Throughout the month of February, Portland Playhouse’s groundbreaking and innovative production of How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes gave the community an opportunity to learn about and actively engage with the realities of poverty in Multnomah County. At the end of each performance, the audience was given a chance to choose where to direct $1,000 cash in an effort to push back on the effects of poverty in our community.
In addition to the two Central City Concern staff members who were asked to lend their expertise and insights during interactive segments of two showings, a number of other staff members had the opportunity to attend the production as regular show goers.
We asked several folks who attended for their thoughts about the play. Impressed with the overall production, attending individuals added:
“They were creative in the way that they presented info – there were readings, acting, musical performances, cool props, visual effects, and even money used as a prop!” said Barbara Martin, CCC’s Director of Primary Care.
Gary Cobb, CCC’s Community Outreach Coordinator, added, “I felt the actors, actresses, and production staff did their research on poverty. It really showed.”
As good theatre is bound to do, the content and execution of the play elicited strong personal reactions from the audience members.
“The play sparked not only anger and frustration concerning the financial struggles faced by so many people in our society, but also the lack of understanding by some who believe that if you work hard enough you can achieve financial stability,” shared Kim Seiffert, a case manager at our Community Engagement Program. “This lack of understanding plays a big part in the type and amount of resources that are available.”
Said another staff member, “Seeing the statistics about poverty and the everyday complications that arise from living it brought to life through the vignettes throughout the play was powerful to take in. It made poverty more understandable and relatable to an extent. There are stories behind those numbers and percentages. It was maddening, heartbreaking even.”
CCC audience members especially valued the ways in which How to End Poverty was a tool to erase the silence around poverty and provide a starting point for dialogue.
“The play sparked a great discussion between my guest and myself and we ended up being the last people to leave the theatre because a couple of the actors from the play came to join our discussion,” Kim said. She continued, “I do hope that at least a few people in the audience were able to gain a better perspective of the problems because as we all know, change can begin with only a few determined people.”
Barbara said she saw the play as “an opportunity to engage in a conversation about poverty as well as our assumptions, ideas, and backgrounds and how that affects the viewpoint we all have. We also got to meet and talk to people we didn’t know, including some others in social services around Portland, and hear about other ideas that are out there.”
How to End Poverty billed itself as not just a play, or lecture, or workshop, or theatre piece, or public conversation. As CCC staff members saw firsthand, How to End Poverty was, indeed, all of these things. And above all, it was an opportunity to learn together, to be challenged together, to talk together, and for a night, to act together.