Somewhere in the intricate weave of our genes we are hard-wired for story, dance, and song. As actors and as audience, we are awake in live performance, and when it’s working well, we wait, as if for our first kiss, for what might happen next, with the possibility of deeply felt satisfaction or upset each step of the way. In this moment, we are bound together as a community in the creation of meaning; in this moment, we realize what Archbishop Tutu refers to as the concept of ununtu botho: the vulnerability and interdependence which is the essence of being human. It is there, as a community, that we begin to contradict the corrosive effects of isolation in perpetuating oppression, both intimate and systemic. Reflection on a personal experience of this makes clear live performance’s critical relationship to connection and community. In unique present mindedness and with the pricked ears of a hunter, we listen not only to what is happening on stage, but to everyone present, listening even to their own listening. In live performance, the risk and the reward is shared by all. This possibility for lasting transformation creates a powerful force for connection, community, and social change.
Beginning from multiple points of origin and tracing multiple currents of personal and social history, ABUNDANCE explores the ways that people experience economic differences. Through a series of individual interviews with millionaires and minimum-wage workers, as well as workshops with people from diverse backgrounds, Pottenger facilitated an exchange of ideas and artistic themes culminating in ABUNDANCE, a tragic musical comedy that premiered in New York City in the Spring of 2003. The primary artistic goal was to demystify economics, as individuals and as a society. Critical to the conception of the project, and evidenced in the interviews, is the perspective that we are all in this together. ABUNDANCE allowed both participants and audiences to step away from their understandable assumptions, resentments, confusions, fears, and isolation, in order to imagine economic solutions that work for everyone. A collaborative project with The Working Theater (based in Manhattan) and Snug Harbor Cultural Center (Staten Island, NY), the dialogues and performances engaged a host of organizations, arts presenters and communities across New York City and nationwide in exploring the intimate and collective impact of money on people’s lives.
Although the economy of the United States is increasingly integrated with the global economy, ABUNDANCE‘s focus on the United States is rooted in the understanding that it is our particular lived experiences, in unique and culturally determined ways, that both assist and constrain our ability to conceive of and agree on future directions. Because stories and story-telling lies at the heart of a culture, I believe that the asking, listening, gathering, sharing and performing of our economic stories across such a divide will contribute significantly to the public conversations already resonating throughout the United States. At the heart of ABUNDANCE and its creation process is a perspective that makes clear the deep connections that the individuals in these two seemingly disparate groups – those at the extremes of our national economy – have to each other.
This was recently evidenced by William Gates Sr.’s petition, sponsored by Responsible Wealth and signed by over 800 billion- and millionaires, that called for the retention of the Estate Tax for the “benefit of those struggling the most to make ends meet”. ABUNDANCE’s national one-on-one interviews focused primarily on minimum-wage-earning and millionaire parents, with the understanding that the particularly intimate commitment to the future that parents share will hopefully serve as a cornerstone for realizing the profound connections between two groups that still varies considerably in terms of race, class, gender and culture.
ABUNDANCE was developed in a similar way to Pottenger’s OBIE award-winning project City Water Tunnel #3, which focused on the construction of a 64-mile-long water tunnel as deep as the Chrysler Building is high, which will eventually carry water to nine million New Yorkers. Integrating original writing and movement with selected text from over 250 interviews with construction workers, government officials, scientists, engineers, bankers, and other New Yorkers, Pottenger created a multi-media performance documentary and theater work, contributing to the practice and methodology of the community arts movement. The resulting performance, as well as a video installation and photography exhibit, has since been viewed by tens of thousands of citizens, across the U.S. and abroad.
Marty Pottenger’s most ambitious project to date, ABUNDANCE combines live performance with other visual and literary arts, realizing the interdependent nature of artistic and community dialogue, and enabling the participation of thousands of individuals across the country. Envisioned as a multi-dimensional, multi-cultural community arts project, designed to reach an ever-widening circle of participants and audiences, ABUNDANCE offers American citizens and residents of all classes the transformative power and imaginative reach of live performance as a tool in our conversations about today’s economic challenges and tomorrow’s economic possibilities.