Friday, February 13, 2015

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

The Long and the Short of It

This interactive play is conceived and written by Michael Rohd and the Sojourn Theatre.  It is directed by Lian Kaas-Lentz and plays through February 22nd at their space at 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is about 2 blocks north of the theatre).  For more information, go to their site at

This is a tough question with no easy answer.  So, what can be accomplished in 90 minutes, you may say?  A thousand dollars is distributed to someone or some organization and, probably most importantly, it gets people talking about it.  Dialogue is the key to any solution to any problem.  When the digging for answers stops, and solutions found, then the erecting of a firm foundation can begin.

And the start here is to identify what needs to change or how help should be administered to accomplish change.  This group labels five areas for consideration:  Direct Aid to a person or group; System Changes to the way things are done; Education to individuals or groups; Making Opportunities for individuals; and Daily Needs for a person or group.  At the end of the evening, the thousand dollars will go to one of those areas that is decided by the majority of the audience/participants.

The audience is divided into smaller groups with one of the actors as their coach, asking questions, encouraging discussions and coming up with solutions for various problems.  One is bombarded with tons of information to use as a basis for our decisions such as, almost a fifth of the population is considered to be on or under the poverty line and, of that, a higher percentage are people of color.  Many children who go to school, the meal they get there is perhaps the only hot meal they’ll have for the day.    One must try to work and at the same time balance medical and food cost, with getting a better education or training, coupled with dealing with transportation, and finding adequate housing, and clothing for family members, etc.  And with no help from the outside, the inside may collapse.

The actors also present scenarios of, I’m sure, real life situations of various individuals that have encountered roadblocks along the way.  The cast of six main actors (unnamed, I’m sorry to say, because there was no program) are quite effective and seem earnest in their quest for helping to find the causes for such dilemmas.  They are rousing in their presentations and certainly have created a giant step in garnering attention for the poor and destitute.

All one can hope for at the end of this time period is that some of those concerned and awakened individuals in the audience will carry the torch beyond the theatre and light a way for future changes.  My friend and I certainly talked into the early hours afterward about the issues presented.  Some insights I have gleaned over the years is that, as Atticus Fitch (To Kill a Mockingbird) has espoused, that in order to really understand another person’s plight, you have to get inside their skin and walk around in it for a bit.  Yes, easier said than done.

But a step in that direction might be is to ask that person on the street what he really needs in order to improve his condition for the future.  A bureaucracy or politician (unfortunately, the controllers of the purse strings) may have all the fancy degrees and necessary clout but have little or any knowledge of the real situations inside those cardboard castles.  That control should be given to those brave individuals that are underpaid and overworked but are at ground level with those survivors.  It might be good to remember that many of us are, or have been, one step away from the bread line at some point in our lives.  Lest we forget…

My own personal take is, if I had an unlimited amount of money to donate toward these issues, how would I distribute it?  The major question to be considered for me would be, is the amount I give going to be sustainable.  In other words, if I give X amount to this person or group today, will I have to give the same amount to them tomorrow, ad infinitum…?  Or is there a way that that same amount could create a way of sustaining itself in a program that will create its own returns?

My friend and I recalled an adage that said if you gave a person a fish, it will feed him for a day.  But if you taught them how to fish, they could feed themselves for a lifetime.  Food for thought, I would say…

I recommend this presentation.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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