Jocelyn is the Artistic Associate at The Public Theater. In her position, she works in the literary department on new play development and dramaturgy and produces the Public Lab Speaker Series. Darren is the Artistic Director intern of the Public Theater, serving as a second assistant to Artistic Director Oskar Eustis.
Last night’s Public LAB Speaker Series panel, “Going Broke in Contemporary America,” explored relevant themes in Shakespeare’s dark comedy about money and friendship. Ian Hersey, the Public’s Shakespeare Initiative Associate, moderated the discussion.
David Segal, business reporter for The New York Times, shared an incredible anecdote about the shop owner who sold Bernie Madoff his last pair of pants (at $2,000 a pair), when he reported from Palm Beach in the wake of Madoff’s arrest. Segal explained that many Madoff victims he’s interviewed haven’t used their new financial hardship as an opportunity to reflect on their extreme wealth. Many remain focused on how they will recover their lost fortune, but they don’t think about downsizing their lives. In light of recent financial crises, Segal also noted that it is middle class workers who have suffered the greatest fallout. For example, people who lost $20 million dollars of their $25 million dollar fortune, still have $5 million dollars and are not, exactly, broke.
Jan Yager, author of Friendshifts: The Power of Friendship and How it Shapes Our Lives, said that in the play, Timon’s relationships are based on things like giving gifts and eating extravagant meals, rather than shared values- the necessary foundation for true friendship. Subsequently, an audience member asked Jan for an explanation for Timon’s rejection of his servants’ offers of friendship as his creditors are beating down his door for payment. Jan answered that although people of varying social status can be friendly with each other, higher status people have a hard time having friends below their station because they want to maintain their power in society. Timon would not, in that moment, have been able to conceive of being on the same level as his servants.
Another audience member wanted to know what advice the panelists had for lending money to friends. Jan remarked that if you lend money to a friend, you should be prepared to lose that money, and be okay with that. Someone else asked if the super-rich can understand the everyday life of the poor. Segal said that the idea of “two Americas” is very real, and that the division between the country’s rich and poor citizens is not just a talking point, but something he notices every day in his journalistic work.
Another person asked if the rich or the middle class seemed to handle financial crisis better. Both panelists agreed that those who placed more value in friends and family tended to weather storms better than those who placed more emphasis on the attainment of money. Segal cited the rash of Wall Street broker suicides in the wake of the crash.
If you missed last night's discussion, don't worry, you'll have another chance next week! Last night we focused on the contemporary, next week we will investigate the Shakespearean era. The Shakespeare Society will co-sponsor a panel with The Public called, "Money in Shakespeare's Time, Money in Shakespeare's Work," after our performance of TIMON OF ATHENS on March 3rd. Michael Sexton, Artistic Director of The Shakespeare Society, will moderate a discussion with financial historian and Cambridge University Professor Craig Muldrew and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro from Columbia University. They'll talk money and credit in both Shakespeare's plays and in daily life during the English Renaissance. Don't miss this incredible discussion!
In above photo: Richard Thomas and cast members in Timon of Athens, directed by Barry Edelstein, a Public LAB SHAKESPEARE production running through March 6 at The Public Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus.