Friday, December 04, 2009

Tonight was a fantastic evening—one of those nights when the theater has an ecstatic charge, when the thought and its intellectual meaning are in sympathetic union with the passion and the emotional intensity. A fantastic audience—I could not have asked for better.

After this particular monologue I’m always careful to figure out how I feel about the audience as an experience before I find out how they treated us financially. It’s a wise precaution.

They took my money.

This crowd, the fastest ever to its feet in the curtain call, was the fastest out the door with my money.

It’s a fascinating practice, this production—it teaches you how hard it is to separate price from everything in our culture. We’ve learned that the value people give to the experience varies wildly, and that the connection between their human experience in the room and their fiscal identity varies. We are often willing to make situations abstract when it works in our favor—and then when we are called on this behavior, we shrug and say it is "business".

But this is exactly why the experiment of this show is so vital. Far from a theatrical trick or flourish, it lays bare the fundamentals. In that room we are briefly a tribe, united in an experience, and seeing how our systems calculate value, how they assert themselves with incredible speed. I put all of the money I am paid for my work on the line each night, and I am not complaining—it is my risk to make, to trust the audience.

What is illuminating is how easy it is for value to shift under us, and for the ephemeral to be valued as meaningless within our chosen system. At the same time that we live in a culture that works this way, that assigns no value to love, happiness, hatred, or compassion, we all agree that our own personal values are wildly different—the vast majority of people want to be loved, want to love others, and their highest concerns are family, friends and other things that have zero fiscal value. But like all things priced at zero, are they “priceless” or “valueless”?

Tonight the crowd spoke in its human voice at the end of the show, and with its wallets as they left. They knew it was my pay, and they took it anyway.

At the same time, after the show someone found me in the lobby and told me that they enjoyed the show, and wished they had money with them, but came to the show tapped out—like so many of us, they live on debit cards alone most of the time. The man then realized he had some cookies with him he had made.

He gave me one. Some were burned, so he gave me a nonburned one.


What is the value of this cookie? Well, fiscally, in our system…very little. The ingredients are simple, it isn’t terribly soft, and it’s quite small. It also doesn’t come with an efficient cookie distribution system and marketing campaign of cookie awareness. Maybe a few pennies at best, if you really hawked it on the open market.

This cookie reminds me clearly that audiences are made out of individuals, and that each person makes their own choices. And those choices are human ones. Thankfully that is still true.

This cookie is small and spare, but it is food. It can be eaten, and it is real—there is nothing abstract about a cookie. If you were hungry, and someone handed it to you, it could be just what you needed.

Tonight I came out ahead.