Staging Money: Theatre and Immateriality following the 2008 Financial Crisis

By Philip Watkinson, for Theatre Journal.
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press (March 2013).

This essay examines the use of money in contemporary theatre, and the recent trend of spectators being encouraged by practitioners to interact with physical currency during performances. It analyzes Clare Duffy’s MONEY the game show (2013) as an indicative example, in which spectators play with 10,000 pound coins via a series of games modeled on the speculative financial practices of hedge-fund managers. Placing this work within the context of the events that led to the 2008 financial crisis, the increasing immateriality and digitization of money, along with recent government cuts to the arts budget in the United Kingdom, the essay explores theatre’s potential as a space where spectators can experience these economic shifts and evaluate their societal impact.

Through a mixture of dramatic narrative and game show–style participation, MONEY the game show raises crucial questions around how money attains, retains, and loses its value. Duffy’s work explores the relation between a specific money-object (a pound coin) and contemporary economic practices (short-selling, zombie banks), which in turn reveals the decisive gap between how money performs and the underlying socioeconomic realities on which this performing is based. By experiencing this relation for themselves, both physically and symbolically, spectators explore the materiality of money and its dependence on global financial markets. Drawing on continental philosophy, the essay claims that this materiality is more appropriately termed immateriality, and that understanding it as such renders visible how theatre in the UK has responded to the socioeconomic shifts that resulted in and were a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

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