Berkeley Rep audiences give Mike Daisey some cash

Mike Daisey in The Last Cargo Cult. Photo: Berkeley Rep.

At the end of every performance of  “The Last Cargo Cult” at Berkeley Rep, monologist Mike Daisey invited the audience to return to him some of the cash that had been handed out at the beginning of the show.

As members of the audience had walked in, they had been handed crisp $1, $5, $10, $20 or $100 bills.

The money represented what Berkeley Rep had paid him for each performance. Daisey challenged the audience to decide how much his show was worth. They were informed they could keep the money, give it back, or even add a little extra.

So after six weeks of performances, did Daisey re-earn his salary? Did he make any extra?

Apparently Daisey brought in a whopping $1,169 and half cents in profit, according to the Berkeley Rep blog.  Audiences clearly felt the solo performance was worth more than the price of the ticket.

The theater also recorded some choice audience reactions as they entered the theatre. Here are a few of them:

“Oh my God, I got a dollar!”

“Ten bucks? Dad, I got ten bucks!”

“No thanks. I don’t need it.”

“Cool. Now I can get a cookie.”

“Oh. Did I drop this?”

“I get $5 and he gets $1? I like this!”

“How do I have to humiliate myself to keep this?”

“There’s a small hole in this dollar. I bet that’s significant.”

When handed a $10, a confused woman kept repeating, “But parking was only $5.”

A wife got $100 while her husband got $1. She said, “Relax, it isn’t real.”

A woman who received $100 spent preshow examining it for flaws.

A woman stood her ground until the moneyhandler gave her $5 instead of $1.

When a wife got a $1 and her husband got a $5, she said, “I am not giving this back! This is blatantly unfair.”

“Why don’t I just give it to the homeless man outside?” (She refused the money and went into the theatre slightly peeved.)

Update, 10:25am: Mike Daisey responded to this story with a comment which we thought was worth sharing here:

“Audiences clearly felt the solo performance was worth more than the price of the ticket.”

While that would be nice, it isn’t exactly the dynamic that was playing out. What this posting fails to mention is that the money I give out each night is my own, not the theater’s–it is, in fact, every dollar I have been paid for the performance that they are watching at that moment.

Checking the churn of the performance, many audience members take the money they’ve been given and leave, while other’s choose to be more generous–but is their contribution connected to the original ticket price, or to my fee, which is made up entirely of what is in the bowl?

We’ll be posting much more comprehensively on this in the future, once the economist and statistician have worked through all of the data.

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  • http://mikedaisey.com Mike Daisey

    “Audiences clearly felt the solo performance was worth more than the price of the ticket.”

    While that would be nice, it isn’t exactly the dynamic that was playing out. What this posting fails to mention is that the money I give out each night is my own, not the theater’s–it is, in fact, every dollar I have been paid for the performance that they are watching at that moment.

    Checking the churn of the performance, many audience members take the money they’ve been given and leave, while other’s choose to be more generous–but is their contribution connected to the original ticket price, or to my fee, which is made up entirely of what is in the bowl?

    We’ll be posting much more comprehensively on this in the future, once the economist and statistician have worked through all of the data.

    md

  • Eric Panzer

    My friend was given a five and I was given a one, at which point I turned to him and said, “You’re buying dessert.” As it turned out, this borrowed money was returned, and I successfully resisted the urge to fold mine into a paper airplane and fly it on to the stage.

  • http://nancyfriedman.typepad.com Nancy

    This would be a great topic for the Freakonomics blog. Anyone here have any connections?

  • G

    This is a bizarre gimmick. I understand you’re trying to engage with the audience Mike, but I wouldn’t feel good knowing you’re risking your salary like this. I want you to keep your earned money!

    How about some other experiment???

  • Bruce Love

    @Mike,

    Please tell me that you kept a list of serial numbers. I do not mean to track which patrons did or did not give back. I do mean so that you can report, in aggregate, how much was simply returned (broken down by denomination) and how much as newly contributed (assuming some margin of error whereby a bill was “returned” but using a different bill).

    These are very important questions!

  • Jim G

    I was given a ten and returned a twenty. For plays in general it would be nice to have several buckets: Actors, Playwright, Set Design, Theater Management, New Play Fund. In fact it would be nice to pay taxes that way too. How much would we allocate for defense vs education or health care, given the choice?

  • Windy

    Sounds like a research project from Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational).
    Except that you’d want to see how the amount of the bill handed out correlated to the amount given back. Are people given $100 less likely to keep it than people given $1?

    But I’m confused. If I’ve already paid for a show, why would I want to pay more than the established ticket price? It’s not like the audience members came to a free pay as you go performance, did they? It sounds like the main thing established is that the audience was honest.

    Also that you can’t make a living in theater based on donations and what people “think” it’s worth.

  • deirdre

    2 thoughts:
    First, it’s a bit of a shame that this conceit was revealed on the blog before viewers see the play. I think it adds enormously to the experience that you don’t know why you were handed the money.
    Second, I got a $20 and my husband got a $50. Problem: at end of show we couldn’t find the $50. Searched under the seats, in pockets, nothing. Left him a $20 in place of the $50. Began to worry that Mike Daisey would freak out. Got home: found the $50 in some forgotten pocket. Husband returned the $50 to the box office later. Hopefully word got back to Mike about why $50 was waiting for him at the box office.

  • tizzielish

    I guess I can understand why the performer would want to wait until the run is over to reveal his data but I would sure like to know how much money he gets at the end of each show.

    This is a fascinating experiment. I wish I had a ticket to see the show, just to experience the money thing. Pay attention, humans. Our monetary system is going to change. Not today, not tomorrow, not in my lifetime but human culture evolves and it evolves slowly but the culture related to money is changing.

  • Joan

    I got a twenty, my husband and friend (we have season tickets together) each got a one. We hadn’t heard about the gimmick, but my immediate response was to say, I know I’ll have to give this back. Sure enough, at the end, our friend took our $22 to the stage, as my husband and I are both disabled. It was just that, a gimmick. We weren’t tempted to add more, would rather donate directly to BerkRep (and we do). Keeping the money was unappealing, as we don’t need money. I think it was silly.
    But we liked Mike Daisey enough to buy tickets to the following Sunday performance of Steve Jobs, which we also enjoyed.