‘Teatro precario’ is the title of the regular opinion column that Maxi Rodríguez writes for the Asturian magazine Atlántica XXII.
A job is much more than a salary. Teatro precario (Precarious Theatre) explores the financial and emotional effects of losing one’s employment, while at the same time hinting at the powerful forces at work that – whether through complacency or greed – end up disenfranchising the many in favour of the few.
Over six separate scenes, Precarious Theatre dramatises the precarious world of employment and of workers’ rights. The play begins with the disenfranchised. Workers who have been unemployed for months gather to hear an esteemed economist talk about how to resolve the crisis. Nothing will be resolved that day, however, as the economist fails to turn up. Next, a spokeswoman tries in vain to explain to her superior why his workforce is less productive than normal. The employees have been subjected to yet another round of redundancies. Those who survived the cull are terrified that they will be next to lose their jobs. Morale is at an all-time low. The supervisor, however, has no time for the woman’s excuses and her fears. He gives her a stark warning for the workforce: no one is indispensible, so they either increase their productivity or face the chop.
After this, we find ourselves in the middle of a drunken conversation between two old friends, Jose and Avelino. Jose laments the complacency of today’s employees in the face of the growing economic crisis. In between vodkas, he calls for revolution and blames the trade unions for selling out their members. Avelino becomes more and more irate at Jose, not least when his friend claims workers are worse off now than they were under Franco. Their scene ends, however, with them coming to a drunken accord. They agree that workers must put up a united front. And so, united, they demand more vodka.
The fourth scene depicts the domestic heartache of one man’s job loss. A child wants a bedtime story. But his father cannot bring himself to read a traditional fairytale. Instead, he tells his son the story of a man who lost his job one day. The job was taken away by a wicked witch to a land where manpower was cheaper. The man tells his son that the man in the story became sadder and sadder. He was scared of telling his wife or child that he had been made redundant. The little boy gets bored of this strange fairytale, and eventually falls asleep. In the end, the man leaves his redundancy letter on his son’s bed, instructing the sleeping child to give it to his mother. He tells the boy that he is going, worn down, taken by witches … out of the window.
In the fifth and six scenes we get a glimpse of the other side of the employment situation. In scene 5 two elderly men, Miguel and Javier, are in the middle of a heated conversation. They have not seen each other in over 30 years, back when they both believed in the power of the proletariat. But Javier’s political beliefs have changed over the years as he has become more and more professionally successful. Fuelled by drink, Miguel gets increasingly annoyed at his old friend. In Miguel’s eyes, Javier has sold out, now politically supportive of the State whereas once he would have taken to the streets in protest over things like mass unemployment. They bid each other goodbye. They have grown so far apart over the years, it seems unlikely they will see each other again. The final scene, too, depicts a man who values his position over his principles. This man – a politician – argues with his son over what to do with a collection of incriminating files that have come to light. The files reveal how a number of powerful people have abused their political positions. The son wants his father to release the files to the public. The man belittles his son’s idealism. As a politician, he sees himself as a realist, understanding that corruption is endemic in society and that people have to learn to live with it. He insists that he himself is not corrupt, while his son argues that by concealing the files from the electorate, his father is just as dishonest as those politicians involved. In the end, the son asks his father if he will let the cat out of the bag. His father looks at him, winks and throws the files into the fire. All the characters then return to the stage, chanting, ‘Do we let the cat out of the bag?’.
Teatro precario (Precarious Theatre) takes its name from the series of opinion pieces Maxi Rodríguez writes for the magazine Atlántica XXII. It is an adaptation of a number of pieces written for this series. It is a reflection on Spain’s growing unemployment problem, particularly in the run-up to the general strike which took place on 29 September 2010.
Several characters in the play express concern over the Expediente de Regulación de Empleo (ERE). This Spanish law permits struggling companies to suspend workers or to make them redundant, regardless of contracts.
The performances of the play in September 2010 were supported by Comisiones Obreros (The Workers’ Commissions) – the largest trade union body in Spain. These free performances were very well attended and the premiere received an enthusiastic standing ovation. Despite the fact that Comisiones Obreros were involved, Maxi Rodríguez makes clear the play criticises trade unions (in scene 3) as well as attacking big business.
Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 4 May 2011.