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'Nickel and Dimed' Puts Poverty in the Spotlight

Play based on best-seller explores survival strategies of poverty-level wage earners

EVANSTON, Ill. --- “Nickel and Dimed” -- a thought-provoking examination of the effects of bottom-line and welfare reform on America’s working class -- awaits opening night audiences this Friday (Feb. 1) at the Theatre and Interpretation Center (TIC) at Northwestern University.

Based on the best-selling book “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by noted author, activist and undercover journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, the production will be directed by former Northwestern student Jess McLeod.

Performances will take place 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2; 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 7; 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8; 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, at the Josephine Louis Theater, 20 Arts Circle Drive, on the University’s Evanston campus.

The opening night performance will be co-sponsored by TIC in association with the Northwestern University Women’s Center, the Association of Northwestern University Women (ANUW) and Northwestern Community Development Corps (NCDC). The evening will include a post-show discussion featuring guest panelist and Northwestern alumna Precious Wright from the Youth Job Center in Evanston, along with members of the cast and creative team. Additional post-show discussions with cast and creative team members will follow the Feb. 3 and Feb. 7 performances. All post-show discussions are free and open to the public.

Adapted for the stage by playwright Joan Holden in 2002 with waitress riffs by Sophia Chumley, “Nickel and Dimed” follows the character of Ehrenreich as she travels across America to document the struggles of low-wage workers. She takes jobs as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aid and sales clerk, while living in the cheapest lodgings available. Ehrenreich’s accounts of the realities of minimum wage survival earned her praise from The New York Times as “our premier reporter of the underside of capitalism.”

“In our production, we have emphasized the frame of the play so that it takes place textually, after Ehrenreich has written the book,” McLeod said. “It’s not just about what happens to the character of Ehrenreich in these various places, it’s also about how she processed her journey and what it meant to her.”

McLeod completed Northwestern’s MFA directing program in 2011. Her credits include Victory Gardens Theater, Griffin Theatre and Steppenwolf Next Up. For her return to the TIC stage, McLeod is working with a cast of 13 Northwestern undergraduates and her design team includes Jeff Award-winning sound designer Josh Horvath, along with Northwestern MFA design students Shawn Johnson (sets), Stephanie Cluggish (costumes), and Maya Fein (lighting).

Single tickets are $10 to $25; tickets for groups of eight or more are $8 to $22 each; $5 tickets are available exclusively for Northwestern students with valid IDs on advance ticket purchases only. Discounts to area school groups are also available. Tickets are available through the TIC Box Office at (847) 491-7282 or

Construction Alert: A three-year construction project underway on the southeast end of the Northwestern University Evanston campus has closed the Arts Circle Drive to traffic. Free parking for evenings and weekend events remains available, but the project will impact handicapped parking and patrons requiring special access to Evanston campus theaters. Visit to learn more.

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