When a show is built from scratch, it’s not unusual for its initial themes and focuses to morph and change as creation progresses. New discoveries are made all the time and the ensemble gets energized to chase these discoveries down paths that can lead to even more unexpected ideas. Sometimes they bear fruit, sometimes they don’t, but nothing comes and goes without some usefulness. What was once a dead end with one character, can become the basis for a new scene for another. In Big Money, we began by asking what it means to win in America. Our society rewards the entrepreneurial spirit of innovation, even when that spirit crosses ethical boundaries, or the innovation is actually just skirting the law.
Big Money is still on point for this original theme, but we’ve had some unexpected discoveries, too. The biggest surprise so far for me is the amount of humanity that we’ve found in the character of Michael Larson and his relationship to his wife and child. The real-life relationship of Michael and his wife Teresa was an odd, cyclical thing (they were married to and divorced from each other twice before they began their common-law marriage at the time of the game show). I initially thought it would be a lot of laughs, but the ensemble has mined that material for something that is much deeper, sadder and more true.
Honestly, I’m very surprised at how vulnerable and human Michael has become in this show. There are still plenty of times where he is clearly in the wrong and bilking people out of money left and right, but there are several moments where he invokes genuine empathy and even sympathy. I knew going in that we had to be able to present him as at least likable for the audience to want to buy in to the show, but I never expected him to feel so human… you know, right up to point where he steals $3 million from 20,000 unsuspecting people.
Derek Lee Miller is Project Lead for Sandbox Theatre’s Big Money, playing January 12-28 at Park Square Theatre in the Historic Hamm Building on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage.