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Giving Time

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Giving Time

[A short essay written for Cambridge Junction’s Adjunct Magazine about Forest Fringe’s Paper Stages, a festival of performance contained within the pages of a book]

It will take you approximately two minutes to read this. Two minutes you are giving to me. Not giving to me like you might give me a birthday present or money in exchange for a theatre ticket. This is a different order of giving. There is no material exchange. No passing of something from you to me. This is giving like you might give thanks, or give a damn about something. Your time honouring my time, the two of us holding on gently to opposite corners of this page and remaining there together for a few moments.

I’m interested in acts of giving. A few years ago I wrote a manifesto that suggested that in this era of balance sheets, of loans and debts and profit and loss, perhaps giving would become an increasingly radical act. A messy, unaccountable kind of giving. A giving for the sake of giving, or perhaps more accurately a giving for the sake of unsettling the expectation that it is possible to turn every action into a transaction; every gesture into something measured and accounted for.

Paper Stages is in part an attempt at just such an impractical and unsustainable act of giving. A playful subversion of capital’s tendency to transform theatre into a commodity masquerading as a performance,  Paper Stages is a festival disguised as a book, a seeming objet that unravels as you read it, its instructions bleeding off the page, pursuing you round the room and out into the city beyond.

Like any proper product, this book has a price, but like the book itself that price is intended to lead us off in unpredictable directions. We ask for an hour of your time, which seems on the surface a reasonable exchange. One hour. One Book. But rather than work for us, we ask you to give your hour to someone else. In so doing we hope that what initially appears to be a straightforward trade is transformed into an act of performance; an act of giving that starts to look less like the giving of a present and more like the giving of thanks. A moment of giving that ripples out into the world, beyond our oversight or benefit, causing trouble hopefully, or at least offering an opportunity for you to think and be thought about.

An hour of time is about the most deliberately unstable unit of currency imaginable. We cannot store or accumulate them. We can barely keep track of where they are offered and received. Your time is illusive, irrational and prone to lengthening or shortening at a moment’s notice. The very impossibility of trading in hours is what I find so appealing about it, allowing the seemingly sensible contract between you and us to blossom into something more complicated, more expansive and more theatrical. Not so much a form of payment as it is a first contribution to the task of turning Paper Stages from a series of books into a single festival.

Thank you for your time.

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