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New show in Big Sky gets audiences involved in helping end poverty

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Yes, the show is called “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes,” but the organizers quickly clarify that no, they don’t believe this show, or any show, for that matter, can actually end such a large problem itself, or that quickly.

Actors perform a part of the interactive theater experience "How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes." The show plays this weekend in Big Sky.
Actors perform a part of the interactive theater experience “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes.” The show plays this weekend in Big Sky.

But, it will go about helping start a dialogue about the problem, and each night it runs, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in Big Sky theater, and the touring company behind the show, Sojourn Theater from Portland, Ore., will put their money where their mouths are and give $1,000 to a non-profit organization the audience chooses each evening.

The show runs Thursday through Saturday at the theater located in Big Sky starting at 7:30.

John Zirkle, the artistic director of the Warren Miller PAC, said because it’s so different from what they’ve ever presented, he mentioned how this show might be, “the coolest thing we’ve ever done, and maybe the coolest thing we’ll ever do.”
After successful showings in Portland, Chicago and Baton Rouge, the Sojourn Theater’s production makes its way to Big Sky in what’s being described as a cross between entertainment and civil dialogue.

John Zirkle, the artistic director of the Warren Miller PAC, said the way the show works is there are actors on stage who at the start of the show proposes a thesis to the audience, who are broken up into small groups. The thesis is if they had $1,000 to donate to a charity to help end poverty, which one would it be, and what’s the reasoning behind it? The actors present five branching theories about what the best ways to end poverty are.

“Those five categories are direct aid, education, a system change, making opportunities and providing for daily needs,” Zirkle said. “What Sojourn Theater does is explain each category to the groups, which includes about 12 to 15 people within each group. It’s very time restrictive, so there might be 90 seconds wherep eople get to talk within the group and talk to the person next to them about whatever it is they believe is the best method.”

After choosing the methods, the actors on stage lead several focused questions, and a non-profit expert from the area will speak as well.

At the end of the night, the groups vote, and the simple majority wins the $1,000, which then will be presented to that night’s non-profit organization.

16300010529_ab908d31eb_zThe idea for “How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes” was created by Michael Rohd, a theater educator from Northwestern University and the artistic director of the Sojourn Theater in Portland.

Rohd, who will attend the showings in Big Sky, said he came up with the idea after being asked to do a show about poverty.
He said he feels it fits well into the company’s philosophy to combine theater with civic issues.

“I came up with this particular show idea when I was teaching in Chicago and I got asked to make a show about poverty but I didn’t want to make a documentary-type theater show about poverty, I wanted to make a show that hosted a public dialogue about the things Sojourn is about,” he said.

Zirkle said he became interested in bringing the show to Big Sky after someone mentioned it to him and he started researching it on the National Endowment for the Arts website. He said it fits into their goals to expand what people think of when they go to a theater show, while being sensitive to the nature of the problem they’re examining.

“We’re not experts, but this is a way to shed light on an age-old topic in a new, and I think entertaining and interesting way,” Zirkle said. “But, it’s not meant to be exploitative. Michael Rohd does well with that. We’re not trying to dance and sing about people who have difficult lives, this is just a different way of looking at a controversial topic that makes for a unique theatrical experience.”

Both Zirkle and Rohd said the show’s not meant to be “preachy” but instead proactive about a delicate subject.

“Of course the show is meant to entertain an audience but it also makes us think in a really great way and it makes us less afraid of a difficult topic and it can possibly inspire action to actually take on the idea of ending poverty,” he said.

Admission to the program is $12 per person and can be purchased online here.

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