Winner: 2018 FWR "Outstanding Contribution to Wealth Management Thought Leadership"


About The Living Case Study

Generate meaningful and open discussion.

Talking about wealth and how to use it effectively raises personal and family issues involving identity, status, legacy, communication, and interpersonal dynamics. It is difficult to develop objectivity, see different perspectives and consider potential solutions.

Shaking the Tree has developed The Living Case Study as a pathway to exploring such emotional issues as family–business succession, corporate governance in family enterprises, trustee/beneficiary relations, family decision-making, and the responsibility of inherited wealth, including philanthropy. Through the combined use of professional theater and expert facilitation, The Living Case Study generates meaningful and open discussion on the real impact of the choices made and actions taken by individuals and families of substantial resources.

It’s not just a story.

Each Living Case Study serves as a starting point to explore what just happened, what could still happen, and what might have happened differently.

The Shaking the Tree process delivers a high-end experience:

  1. Our Creative Team and guest collaborators are well-regarded professionals from different aspects of wealth management and philanthropy bringing authentic detail through decades of experience in working with affluent families.
  2. Our Managing Artistic Director, David Kersnar is a seasoned theater professional who is a co-founder and ensemble member of the prestigious Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago. Through his network, we are able to tap into the region’s top acting, writing and directing talent.
  3. We individually cast each play, through a casting call process, with professional actors thoroughly prepared and fully rehearsed to provide a faithful portrayal of their character.



"'All art,' said Oscar Wilde, 'is perfectly useless.' The exception may be dramas from Shaking the Tree. The audience leaves having conversations not only about the performance, but also about their own lives. This is the highest level of 'teaching.'"Phil Cubeta, The Wallace Chair in Philanthropy at The American College of Financial Services. 

“Excellent play. Fun. Informative. Witty. A non-threatening way for family members and advisors to think about the emotional issues in wealthy families.“Joanie Bronfman, Ph.D., Wealth Consultant

"Shaking the Tree transports the audience into the very real world of families working together, building and maintaining legacy, surviving success, facing challenges while managing their personal and financial assets.   Shaking the Tree presents families and advisors with an unparalleled interactive experience of quality and depth.”Dr. Edward Monte, Family Solutions Group


"Shaking the Tree’s production affords the opportunity to learn about one’s own family by observing and discussing another family. A family’s experience with its foundation, compressed into a short play and the participatory conversation afterwards, becomes a discussion of why family members act and react the way they do and allows the audience to evaluate objectively. Yet at the end of the evening, every person watching learns something of his or her own family and of himself or herself.  The sensitivity of the players, their ability to leave the stage and remain in their characters for group discussion, and the high quality of the script enhance the experience immeasurably. ” Charles A. Lowenhaupt, Chairman & CEO, Lowenhaupt Global Advisors

"Our Columbia students dove into discussing complicated family business succession issues in a new way -- with the family story on the big screen and with each other around the table. Very effective!” - Patricia Angus, CEO, The Angus Advisory Group / Director, The Family Business Program, Columbia Business School

“Shaking the Tree is a stunning performance. Through drama it exposes most of the current issues, themes and tensions in philanthropy today. What a wonderful springboard for initiating thoughtful discussions about giving, investing, family dynamics, accountability and theories of change!”Mark McDonough, philanthropist

“It was great. I found it to be very insightful. What impressed me the most was that the actors …sounded real!” Dr. Harold Ehrlich, Private  Advisor, Ehrlich Associates LLC

Find out more

Video CLIP: "Stalemate"

Driven by youthful enthusiasm and confidence, a well educated third generation grandson attempts to become more active in a long lived family foundation. While inspired by good intentions and meaningful expertise, the effort causes old and new ideas on governance and grant making to clash. The story explores the challenges of incorporating younger family members into the decision-making process in family philanthropy and mission.

Video Clip: "The Decision"

On the anniversary of the patriarch’s death, a shipping family gathers to launch a vessel in his honor – and finds itself torn between a commitment to renewing the family business and the attraction of a liquidity event that tests both the terms of the estate and the strength of family ties.  This story explores themes of loyalty and passion, and the complex interplay of legacy with generational succession and wealth transfer. 

Video Clip: "The Outsider"

A family meets to make key decisions about the future of its business and philanthropic foundation. Their long-time trusted advisor encourages loyalty to “The Plan” established by the founder years ago. Family members struggle to agree on a consistent strategy and unified mission. Adding more uncertainty, a granddaughter from a cut-off branch of the family arrives, seeking to reconnect. She brings her own vision, strengths and personal needs. Despite fractures, the patriarch’s legacy has endured into the third generation. Now, this pivotal challenge: blend its abundant talents to become a family of affinity or splinter into a collection of outsiders.