Profiting from Poverty

In one of many such articles, Salon looks at what “The Briefcase,” a new show of putting poverty-stricken families into psychologically troubling situations.

“In the 2014 fiscal year, Les Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp, earned over $54 million…. There’s something really perverse about Les Moonves earning money based on the emotional and financial anguish of poor people, by making a game-theory spectacle of human suffering that he could end, himself, personally, if he wanted to.”

— Margaret Lyons

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Posted by on June 1, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Price & Vietnam

Today, we had a wonderful talkback in which we talked a bit about the connections that were made, back in 1968, between The Price and the Vietnam War.  I hope that some of you may be here looking for more on that, or if you missed today’s discussion, that you may find Arthur Miller’s words on the subject even more interesting.

“But as the dying continued in Vietnam with no adequate resistance to it in the country, the theater, so it seemed to me, risked trivialization by failing to confront the bleeding, at least in a way that could reach most people. In its way, ”Hair” had done so by offering a laid-back lifestyle opposed to the aggressive military-corporate one. But one had to feel the absence — not only in theater but everywhere — of any interest in what had surely given birth to Vietnam, namely its roots in the past.

As the corpses piled up, it became cruelly impolite if not unpatriotic to suggest the obvious, that we were fighting the past; our rigid anti-Communist theology, born of another time two decades earlier, made it a sin to consider Vietnamese Reds as nationalists rather than Moscow’s and Beijing’s yapping dogs. We were fighting in a state of forgetfulness, quite as though we had not aborted a national election in Vietnam and divided the country into separate halves when it became clear that Ho Chi Minh would be the overwhelming favorite for the presidency. This was the reality on the ground, but unfortunately it had to be recalled in order to matter. And so 50,000 Americans, not to mention millions of Vietnamese, paid with their lives to support a myth and a bellicose denial.

As always, it was the young who paid. I was 53 in 1968, and if the war would cost me nothing materially, it wore away at the confidence that in the end Reason had to return lest all be lost. I was not sure of that anymore. Reason itself had become unaesthetic, something art must at any cost avoid.

‘The Price’ grew out of a need to reconfirm the power of the past, the seedbed of current reality, and the way to possibly reaffirm cause and effect in an insane world. It seemed to me that if, through the mists of denial, the bow of the ancient ship of reality could emerge, the spectacle might once again hold some beauty for an audience. If the play does not utter the word Vietnam, it speaks to a spirit of unearthing the real that seemed to have very nearly gone from our lives.”

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Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


Disposability: Objects v. Experiences

“It’s kind of counter to the logic that if you pay for an experience, like a vacation, it will be over and gone; but if you buy a tangible thing, a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time. Actually most of us have a pretty intense capacity for tolerance, or hedonic adaptation, where we stop appreciating things to which we’re constantly exposed. iPhones, clothes, couches, et cetera, just become background. They deteriorate or become obsolete. It’s the fleetingness of experiential purchases that endears us to them. Either they’re not around long enough to become imperfect, or they are imperfect, but our memories and stories of them get sweet with time. Even a bad experience becomes a good story.”

—James Hamblin, “Buy Experiences, Not Things”

As we get ready for The Price to go into tech, I keep seeing connections between sentiments in the play and ones that come up in everyday life.  If 1968 was a time that valued disposability, what are we now?  How true is “the more things change, the more they stay the same”?


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The Art of Stacked Furniture

Arthur Miller isn’t the only one who can look at a pile of assorted furniture and see the potential for artistic expression in it.  Here are a couple of art installations formed along the same lines as the set of The Price.

Tadashi Kawamata, “Chairs For Abu Dhabi”

Doris Salcedo, “1550 Chairs Stacked Between Two City Buildings”

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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


LBJ on Poverty

Just 4 years before The Price opened on Broadway, Lyndon B. Johnson campaigned using this ad.  It has been cited in discussion of the empathy gap as a strong argument against common social stigmas and assumptions about poverty-stricken people.  These issues remain topical today, as the country is divided by issues from raising the minimum wage to cutting food stamps programs.

Watch the ad here.


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The Past and Its Power: Why I Wrote The Price

Playwrights — especially once they are no longer living — don’t often leave us with explanations of why they wrote the plays they did at a particular moment in time.  Writing in 1999, Arthur Miller explains the artistic and political movements that led him to write The Price in 1967.

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Posted by on April 18, 2015 in Uncategorized


Looking Back at the Depression

Who better to contextualize the experiences of the characters in The Price, looking back at the Depression from 1968, than the subjects of Studs Terkel’s 1971 interviews on the topic?  He selected the ones for his book Hard Times out of hundreds, and many are available for your listening pleasure via the Chicago History Museum.  Get a wide variety of firsthand accounts here!


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