Teen Play about Money is “Eye Opening!”

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“Money Matters,” a play that opened last weekend in Cambridge, Mass., demonstrated the financial wit of its teenage actors at the same time that they – and the audience – embraced the complexities of money.

Credit versus debt, income differences among classmates, money and relationships, certificates of deposit, needs versus wants – this only scratches the surface of the subject matter in the Youth Underground theater production, which begins touring the Boston area in February.

The actors clearly were having fun, but their performance served as an educational tool that might be replicated.  For example, the screenplay was based on the actors and other teenagers’ 80-some interviews of community residents about their financial viewpoints and mishaps.  The stories generated ideas for the vignettes that were stitched into a screenplay.

“Very eye-opening!” audience member Cameron Netland, 16, said after the performance.

“I learned the difference between saving and spending and between debit and credit!” said Aaliyah Nathan, 14, who, wearing black suede boots to the performance, admitted a weakness for new shoes.

The production starred a multi-ethnic, multi-income troupe, including Gabrielle Joella as the tooth fairy, delivering $100 for each tooth left under characters’ pillows.  Rosa Munson-Blatt’s character repeatedly tried – and failed – to get a $100 advance on her loose teeth.  “No tooth, no money!” Joella responded.  Actors including Trinadad Ramkissoon showed their range as they assumed numerous guises.*

“Money Matters’ ” gritty realism came out in the personal financial stories of community residents and businesses.  The play progressed from scraps of financial information to a complex weave of issues, such as U.S. consumerism and the impact of money on relationships.  Netland, for example, was “inspired” by a vignette about a homeless man.

To prepare for their interviews, the teens took four financial literacy classes conducted by Cambridge Savings Bank, which funded the play.

Vincent E. Siders of Youth Underground directed, and Cambridge Savings senior vice president Susan Lapierre brought the idea for a play about money to the community organization.

* “Money Matters” cast: Photo 1 (left to right): Shakeem Nicholson, Federico Roitman, Iris Smith-d’Agincourt, Trinidad Ramkissoon, Gabrielle Joella. Photo 2: Iris Smith-d’Agincourt. Photo 3: Sasha Forbath, Naomi Zahler, Sole Nazaire, Trinidad Ramkissoon, Shakeem Nicholson, Qalani Aimes, Robyn Bryan, Grace Henderson. Actors not shown: Juan Arevalo, Melissa Belance, Rosa Munson-Blatt.