Theater archives

Money Lab: A Vaudevillian Social Experiment Proves the Value of Art


Untitled Theater Company’s workshop production of Money Lab explores one of the quintessential cocktail party dilemmas—the “flower vs. food” dichotomy, as its charismatic, fast-talking MC Clive Dobbs calls it. Is it possible to measure the relative worth to a society of essentials like food and water against the less tangible value of art?

For the next highly enjoyable 90 minutes, the company turns the audience into a tiny economy with blue and red poker chips, the former representing artistic products and the latter standing in for rations and beverages. Once the house opens, the audience buys an even amount of blue and red chips with actual money, and several times—after various auctions, concession-stand sales, speculation, and performances—the exchange rate is posted on a chalkboard, revealing fluctuations between the two currencies.

Every performance of this giant poker game displays a different type of economic variability, possibly based on the values of the audience, along with other factors. On the night I attended, it could have been that Edward Einhorn and Patrice Miller’s hilarious, provocative dance to the economic jargon surrounding the subprime mortgage crisis, “Dead Cat Bounce,” influenced the subsequent auction of patronage for Miller to cause an “art bubble,” which even included the spontaneous creation of an arts foundation among audience members. You might explain the lack of interest in comestibles from the fact that most snacks were very high in carbohydrates, and that the company didn’t make it clear in the slightly hot theater that the beverages, all woefully nonalcoholic, were on ice. It was nevertheless gratifying and inspiring to live, at least temporarily, in an economic game in which art came out on top, bubble or no.