The Best of Both Worlds: A Busker’s Opera is Leo Burtin and my first show together, and it looks and feels very different from our respective solo practices. It started from conversations in pubs and at kitchen tables while setting the world to rights, and wanting to extend these into something more concrete that could invite other people to articulate their own thoughts.
We started by thinking about money – specifically the ways in which we as artists have to traffic in intangible value on a daily basis. Quickly, this developed into people’s relationships with money, which led to class – specifically, both of our experiences as foreigners (USA and France) reckoning with the British concept of class. This led onto a fascination with the different factors that go into creating class identity – an almost Attenborough-like curiosity about the status into which you’re born and what qualities allow you to move up or down the class ladder. We surprised ourselves by returning to our own stories of higher education and its role in shaping our own class aspirations, and our shared (until then unarticulated) reasons for choosing art as a self-identified path of resistance – of what, we’re still not sure. Perhaps that’s intangible too.
Along the way, we’ve found a shared love of French 1930s street songs and of eBay. We’ve eaten lots of meals together and talked over and around them. We’re both quite textually-driven, and it’s been interesting to experiment with ways of ‘co-writing’ using shared file formats – sometimes we write together in a room silently, ghosting each other’s footsteps on the page. Other times we hack into the other’s writing unannounced, or blend a monolithic chunk until its previously-uniform contents are unrecognizable. Other times one calls the other out for relying too much on the page, and forces us off its comforting white plane and into studio space and awkwardness and the game of trial/error. But we both love words, and love channeling different voices on the page. We spend a lot of time watching 1990s Youtube documentaries, and we both love witches – though we’re not sure how that relates yet (perhaps that’s where we’ll head next).
We both experience acute attacks of work guilt – and this has become not only influential on our practice but very much a part of it. Work guilt and the subjectivisation of labour – if you’ll pardon the Marxist lyricism – may be the largest cognitive phenomenon of our time. How do we deal with that as artists – especially when we are constantly being asked to cannibalise and reflect on this regime (can we call it that?) as it transpires?
Sometimes we wonder whether being useful is important, or whether there might be a radicality in uselessness – a kind of obstinate refusal to conform to daily rhythms. Theatre exists in the realm of surplus value, and perhaps this should be celebrated.
In some ways this show has become about our need to occupy a position of hypocrisy – we’re artists who want to critique and change the system of labour/commercialisation in which we’re operating who also need it, crave it, actively seek out its evaluative structures.
Can we admit to being hypocrites, and still rise from the ashes of our own making? Can we admit that we are liars, and still love the truth?
43.2% of this blog was supported thanks to publicly privatized funding including Grunts for the Arts, the Donald Trump Foundation for the Instrumentalization of North Korean Aesthetics, the French National Office for the Prevention of Strikes, and private donors including my mom.