Shit Theatre: “There’s an art to being shit.”
Published in The Independent, 17.08.2014
Can you make a career out of being unemployed? Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole seem to be managing it. As the delectably-named performance duo Sh!t Theatre, they’ve turned the drudgery of jobseeking into an artform.
Last year, they turned up at the Edinburgh Fringe with a raggedy variety show called Sh!t Theatre’s JSA (Job Seekers Anonymous). Part exposé, part cabaret, it took on the flat-lining jobs market with skittish songs, Powerpoint presentations and a heap of gawky, bolshie charm.
Having won an Arts Council grant that matched their jobseekers’ allowance, the pair signed off – only for the Job Centre to decree the money “too little to live on,” explains Biscuit. “They had to give us additional housing benefits on top.” Take that, Austerity Britain.
Their new show Guinea Pigs: On Trial picks up the same subject. “It’s essentially a sequel to JSA,” says Mothersole. “In the last couple of months of signing on, we noticed that the Job Centre had started listing paid Phase One Medical Trials alongside the ever-diminishing actual jobs.”
So Sh!t Theatre found themselves trawling opportunities: £3500 for flu camp, the website for which offered the chance to “finally write that novel you’ve always been thinking about;” £4500 for an opiates trial – or ‘heroin holiday’ as the Sh!ts christened it. “It all seemed a bit Orwellian.”
The plan was to use a medical trial as Arts Council match-funding, but it turns out getting accepted isn’t as easy as all that. “If you’re too healthy, you get rejected because your antibodies fight off the flu and it’s pointless,” Biscuit explains. “If you’re too unhealthy, you’re rejected because you might get sick. And that’s not going to look good on their results.”
Eventually, they found a trial – but it only started the day before the Fringe. “So I’ll be on some drug during Edinburgh,” she chuckles, “and we’ll only know what the day before.”
Though they came to prominence last year, this will be Sh!t Theatre’s fourth Edinburgh. As for their name, it’s “partly a joke about performance art,” Biscuit explains; the way it gets dismissed as ‘shit theatre.’
What it’s not, however, is a get-out clause. “A lot of work goes into creating a very specific sort of messiness.” Being this rubbish takes dedication. “There’s an art to being shit.”
Photograph: Shit Theatre