So this all happened pretty quickly.
Last week I decided that, given that I might be moving pretty soon, I had way too much stuff in my life. I also had way too much debt. And maybe because of the work on STEAL THIS PLAY and the resultant obsession with property and theft, and maybe because of this episode of This American Life which fascinatingly exposed the role of haggling in the retail economy, I thought it might be a good idea to make a haggling performance out of the process of dematerialisation.
So HAGGLE happened: an interactive performance / fire dale. The initial performance was deliberately unprepared and spontaneous: I decided to set up a stall in public, packed with books, music, DVDs, clothes and oddities, along with a (half-ironic) catalogue of performances that were also for sale (including poems, songs, hugs, arguments and apologies), a sign which said HAGGLE, and waited to see what happened.
Of course, the performance turned out not only to be lucrative but also to be incredibly fruitful. It was a success, and I’ll be repeating it several times over the next few weeks to see how it develops. Some vital statistics and notes follow; I’ll provide these after each performance, so that you can see how the performances develop, and compile them into a performance report at the end of the month. Keep checking the Open Source Theatre site for updates, as I won’t post them all here.
- Performance time: 150 mins
- Number of performers: 1
- Number of audience members: 35 participants (approx.), 50 voyeurs (approx.)
- Items sold: Graphic novels, play texts, CDs, a ukulele, clothes, arguments, a poetry performance, books, a directing session
- Clashes with the authorities: 0
- Money earned: £74.37
- Student debt offset: 0.007%
As I initially laid out my stall, there was immediately a twenty minute long rammy to buy things. This took me rather buy surprise: there was sudden and large-scale enthusiasm to just buy my shit. I barely had any time to explain the premise of the performance; it just happened. I never achieved the same critical mass of audience members, though the flow remained steady. I am glad it started as something which just happened, with energy, rather than as a laboured event — it enriched the whole experience for me, gave it a reality.
It was difficult to get people to pay for performances. While I was able to use offering “apologies, hugs, arguments, adoring glances” as a hook that took people by surprise and brought them over to the performance, only two audience members paid me for performances rather than material objects. (Except that, of course, because every object was haggled for, every object came with its own performance: was part of a performance process.) Each of these, however, was enthralled and entertained by the idea: the one who paid be for arguments kept coming back for me, enjoying the idea of an argument as a purchasable performance.
I became a capitalist. I began to understand the draw of retail, the pleasure in converting material to lucre. I also felt liberated as the physical and performative elements of my life became the possibility and potentiality of cash. There was nothing radical or political about what I was doing (the ironies only supplied a distance from the cruel realities of capitalism, rather than criticising them): it was pure money-making.
I didn’t successfully explore the meaning of haggling and the exchange relationship with enough audience members. How can I introduce this philosophical and conversational element?
One older audience member offered to give me more than the RRP for a book, “in order to see how my guilt would react”. Intoxicated by lucre, my guilt vanished at the sight of a ten pound note. Only later did I have qualms about accepting this. But not very strong ones.
How does what I’m doing relate to the realities of haggling? For me, I don’t have as much of a stake in the specific price I offer as a professional haggler: I need the most I can get for any item, but there is no fixed relationship here to my debt. I thus go lower than a market stall owner would; there is less urgency about what I’m doing. I am a dilettante haggler. How can I insert a greater element of desperate reality to what I’m doing? Through the way I perform, or my internal attitude to the performance?
How will this performance change as the returns get lower, the hours get longer, the stuff gets tackier and cheaper? I imagine it will get less exhilarating and more depressing. Or will it get more liberating as I shed my material skins? Will I have the willpower to push it to its conclusion? And, as one friend commented on my initial announcement, what is the morality of dematerialising myself by burdening others? — relieving them of cash only to increase their weight in life?