Fulfilment at the Edinburgh Fringe: 'After hearing worker testimonials, we don't use Amazon any more'
Sharklegs' new piece explores the experiences of those working in Amazon Fulfilment Centres
When we began working on this show, we used Amazon. As theatre makers there was nothing better than realising you need a squeaky pig for the show and having it arrive the next day. But after hearing the testimonials of real Fulfilment Centre workers, we don't use Amazon any more. Once you meet the workers who have to walk 10 to 15 miles a day just to pick up your squeaky pig, you stop needing it tomorrow.
"Yeah - I work there, so what? You want me to say something like in the Panorama…"
So began a chance interaction with Graham [not his real name]. We had been developing the show for 10 months, researching all the articles we could get our hands on and had even visited the warehouse site in Tilbury, but it wasn't until Graham overheard us chatting on the train that we put a face to the experience.
Only after explaining that we were not looking for "dirt" but wanted to meet and chat to real workers did Graham finally lower his guard and not only chat with us, but introduce us to some of the other workers he knew – although he couldn't quite comprehend why we were so interested. "It's just a job. No one likes their job."
A computer creates distance, it creates a space between you and the people you are asking to work for your money
Everyone uses Amazon now. It's weirdly diverse, old and young, wealthy and low income, it has become the default option for shopping online, even the Fulfilment Centre workers we interviewed used Amazon – in the same breath that they told us they've been forced to come in to work sick because otherwise they'd lose the job, they told us they could pick up items they ordered from the Amazon safe lockers as they left work. We just all love ordering from Amazon! That's really why we made this show, Fulfilment is disarmingly funny and playful, our gorgeous puppet Robox charms the audience and makes its way into their lives. There's no point lecturing an audience, you need to win them over and Robox is our secret charm weapon!
A computer creates distance, it creates a space between you and the people you are asking to work for your money, it allows us to not see the vast human machine needed to provide you with the most convenience. It becomes possible not to empathise, to literally not see the people who make your life easier. Theatre is the opposite of that – it's about sitting in a room sharing the experience, the stories are right there in front of you, the people might be next to you and you can see the real sweat, and in this show you can eat the real hobnobs. We wanted to make this show to bring the voices from the people behind the screen to the people who sit in front of it.