Precarious is a word that we are hearing more often in an increasing number of contexts: precarious work, precarious housing, precarious relationships, precarious everything. How can we plan for anything when nothing seems certain? When we live from contract to contract, whether we choose that lifestyle or not? Is there still room to dream when life can seem to be, at best, a series of consolation prizes? We are urged to “do what they love,” no matter what the cost to ourselves and the other humans in our lives. What is the distance between abandoning dreams and giving up? Can we live without dreams? Can we live with them?
Beginning in late February 2018, I began working with Rosalyn Cosgrove, Emilia Nechita, and Jeffrey O’Hara to devise a show centred on what could come to define—if it hasn’t already—the zeitgeist of our time: precarity. Thankfully, if somewhat ironically, we were attempting to address this fraught topic with something of a safety net in place, as the project was under the auspices of the Puppetry eXploratory Laboratory (PXL), a mentorship programme developed by Puppetmongers Theatre.
In just a few shockingly short months, we had generated three episodes that, while still “in progress,” we felt comfortable showing to an audience. And that we did, at the Fresh Ideas in Puppetry Day, again organized by Puppetmongers, at Aki Studio in the Daniels Spectrum (home of Native Earth Performing Arts) on 27 May 2018.
Now that I have had some time to reflect upon this project, I would like to devote the next few blog posts to analyzing it, especially since we are currently discussing what the next stage for Zero Hours: The Precarity Show could be. I also intend to chart the development process as it continues to unfold, so that this series of posts will become a collection of living documents, just as Zero Hours is an episodic assemblage of living documents in three related senses: they are inspired by autobiographical stories, they are devised and performed by living humans (in collaboration with puppets), and they are never really “finished” but continue to evolve with each retelling.
Among these dramaturgical posts will be interspersed more explicitly econo-political ones. I am also a member of the CUPE 3902 Unit 3 Precarity Working Group, and we are attempting to address many of the same issues as the members of the Zero Hours collective, albeit through very different means: researching the impact of precarity in the academic workplace, brainstorming potential solutions, and developing a campaign to spread awareness of these issues.
The scholarly, analytical part of my brain thinks that maintaining some distance between these two worlds might be prudent, lest what may appear to be the sharper, more pragmatic edges of the CUPE 3902 precarity campaign be dulled by having rubbed against the seemingly softer but more unyieldingly abstract sides of the Zero Hours project. Alternatively, one could adopt the perspective that the aesthetic and symbolic power of Zero Hours could be compromised by being juxtaposed with the more bluntly activist tone of the Precarity Working Group.
While these concerns are worth bearing in mind, I remain convinced that bringing these two ostensibly disparate projects into conversation with one another will help to reveal how each can pick up where the other leaves off. In other words, neither a puppet show nor a union campaign is going to give you everything for which you yearn, but both together could get you pretty far.