Edinburgh Festival Fringe: How valuable are artists? Are they worth more than the venues that employ them and the executives who “develop” them (or the critics who write about them?)? And if the answer’s “yes”, why are so many of them getting paid less?
Bedlam Theatre (Venue 49)
These are some of the questions Paula Varjack’s refreshingly honest, Arts Council-funded show asks – the culmination of five months’ work for which she was paid a grand total of £2,250.
In the first few minutes, Varjack, alone on stage, strips away the convention that you don’t talk about how much you earn or, as an artist, any other jobs you do to make ends meet. Through a series of filmed interviews, we see how taxi drivers react to the prospect of working for free (not very kindly), but also hear from other artists, performers, writers and even an economist.
Accompanying rhythmic monologues with a multimedia mixing deck, Varjack highlights a reoccurring pattern: artists doing years of training, only to end up working in menial jobs when they’re not making their art (or doing “endless bloody scratching,” as one puts it).
The unfair way organisations value some people’s contributions in the workplace over others, along with recent news stories about pay disparity at the BBC, gives the play a wider resonance.
Varjack asks, if Iggy Pop can’t live off his royalties, what hope is there for the rest of us? Although Iggy then goes on to say it’s “the pursuit of money” that leads to great art, rather than money itself.
The play could do more to explore the complexities surrounding the uneasy relationship between artistic pursuits and capitalism, as well as childhood dreams versus adult realities.
But, as Stella Duffy says in an interview at the end, “Part of your job as an artist is to look at the world around you and make it better.”
And Varjack is certainly doing that.
Until 13 August. Today 3:30pm.