Venue: Summerhall online
Work.txt is an interactive play performed entirely by the audience over a Zoom call, where participants act out parts of the script that are sent to them through the chat function. Everyone is essential in bringing to life this play about (un)essential work and society’s relationship to productivity during these “unprecedented times”.
The concept and script were created by Nathan Ellis, with a composition by Tom Foskett-Barnes that mixes real-world and electronic sound to help set the mood, enhance the digital atmosphere, and move the plot along. It is built around a piece of software, written by Harry Halliday, which automates the functions of Zoom to tell the story.
One audience member gets to volunteer to embody the main character – Alex (in the version I attended), is a “hard worker” with a job in social media marketing. It is the beginning of the working day, Alex is sitting on a Zoom call and, to everyone’s surprise, stops answering questions or moving in any way. They are not frozen, just unresponsive, refusing to work and maybe even more importantly, refusing to explain why.
This event is then used as a springboard for exploring the meaning of work in today’s society through a series of conversations between co-workers as well as broader, more philosophical scenes.
Switching between the roles of actor and spectator demands a lot of focus and multitasking if one wants to follow the whole story closely. The premise of the play requires every single participant to be attentive and to work, otherwise, the concept starts falling apart and there are semi-deliberate awkward pauses and silences. So like a real Zoom call, basically.
The entire story as well as its setting is almost painfully relatable. Yet the creators of the play managed to convey these complicated experiences with very human understanding and great humour. And by the end of the play (or working day), I became weirdly attached to the group of strangers with whom I brought the story to life.
Generally, it seems unwise to recommend voluntarily jumping on yet another Zoom call after the months of remote work we just lived through, but in the case of Work.txt, I’m more than willing to make an exception.
Dates: 11th August
Image: Nathan Ellis