Workshy is a one-woman, autobiographical account of the working life of the Scottish performance artist and curator Katy Baird.
Katy has worked various customer services jobs at Burger King, Job Centre Plus, Wetherspoons and elsewhere. She’s worked an office job in London. She’s also been a drug dealer – selling (or at least attempting to) ketamine imported from India, as well as ecstasy and MDMA. In addition to all this, she spent six months as a “webcam girl” to fund her Sociology degree. Workshy presents an unflinchingly candid account of these experiences.
In doing so it encapsulates the weird world of modern-day employment: service-industries led, often a bit degrading, wildly varied, mostly unskilled, mostly part-time, mostly badly paid. What sociologists might call the “precariat” experience: having no definite work culture, and constantly being trapped in a state of not knowing what comes next. When Katy surveys her audience she finds that this experience is more typical than you’d expect (though Edinburgh Fringe audiences probably maybe aren’t the most representative demographic…).
Workshy implicitly asks why it is exactly that so many of us submit to all this. And yet at the same time it acknowledges that our working lives define us: that they are part of the fabric of our lives and consequently, however adverse, that there’s a lot to celebrate in the experiences we associate with them.
Katy combines karaoke, sociological survey, video art and audience interaction to tell her story. It’s DIY, post-dramatic theatre – low-fi, sometimes a bit of a shambles, but then not really aspiring to do anything other than find the most honest, direct and human way of relating the experiences being described.
It’s a brilliant show: life-affirmingly honest, and refreshingly ambivalent about its subject matter. There’s a clear political subtext when Katy shows dehumanising Burger King customer service instructional videos, or when she re-enacts drinking her own urine as a webcam girl. But it’s not a plea for pity, and there’s more fondness in these recollections than there is bitterness or shame.