 minutes (with 119 people you may or may not know) explores the complex subject of poverty through the eyes of art. A collaboration between Cleveland Public Theatre, United Way of Greater Cleveland, and Sojourn Theatre, the 90-minute experimental play runs from January 24-28 at Gordon Square Theatre and is fully sold out.
The concept stems from creator Michael Rohd’s belief that every American has a connection to poverty, whether we know it or not. Rohd was initially invited to make a documentary theatre project about poverty in 2012, but felt there was something about it that didn’t seem right. Rather, he proposed a dialogue-based project that would direct resources back to the community as a result of the show.
Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) sought to bring the play to Cleveland, but it was cost-prohibitive—so they presented the concept to United Way of Greater Cleveland’s President and CEO August Napoli.
According to Caitie Milcinovic, CPT’s Director of Development, they barely had to make a case. It only took about 30 seconds of viewing the video presentation for United Way to agree to come on board as a partner.
“What this play asks of audience members is what we do every day at United Way,” says Napoli. “Through live theatre, we can expose people to the realities of this pervasive community problem and show them what’s possible.”
Prior to the start of the show, there will be a pre-show installation at 7 p.m. that is part “interactive museum” and part “science fair.” It will include a video booth where audience members can sit and answer short prompts about poverty, which will then be broadcast across the entire Gordon Square Theatre space.
The main production combines discussion, statistics, drama, testimonials, and even a dance number to create a socially conscious variety show asking audience members to contemplate poverty in their community. Using the five most frequently deployed approaches to poverty in the U.S. (Daily Needs, System Change, Education, Making Opportunities, and Direct Aid), each audience member is invited to actively engage in the performance.
Following the culmination of the play, the audience members gather in groups to discuss how to donate $1,000 of that evening’s box office sales to a local social service agency. Rohd says that each show is surprising—people come in thinking they will vote one way, and then they change their mind twice by the end. His desired takeaway for each audience member is to: listen to a stranger, learn something you didn’t know, and reflect on your own values while engaging in a fun, civic experience.
Cameo performers are peppered throughout the play, spanning from students to CEOs to senators to judges. Even Napoli has a small role in one of the performances. He feels that How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes "beautifully exemplifies what our organization does best: bring forces together to collaborate on effectively solving community problems and elevating the lives of those in greatest need."
Expanded photo captions:
Photo 1: (L to R) Bobby Bermea*+, Hannah Treuhaft+, La'Tevin Alexander, Andy Haftkowycz, Rebecca Martinez*+, Emma Bridges and Jake Simonds in the Regional Premiere of Sojourn's HOW TO END POVERTY at Portland Playhouse. Photo by Brud Giles. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Photo 2: (L to R) La'Tevin Alexander, Sasha Neufeld, Rebecca Martinez*+, Vin Shambry*, Alejandro Tey+, Jake Simonds, Sara Sawicki+ in the Regional Premiere of Sojourn's HOW TO END POVERTY at Portland Playhouse. Photo by Brud Giles. *Actor appears courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Photo 3: Alejandro Tey+ in the Regional Premiere of Sojourn's HOW TO END POVERTY at Portland Playhouse. Photo by Brud Giles.