Get up at 9am tomorrow. A small lie in. Wonderful. Write until 10.30am. Shower, eat, get your shopping from Lidl. Work from 1pm-7pm. Damn, no break because it’s just six hours. Don’t tell them about your niggling knee because they might then give you a break and you’ll lose 30 minutes of pay. Come home, eat some more, don’t fall asleep, send out some emails. Back to work from 11pm-4am. Collapse. Be up for 10am the day after tomorrow for a meeting.
This sounds like a small extract from a play I’ve just finished writing with my co-writer, documenting the lives of two working women as they interact from two different periods in history, 1983 and 2017. However, this is a documentation of my weekend ahead as a young working-class woman, working to get by and experience her first ever Fringe as a writer and artist.
I use the term “working-class” loosely; it’s a term I will always struggle to self-define with. Do I define as working-class when I am startlingly aware of the privilege afforded to me in earlier years and the sacrifices made by my parents to shape who I am today? I went to a state school; I was presented the opportunity to go to a private school on a scholarship when I was 11. Those three years I spent in private education were both the best and worst, my overarching memories being the sneering remarks from my peers because I spoke with a thick, regional accent that the teachers tried to drum out of me, accompanying their attempts with their own sneering comments: “Go back to your cardboard box!” was a stand-out, a reference to my home-town. Now I am presented with the internal dilemma of: do I now take ownership of being working-class, due to the reality of my current situation? As an Economics and Politics student at The University of Edinburgh, I have felt extremely suffocated by the privilege that surrounds me. I am in the minority of students who work during term-time: I have to in order to afford my rent; but, I also have to fight for every single opportunity that presents itself to me because I don’t have people in high places to sneak me through the back door. OK, I confess, that line was borrowed from the play. But, all the same, I am constantly reminded of my difference due to the environment I find myself in. It is this difference which directs my apprehension when preparing for a debut this August.
I recall a pivotal moment in realising this difference within my new, academic sanctuaries of Edinburgh. Consumed by the insomnia-induced worries of feeling completely out of place in one of the UK’s leading academic institutions, I watched Netflix’s Knock Down The House at 2am one morning in May, unaware of the stream of tears rolling down my face until it was too late. I painfully related to the words of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “They call it working-class for a reason… because you’re working non-stop”. If this quote is to be taken at face-value, then yes. That is me. I am working-class according to this definition. Because I am always, and I always have been, working. And one negative connotation of this state of living is the impact this has on your own time and mental well-being.
Over the past few months, I have been hating on myself at work as the deadline to finish our Fringe script crept up on us. I was busy serving Nachos when I could have been at home writing a song that best articulated our message of the play. I was busy pulling pints when our Fringe competitors were sending out mass emails with the best marketing angles to capture the attention of big newspapers. I was busy mopping floors at 3am when other artists were getting a full-night’s rest to optimise their performances. There is no room for illness, no room for slip-ups, I scramble to my computer before every shift, double-checking and praying to whatever working-class gods there might be that my shift hasn’t been cancelled with no further details provided. I am not trying to romanticise this; I am merely trying to say it how it is. Too often, the concept of some make-shift American Dream would turn this story into an inspiration. But this is not something to aspire too. The financial anxieties that keep you awake at night and keep you from producing great art is not romantic, it’s hard work.
So, what can be done? I think it’s very simple. The Fringe needs to be made more accessible for individuals who are not financially well-off. It is not easy. So, represent us. Platform us. Champion us. Our stories and our graft. And this is before we even talk about gender, race and sexual orientation. This solution is based purely on financials; the height of the barriers increases more than two-fold when you’re a voice that is marginalised, there is no limit to the progression that can be made. I’ll leave it there, with some closing words from our play:
The terminology is recycled, and real debate and conversation,
Is sidelined in favour of a populist declaration.
And the liberal elite recruit all this theatre from London,
To represent the “oppressed”, whilst they scrap our funding.