TIME=MONEY is a 1-2-1 participative intimate poetry performance art event which explores the notion of the relative exchange values of time, money and poetry. How much will you pay? How much will you get? How much is it valued? The piece is conceived and performed by Debra Watson, using original poems from her ‘2nd cycle of dreams’ collection. (2ndcycleofdreams.wordpress.com). The performance was first conceived for the ReKindle show at Alexandra Palace in June of 2013 with Debra Watson as poetry reader, and Immo Horn as the attendant.
Poems from this collection can be read at 2ndcycleofdreams.wordpress.com
Next show: 26th Nov 2016 at The Unapolgetic Feminist Festival 2pm – 3pm
T.U.F.F. (£20 sat pass, £30 weekender pass)
If you are interested in having this performance at at event, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
More detail about the project below:
Alexandra Palace, ReKindle Group Show, June 2013
I am interested in an aesthetic of impermanence. How do we create aesthetic space? What is aesthetic space? How is ordinary space transformed into aesthetic space? I was looking for a way to present poetry that was both intimate and informal. I had a conversation with another poet, and he said, ‘You can’t ever make money from poetry.’ I started wondering about that. I was reading Marx’s ‘Capital’. He had a great chapter on how, under capitalism, your time becomes less and less your own. You have to account for all your time to the people who provide you with employment/ pay your wage, which is measured in units of time. I started wondering about how much time writing a poem took. How do you put a value or a measure on inspiration. I thought you couldn’t. Even the act of performing can’t be valued or measured. So, I wanted to create an intimate space, where audiences where told asked to put money in a jar and then I would speak to them only in poems.
The construction of the space was around a gazebo, using corrugated sheet cardboard. The interior was decorated with verdant green lights and mosquito netting which were placed around my chair. A kind of soft cage. The idea was to only ever speak if I was reading poems. Participants were never told what would happen inside the space. As performer, I would just indicate that they should sit down opposite me and place money in one of the jars next to the chair. There was no attempt to gauge how much money they put in and the duration of the performance was very much dependent on what I felt the relationship with the person was like. People have very different qualities and ways of being. Some come in, they are so anxious, they can’t see what you are asking them. I imagined, after awhile, that I was a bird in a cage, and the sound of the money drop in would allow me to ‘sing’ my poems. With some people I read for a long time, some people shorter. Some people I did not read at all. In retrospect, I wasn’t very brave and maybe turfed some people out in a way that was far too capricious, after all, they had actually come inside!
People are generally lovely and gentle and suprisingly open, but one young man was a completely ass. I didn’t like him. I didn’t have to. This was the great thing about them not paying for anything of any duration. We had no contractual obligation. We had already constructed a beautiful interior, a mysterious space. There was no compulsion for me to read. I had a little brass bell at my feet. Whenever I chose, I could just ring the bell and the attendant would come. With this young man, I rang the small brass bell which lay at my feet after reading just one or two poems. With many people, the attendant coming was a surprise. It is not often in a show, that the performer decides when the interaction is enough. Especially with street based, or public performances. The attendant, was not gentle. I call him, “The attendant” now, but at the time, his designated role was that of “The Quality Controller”: I liked the idea of a binary to this very emotional, sensual, reading practice. ‘It is time to leave’, he would say, in a firm voice and usher them out, and bring the next one in. The attendant had a board, with a 1-5 grid on it and a timer. He timed each person going in or out and tried to measure their enjoyment. This had very much to do with our notions about not being able to measure the quality of the experience, but some people took it very literally.
The young man who had annoyed me had his friend come in. His friend was very still, very alert. Present. I read to him for ages. When he left, I could hear the first comparing his times to that his friend. He came in the second time. He still didn’t get it. I rang the bell again. Even I did not know what I was looking for, but when I found it, it was delicious.
It was interesting, because, whether they enjoyed it or not, people who left kept to the original injunction that the attendant set up when people, inevitably asked, ‘What is in there’. We had agreed that he could not say anything at all. He just had to say, ‘I am not allowed to say.’ It was lovely, that people kept this up and didn’t tell their friends what was in there.
At the end of that first session, a young woman came in who was just so open and soft. I think I read to her for 20mins. I caught her after the show. She loved it. I loved it. I had to trust my instincts.
At the end of the session, we had some coppers in the jars and a few silver coins.
On day 2, I started playing around with duration. I wanted to see what would happen if I stopped talking half way through a poem. How mechanical was the process? It so happens that on this day, there were a few kids from the fair; they were used to paying a pound a go. They were just so sweet. So earnest. Even though they knew it was make believe. But the poems, if you just stopped nid-way through a poem, in the context of the venue, in the make-shift space, took on the quality of a fortune teller. It was interesting. There was one girl I only read for a short time for. After we struck the set, she appeared; ‘Why didn’t you read a whole poem for me?’ she asked. She was upset. Unlike most adults who would disguise their wounds, so was so vulnerable. It is a big responsibility to have people vulnerable in your presence. As a performer, in that piece, I felt totally exposed. I hadn’t counted on the fact that my vulnerability could create a space in which others could also be open.
I had to be more careful.
At the end of the day, quite a fee £1 coins.
Queen’s Wood, ReKindle Group Show, Sept 2013
A 2nd element of the show was developed for the ReKindle show in Queens Wood in September of 2014. I thought it would be fun to make a little ‘gift shop’ selling gifts to an exhibition that was no longer there. Everything had to be made by hand. I had thought how great it would be to have a little room adjacent to the gazebo that people would have to exit out of which would be filled with ‘merchandise’. The thought gave me endless pleasure. “Exit through the gift shop”. I decided not to actually construct the whole gazebo, but just to make a little ‘walk-about’ gift shop, referencing cigarette girls in old cinema’s. For sale: Poem cards, pencils, rubbers, hand made books – all with the TIME=MONEY stamp/logo which we had used in the first performance to mark the sheets and stamp people as they came out of the performance. I had tried to make fridge magnets, but the picture I had was too dark and it wasn’t working. Instead of making a new list, I crossed ‘fridge magnets’ off the list and told people who asked for them that they were ‘sold out’. These are the little things I find really amusing.
Brighton Fringe, May 2014
In a conversation with my friend Victoria Dickson in the pub pre-xmas after a shoot. She asks me what I’ve been up to. She says she saw the pics of me in the woods, asks what it was all about. I tell her about the project and the two parts of it. She says I should bring it down to Brighton Fringe Festival. We apply for the festival and we are nominated as a ‘WINDOW’ production. This means we have been selected as an Arts Council company for special interest, workshops etc. Exciting. But because I have not got the news as the email was sent to my paypal account address rather than my correspondence address, I have missed the first few sessions. Now it is a run to catch up. I had almost decided not to do it. Now I have to.
My friend Colette Rouhier designs some posters and flyers. It is exciting to be part of a festival, which we will do over 2 consecutive weekends. I’ve tried to raise money for the project through Zequs. Not so successful, but it will cover a bit of transport there and back. My old childhood friend, Helene Barrie, now resident in Oz, deposits a whopping £100 in the account. The benefits for her are undeliverable: ‘A private performance with a glass of bubbly’. I have a lot to learn about crowdfunding and building up audiences.
Brighton Festival Fringe, Stanmer Woods and Hove Lawns May 2014
We now have a team of 3. Victoria Dickson will be the peripatetic gift store, Immo Horn the attendant and I will remain as the attendant. Immo and I have got the building of the structure down to a fine art. The structure is as much of the art piece as what happens inside it. There was a point where I considered lining the interior walls with the Chapter on time in Marx’s ‘ Capital that inspired this piece. The poems themselves were written over a few years and posted on a blog page. I had been posting to fb, and having discussions with friends on how one could make money from poetry. My background is, of course, in performance, so I wanted to create a performance structure. Marx’s chapter explores the notion that under capitalism less and less of your time belongs to you as an individual. Time has to be strictly measured and accounted for and a value placed on it in terms of money. Either the money you can earn for yourself or the money you are generating through others’ working for you. I was thinking about inspiration. About how one poem or song or idea can come gushing out of you. Many of the poems in that collection were written because they were lines that were so loud in my head, so insistent, they had to be placed on a page. Time had nothing to do with it. So the performance piece TIME=MONEY was a critique of any notion of a purely mechanical exchange; and especially when this is performed it becomes even more true. One way that performers can of course make money is to show at once to many people. I chose to do an intimate performance and not to charge for it.
Reactions were interesting. People have such varied responses. We weren’t giving them much information to go on. A modified cardboard structure in the middle of a field, a wood or a lawn. A little notice “1-2-1 Performance”. Victoria, referencing both what I was wearing inside and the idea of cigarrete girls stood outside selling the poems, dressed in a corset, frilly knickers, fish net stockings and biker boots. Her job was to sell after the performance and also to try and distribute flyers to get people interested in coming in to experience the show. Again, we were thrilled that people kept to our rule of not telling their friends what was going to happen inside, though occasionally I would hear people discussing what might be happening inside and I have to say, people had pretty good imaginations, but mostly thought it was going to be something like a strip show. I guess it was a strip show. Just not stripping clothes. There’s a lot of emotion in the poems. I never know who is coming through the door, or how long I will read for them. But each time, it was a new exploration in how deeply I could go with one person. If I got children in, there were only certain poems I could read to them. Sometimes, I would make a judgement about someone, ‘Oh this person looks so straight, they are going to hate this one’, and then they would surprise me. I try to never read the poems in the same order and I only ever read all the poems or even most of the poems on one or two occasions. Immo had raised the issue that if there were queues, I needed to be a bit quicker. We had worked out, that if we put only silver and notes in the jars to begin with, that people would feel more inspired to put down coins. As the structure was built so that they paid BEFORE they knew what was happening; ie I had to hear the clink of coins to activate myself. The book of poems lay on my lap. I felt like a bird in a cage. There was something mechanical and stiff about my head as I looked at them. Indicated to them with a nod of my head to sit in the seat. Let them take it all in. Even if I did nothing else, this would be a performance. Some people are loud, uncertain, they talk to you all the way through. Seeking affirmation. I don’t talk back. Indicate to them to money in the jars. This works about 98% of the time. Some people won’t. Others say, ‘I don’t have any money’. For the ones who won’t, I never read. If they say, ‘Sorry, I don’t have my purse’, I might start to read. See how it goes. For some I reach the end of a poem, and they immediately reach again for their pockets. Others connect so deeply with me, I don’t want them to leave. Money is just the beginning, but it is not the be all and the end all.
On our very last day on the Hove Lawns, a man comes in and puts a large note in. I’m impressed, but a bit worried. What does he think he is getting? He listens so acutely. I read for ages. He goes out and another man of about the same age comes in. He takes out the first note, and puts in another note. Later I see that he has put in a £20 and taken out, I assume, his friends £10 as change.
When we are striking the set that evening, I see the first man with his wife and kids. I go up to him and ask him, out of curiosity whether he told his wife what happened in the structure. ‘Not until we say you pulling it down’, he said. I love that.
At the end of the day, we have not made much money, but it has been a great experience.
Crouch End Community Festival, 2014
There have been a few people in London who have said they would love to see the project. One or two have even sponsored our crowdfunding campaign. I am really loving the project, I am hoping to take it to festivals, but so far, no-one has picked it up.
My friend Carolina Gaterol takes on the gift shop and Immo and I are in our usual roles. It is so difficult to market this show. We are relying on word of mouth, but we can’t have too many people either. Ideally, we need a ‘chill out lounge’ where people can relax, drink and eat while they wait. We are pitched on the lawn outside the Hornsey Town Hall. There are people who have sponsored the show. I find that, as I know who these are, I am reading longer to them than to others. It changes the nature of the show. If this is what it is about, then I may as well sell a ticketed event: 2mins, 5mins, 10mins, 15min packages. That is not what it is about. I would rather we were payed upfront as a public arts event, and then left to manage the relationships as part of the event. I know that this is the right fit for the show. I am loving the responses. People are buying the poemcards. They are asking where they can find the poems. Maybe next time, I’ll print out a short edition for the gift shop.
Skype Performance, September, 2014
Finally, after much to-ing and fro-ing, Helene Barrie-Holmes and I agree on a time when I can do a skype performance for her. I want to replicate the live performance as much as possible; so we create a set with the cardboard backdrop, lights and bits of gauze. I have Immo Horn open the show on camera. So exciting! Skype is a good way of doing these performances.
If you are interested in booking TIME=MONEY for your festival or event or even as a 1-2-1 skype performance, please contact me here: