Sunday, February 17, 2013

Beginning the Conversation-- god of Wealth in 2013?

Hello All,
Here is our starting off point.  You know Aristophanes. You need Arisptophanes.  You know you need Unique Aristophanes.  So here we go:  Name your resonances!
When you read Plutus.... what does it make you think about today.
Looking for lots of comments on this. Think of this as your soapbox.  Maybe you'll be in the show


Becca Ballenger said...

One of the things Margi and I discussed on Sunday about the Just Man/Informer scene was the "gray area" of wealth. In the Just Man's speech at the end of the scene, he says that men come about money three ways-- by working for it, by having it given to them, and by stealing it. It seemed indicated that the Informer got his wealth through some sort of thievery, while the Just Man was generous and good, and therefore, poor. What about those who have come by their wealth honestly, and spend it and invest it wisely?

I was lucky enough to attend a performing arts boarding high school. I got a scholarship, but because of airfare and living expenses, my parents spent a fair amount of money (which they earned through years of hard work) on an unnecessary privilege for their daughter. Could my parents have put that money elsewhere, like towards a charity or a cultural institution? Sure. But SHOULD they have? Was it their obligation to use their money completely selflessly?

And for those of us who have had the privileges that money can provide (those that have been "given" money, whether through actual financial support, or through something like the gift of a good education, like me), we're stuck in complex situation. I work very hard for my money, and I support myself. But it's unfair to say that I do that independently-- the money I was "given" allowed me to get a great education, to spend summers doing unpaid acting gigs, and therefore be able to GET the jobs that give me my own money. We're born into a system that fosters the inequality.

All of this (money by taking, money by being give, and money by working hard) goes back to a basic question that Margi and I thought framed the discussion on an even deeper level: "What is desert?"

Who "deserves" wealth? Who is "deserving" of the gift of others' wealth? What kind of work "deserves" the best salary? Does anybody "deserve" anything, and do we owe anybody anything that they didn't "deserve"?

While I think this is a far larger topic than we can address in the one small scene between Cario, the Just Man, and the Informer, I do think that it's important that we add a more complex dimension to the scene-- one that addresses the murky gray area of wealth and desert.

margi said...

Becca you beat me to it. My post is about the same scene. The scene is midway through Plutus where we meet a man, Mr. Lloyd Blankety Blank who has lost everything because of Plutus' restored sight. The implication is that his wealth was derived at the expense of others. And that he deserves to lose it.

In the original play, his character is "The Informer," clearly a shady character in the Ancient Greek world. In our contemporary version we see him as a Madoff type, some one who abused power to get wealth. Cairo and the Just Man, newly wealthy, berate the fallen Mr Blankety Blank for his former abuses and take away his wealthy clothes, all that remains of his previous status.

The tricky thing about the scene in a modern context is that it could be construed as incredibly black and white. It is easy to demonize "the wealthy" or "1%" and give a moral green light to all impoverished or less fortunate.

Our challenge as a company is to adapt the scene in a way that really makes it specific. What is it about this particular man that caused him to lose everything? In his mind he worked hard to get where he is and works hard to stay there. He doesn't want to be as he says "another slave on the C train." If he has extra money to spend on a private jet than who are we to judge him? We have to get to the heart of what makes his actions unjust.

By the same turn, what happens to Cario in this context? A former slave, he is suddenly in the position of standing over the former elite and taking materials from them? Does this power infect his morality in some way?

Becca and I discussed how each of us has had opportunities to study and live in this city because of a family that helped support us. Did we deserve that? Are we abusing what we have been given?

The original play makes the issue of wealth fall out fairly black and white. We have to mine the gray.

George said...

These are great conversation starters. It makes it clear that we need other characters in the play who can address this as well.
I had a conversation with Morgan Jeness about this too. We're going to work on several things:
*Getting a better parallel to the informer: with the amount of money supporting drones and hackers the field is ripe.
*Having a conversation with the Madhoff character and after the Just Man's speech, give a chance for a reply.
*Introducing a character based on the rich man who we find out is not a man at all... but a corporation. Maybe the corporation enjoys being a human so much it makes itself a today? (Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey?) Since corporations have the same rights as humans now, what's to stop us from marrying corporations?
Great starting off point.. thanks Becca and Margi.

Taylor V said...

It's true. You two make a really great point. Because really, the bulk of the population could probably classify themselves as part of the middle class. And who are we to judge the 1 percenters if in fact we have been privileged enough to move along in this life quite comfortably. Not luxuriously, but comfortably.

But isn't that the question Chremylus is asking? This directs back to what his original intention is in going to Apollo in the first place. Being able to make sure his son is provided for as he grows up to be a man. He doesn't want to own a mansion, and be driven and flown everywhere and drink champagne for breakfast. He is an altruist at heart. We the audience, and the artists, have to believe he truly believes in sharing the wealth amongst his fellow merchants and chorus members. But, how has he gotten to this point? If he's a merchant, why hasn't he saved any money up until this point? Why does he have a slave instead of having his son work with him?

And so the more I think about it, the initial scene between Chremylus, Cario and Plutus is extremely important as an establishing scene. Three different characters with three different relationships to money and security. When we worked on it a couple weeks ago, I fleshed the Right side of the argument by saying society runs on money, is guided by Wall Street. So those that work hard and make a lot of money deserve to be wealthy, and that if everyone shared the wealth, nothing would get done. There's a reason Obama bailed out the banks, yes? If he hadn't, who knows what chaos may have ensued. So, there's absolutely a validity in that side of the argument that must be brought to the stage, and even presented as right (no pun intended...).

And really fleshing out the Chrem/Cario relationship (maybe we don't call Cario slave, but instead apprentice), as well as the arc of Cario could really prove to be one of the most interesting conflicts of our story. Because s/he's the one that perhaps spins out of control and gets waylaid by the riches and the goods and the fame and really forces the audience to question the gray.

And the play is called Plutus after all. What I find provocative is that the holder of all the wealth - literally and figuratively - is such a scaredy-cat. And he is basically a pawn in the righteous marauding of the middle class, tossed here, slung there, honored here, given sight there, and yet he's a god - WHO HOLDS ALL THE MONEY!!! There is gold for us to mine in that dynamic, too (yes, I did just write that)...

Looking forward to our next session...

Ronalda said...

We can find pros and cons in anything depending on how we view it. Most of us are very familiar with the pros of being financially wealthy and the cons of being fiscally poor; but how often do we think about the pros of being poor and the cons of being wealthy? Aristophanes’ character, POVERTY, makes us think about it as she argues against wealth in support of poverty. She insists that poverty is the cause of all our blessings and wealth our curses: who would do all the work if wealth was equally given out to all, and who would manufacture the goods we buy and use if everyone were rich?

POVERTY also argues that being poor makes a person modest; and having wealth produces insolence and arrogance. Is her dispute true? Don’t we know, or have heard, of wealthy people who are humble and kind-hearted (even those born into wealth) and poor people who are rude and arrogant? Wasn’t the Just Man, in “Plutus,” gentle and meek as a poor man and remained so after receiving wealth? And isn’t the poor Informer just as big-headed and impudent as he was when he was wealthy? Becoming wealthy or poor didn’t seem to change either character’s disposition, which in this instance annuls Poverty’s assertion that being rich provokes negative behavior and being poor elicits positive behavior. The question, “is poverty more valuable than wealth,” becomes moot. It seems the primary issue here is character, not the pros and cons of poverty and wealth. How does character influence the behavior of a rich or poor person?

On the other hand, can the allegation that wealth and poverty shape character, as POVERTY proposes, be true too? What kind of people will the Just Man and Informer be in 10 years? Will wealth eventually make the Just Man insolent and poverty make the Informer modest? How can wealth or poverty influence the development or transformation of character?

Sajeev Pillai said...

The god of wealth regaining his eyesight in 2013? Interesting thought. In the play, the regaining of eyesight evaporates the power that the gods wield over mortals. Suddenly the just people no longer need to perform sacrifices. Goes to show how 'corruptible' wealth actually is. If these were truly just people, they would still be making offerings to the gods that they worshiped before.

This lack of sacrifices and offerings has taken a heavy toll on the gods. No food or wealth is now being offered to them. There's starvation in Olympus. Hermes, the messenger god, flees Olympus and seeks asylum in Athens.

Thinking of contemporary parallels, I am reminded of the monarchies around the world. What would it mean if the royals are no longer sustained by the public and had to take on jobs like commoners?

We discussed how this problem will be articulated by the left wing and right wing politics in America. The left will argue that we have to take in these refugees and integrate them into our society. Provide a support system for them and offer job training. But were do we get the funding to do that? This will be pointed out by the right. And there is truth in that. No country, no matter however wealthy it may be, will be able to take in every single refugee seeking asylum without economically affecting it's citizens, at least temporarily.

Lindsay said...

This has definitely been a Plutus driven week. When I began working on the Old Woman scene, two questions kept coming back to me. How does the redistribution of wealth affect the employer/employee relationship? And, in regards to the character of the teacher, if we aquire the wealth we've always dreamed of, do we also aquire the negetive traits of wealth too? When Plutus redistributes the wealth, the Old Woman keeps her money, but loses her lover. He no longer needs her financial support. Having worked in the service industry all my life, I find many of my clients deserving of their money. They worked hard for it and give back. But if the team of people they support became wealthy, the nannies, the fitness trainers, the house keepers, the dog walkers, then, like Poverty says, who would do these jobs. And what would that conversation be between the employer and employee. I have often heard people say, "My nanny is like a member of our family." But the nanny is not. He or she is an employee, and if they won the lottery tomorrow, I wonder if they'd come into work the next day. In the case of the Old Woman and the Young Corinthian, they had an intimate relationship. He needed her and she wanted him, and once his financial needs were met, he moved on. I think the left would say, "We're all in this world together. We should help each other out." And the right would say, "No, we aren't. There are this relationships based on one person being wealthier than another." In the case of the teacher, Plutus gives her wealth, and she turns into the worst possible version of herself. Wealth changed her, in a not-so-pleasant way.

There is a delicate balance between the rich and poor. They need each other to function. I was talking with a writer friend about this issue. And we were discussing why the middle/lower class doesn't rise up, and demand change. And I think, this myth of the American Dream keeps us quiet. This idea that if we work really hard, pay our taxes, invest our savings, and play by the rules, then we will be rewarded. We can and will go from rags to riches in America. But the truth, and it's hard to swallow, is the odds of that happening are almost impossible. I was looking at Forbes top paid CEO's in America, and all of them had family ties, Ivy League educations, and a lot of pure luck. I didn't see too many rags to riches names on that list. I saw rich to wealthy names, and almost no women.

I'm not sure of the answers to these questions, but I do know, the more space you put between the super rich and the poor, the more tension is created. It's like pulling a string from two opposite ends. At some point, it breaks.

Junaid Walayat said...

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