ROUNDABOUT BLOG

Arthur Miller’s THE PRICE: American Consumerism

Posted on: April 1st, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Photo by Joan Marcus

In The Price, the Franz family is forced to deal with the practical and emotional results of financial decisions made during the Great Depression. The play takes place in 1968, and money dominates the conversation. But the value of money changes over time. Today, the $1200 that Solomon offers Victor for the family’s old furniture isn’t worth what it was in 1968. And in 1968, that $1200 wasn’t worth what it was in the 1920s, when the furniture was new.

  • Let’s break down the relative value of some important numbers in the play.
  • $1 in 1934 would have the purchasing power of $2.60 in 1968, and $17.70 today.
  • The Franz dining room table cost $1200 or $1300 in 1921. That’s the equivalent of spending about $15,900 to $17,200 today. The family was well off back then!
  • Victor asked Walter for $500 to finish his college degree in 1938. In today’s dollars that’s equivalent to $7,100.
  • Solomon offers Victor $1200 for the family’s old furniture. Today, that’s equivalent to $8,170.
  • Walter tells Victor they should donate the furniture, and he’ll write it off on his taxes, then they’ll split the tax savings. That savings—$6000 in 1968—is equivalent to $40,900 today.

The relative value of money isn’t the only thing that has changed in the past 80 years. What Americans spend money on has also changed dramatically. The amount of money available for discretionary spending increased markedly during the twentieth century, both across the nation and in New York City specifically. This opened the door for the rise in consumerism, which helped shift how we, as human beings, assess our purpose and value in society.

Back in 1934, the average NYC family spent 76.2% of their household income on basic necessities: food, clothing, and shelter. Around the time the play takes place, in NYC only 64.2% of income was spent on the basics. In 2003, that number had dropped to 56.7%.

The United States’ early economic system was agrarian, or farm-based. Most of what was consumed--food, cloth, furniture, tools, etc.—was produced on the farm or acquired from other locals through a bartering system. Unnecessary purchases weren’t an option. Thrift, frugality, and efficiency were valued. Religion also played a role in shaping American ideas about consumption: Puritans, Quakers, and others believed that emphasis on luxury or material goods distracted from the proper focus on God, and some even regulated what congregation members could purchase or wear.

Three important things happened in the late nineteenth century that changed American consumer behavior.

  1. Factories, in which goods could be mass produced, were developed.
  2. Millions of people immigrated, creating a large pool of low-cost labor for those factories.
  3. The government invested in transportation infrastructure like railroads, making it easier to move goods across the nation.

Suddenly, there were inexpensive goods available for purchase, and wage-earners, no matter where they came from or their social class, could aspire to own them. Everyone could work towards a lifestyle of security, comfort, and beauty. In many ways mass production was a democratizing force. It also created the current definition of a healthy economy: in order to sustain production and employment, more consumer demand for goods had to be created.

Newspapers and magazines, which became cheap and widely available in the late nineteenth century, put advertisements in front of the American public. The number of advertisements produced annually quadrupled between 1914 and 1929, the years Victor and Walter were growing up. Beginning in 1922, many of these ads ran on the radio, a new invention.

The U.S. became a nation of boundless acquisition of things. People began to measure success through acquisition of material goods, rather than through educational, creative, or professional achievement, civic contributions, or family or community engagement.

The Great Depression and WWII shifted the U.S. away from a focus on economic growth. But after the war U.S. citizens went on a production and consumption binge, eager to shake off years of depression and wartime rationing. Consumer spending, which helped the economy, was considered patriotic. The rise of suburbia, fueled by the G.I. Bill’s home loan program, encouraged purchase of cars and household appliances.

In order to keep the need for consumer goods high, products became, as Solomon puts it, “disposable,” through planned obsolescence or change in fashion. Television became popular in the 1950s, exposing American families to more advertising than ever before—advertising that encouraged them to keep up with changing fashions and new conveniences. By 1968, the United States was the most materially-rich society in world history.


Arthur Miller's The Price is now playing at the American Airlines Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.

 


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Arthur Miller's The Price, Education @ Roundabout, Upstage


No Comments

On The Exhale: Designer Statements

Posted on: March 29th, 2017 by Roundabout

 

Set model for ON THE EXHALE.

Rachel Hauck—Set Design
On The Exhale could be set anywhere, Martín does not specify a location. Leigh, Martín, Marin and I had some long conversations about what the liminal space might be from which of our character would tell this tricky, dark, terrifying tale. It was important to make the journey for the character possible, but it was equally important that the audience be caught in the world with this character, that the people hearing this would not be safe on the other side of the fourth wall, as it were.   We have chosen to set it in a highly psychological environment. From the moment the audience enters, this is never a comfortable room. The environment begins charged, it is a place of tension which only increases as the story unfolds. It’s also a very neutral world, the quality of which can change radically with lights and sound and, of course, with Marin’s remarkable performance. I suppose I would call this an aggressively minimal environment. There is nowhere to hide, no stool, no glass of water. The character is pined between two planes. These planes could be the hallway at the school where she teaches, the walls of her home, they could be the barrel of a gun. What these planes represent will be different for everyone who watches this play. We also chose to soften the walls of the theater itself to make them a little harder to define, to create a void within which we are all a bit trapped together. The thing about this story and the way that Martín tells it, is that though none of us imagine we could be in her shoes, this could not happen to us. But, of course, it could.

Marin Ireland in ON THE EXHALE. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jennifer Schriever—Lighting Design
When I read On The Exhale for the first time, I was a sleep deprived new parent (I still am), feeding my 4-week-old son, Henry. I’d happily spent the 4 weeks since his birth ignoring the heart shattering woes of the world and simply basking in the perfect newness of his gentle being.  This was the first new script I’d read since he was born and I was eager to dive into another world, what I wasn’t expecting was a sucker punch to the gut, and an instant instinctual emotional release.  The experience I had reading the script for the first time is a journey I hope I’m able to support visually through lighting.  Rachel’s set has a focused straightforwardness that I think encompasses the world of this story in a sort of abstract beauty.  It is an island, an abyss.  It allows us to be comfortably delivered into a void of our worst fears, and then having to redefine everything we used to know.  Instead of literally describing the various locations visually, we’re supporting a deep emotional journey.  The lighting may describe the familiar as a comforting haven or sometimes an inescapable prison.  It might be freeing or constricting, immediate and bright, or floating in a vast expanse.   I hope the lighting will be able to deliver us visually- from familiarity, to chasm, to surreal discovery, and then perhaps catharsis.

Bart Fasbender—Sound Design
Before reading the script, all I knew of On The Exhale was that it was a one woman show that Leigh Silverman was directing. Working with Leigh is always a great experience and our last show together, Neil LaBute's All The Ways To Say I Love You at MCC, also a one woman show, was no exception, so I was psyched. The first read through of a script for me, I try not to “hear” too much in my head because I don't want to get too many strong ideas before meeting with a director to discuss her concept. In his production notes at the beginning of his script, Martín Zimmerman instructed “metaphoric sound” as a must. So I did have that in mind as I started. There are no scenes, no transitions, no grounded locations that need to be established in order to convey story; the words alone take care of that. It became clear that my sound design would need to have a light touch and stay out of the way of the words, not lock in any specific emotion, time or location. I was thinking of wind. Not like a blustery cold wind, more a wind that you don't know you feel unless you focus on it. It's there, it's part of the environment, you sense it subconsciously but you don't notice it...unless it becomes completely still. I'll consider it a job well done if no one knows.


On the Exhale is now playing at the Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Visit our website for tickets and more information.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, Education @ Roundabout, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground, Upstage


No Comments

 

I’m very happy to announce the first bit of casting for Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, directed by Anne Kauffman. Please join me in welcoming Janeane Garofalo (Lee), Lili Taylor (Bessie), and Celia Weston (Ruth) to the production.

Janeane is making her Roundabout – and Broadway – debut, though her onscreen popularity precedes her. She has received two Emmy nominations for her role in “The Larry Sanders Show,” and she has appeared in such series and films as “Broad City,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” Ratatouille, Wet Hot American Summer, and “The West Wing.” She also will appear in the film adaptation of Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate. I am thrilled to have Janeane join the Roundabout family.

Both Lili and Celia are Roundabout alums, Lili having appeared in The Three Sisters and Celia in Summer and Smoke. Lili has an extensive list of hit films and television shows to her name, including Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials, The Conjuring, “American Crime,” “Hemlock Grove,” “Almost Human,” and “Six Feet Under.” She has been nominated for three Primetime Emmys and has won an Independent Spirit Award for her role in Household Saints. Celia has appeared on Broadway in such shows as True West and Lady from Dubuque, and she received both Tony and Drama Desk nominations for her role in The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Onscreen, she has appeared such series and films as “Modern Family,” “American Horror Story,” Knight and Day, K-Pax, and The Village. She received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for her role in Dead Man Walking. I couldn’t be happier to welcome both Lili and Celia back to the Roundabout stage. Full bios are included in the press release, attached.

Preview performances for Marvin’s Room begin on May 9, 2017. For tickets and more information, please visit our website.


Related Categories:
2016-2017 Season, From Todd Haimes, Marvin's Room


No Comments