Melbourne Festival: The Money

The Money is every meeting I’ve ever been to.

Created by UK-based company Kaleider, it’s part game, immersive theatre and live art. And almost fly-on-the-wall live documentary.

The Money. Kaleider. Melbourne Festival
The Money. Kaleider. Melbourne Festival

A group of ticket buyers known as the “benefactors” have an hour to unanimously decide how to spend a small pile of money – different amounts each session – while being watched by an audience of “silent witnesses” and an unknowable audience of people watching the live stream. Silent witnesses can become benefactors at any time by adding $20 onto the pile.

Sessions run throughout the festival in the Prahran Town Hall, Footscray Town Hall and Parliament of Victoria, Legislative Assembly Chamber.

The choice of venue resonates deeply.

Like almost every meeting I’ve ever been to – from government public safety meetings to friends choosing a restaurant – everyone was overly polite and wanted to take the shortest route to the easiest discussion. This game could have been over in ten minutes with a decision to donate to the Asylum Seeker’s Resource Centre.

Which would have been very dull theatre and not even a fun game.

But the rules are that the discussion has to take an hour. So next came the “how do you decide what constitutes good charity” conversations and arguing if $370 can make really make any difference. I almost fell into an old habit of minute taking as the too-familiar conversations continued.

Then silent witness Geoff put in $20 and said he was going to be an “arse hat” and veto any decision to give to charity.

Most in the group thought he was part if the game. He wasn’t.

He wanted them to follow the rules and be creative and at least consider something “evil or fun”.

As it was one member’s birthday (25), they discussed taking her out or buying her the tattoo she wanted. But someone had learnt from Geoff and vetoed it because she didn’t like tattoos.

So with minutes left, the group were further away from a decision than they had been a few minutes in.

The final decision was rushed. It wasn’t one that everyone liked. It wasn’t any better than any of the other suggestions. The faces of the silent witnesses said that the room didn’t support it.

This was still almost every meeting I have ever been to.

No one is really happy and it’s not the best decision. It’s just the one that everyone agrees on.

It’s how decisions are made in working groups, judging panels, boards, committees and governments.

Most are last-minute compromises based on time, exhaustion, frustration and a desire to get the hell out of there.

There are other ways.

I think that’s what The Money wants us to remember.

Then Geoff withdrew his objection to the charity donation – note that a new rule has since been added: No giving to charity – and the decision swung back to the first one. And no one cared that the person who put the donation on her credit card got a good tax deduction, credit card points and a pile of cash. A pile of cash that could have been given to the homeless guy with black diabetic toes sitting metres away from the venue, or to a tattoo artist to give a 25-year-old a story that she’d be able to tell until she could no longer tell stories.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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