E–commerce purchasing has significantly disrupted our shopping habits, many of the high-street giants turning to the web to reach audiences they perhaps wouldn’t be able to due to location. The rise is a sign of our times, and shows no signs of slowing down. Amazon, perhaps the world’s most famous and wealthiest e-commerce site has rivalled its competitors due to the variety in products it offers, it’s easy to use site and its infamous ‘prime’ delivery option, whereby customers can receive their goods the following day. But what goes into this seamless monetary exchange? How can, compared to any other retail business, can Amazon provide this service? Kezia Cole and Richard Hay’s Fulfilment delves into the real experiences of those who work behind the scenes in Amazon Fulfilment Centres, giving a voice to the hard workers behind the multi-billion dollar business who present a harsh reality. Fulfilment shows throughout August at Undrbelly Cowgate as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival. Read on to find out more about the show!
Hi Kezia and Richard, your play Fulfilment will take part in this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe throughout August. How are you both feeling ahead of the run?
Kezia: It’s a wonderful mix of terror and excitement! Taking a new show to Edinburgh is always a little tense, but waiting to see how audiences respond to the work we have been creating for the past 18 months is incredibly exciting.
Rich: As the show contains a lot of improv it only truly comes alive in front of an audience and having this piece come to life in Edinburgh is really special for us.
The show explores ‘what it takes to fulfil our ever-increasing consumer demands’. What inspired you explore this topic?
Rich: The germ of the idea sprung from a chance encounter we had with an Amazon Associate on a train. He was working in the local Fulfilment Centre and it was this encounter that put a face to the issue. Before that, the articles that we had read had all seemed slightly removed. But meeting and talking to a real person, cemented in my mind that the people working in these conditions were everyday people who you might know – they might be in your family, the person you see in the local shop, or the guy who sits next to you on the train.
How have you both approached creating Fulfilment?
Kezia: We researched and threw ideas around for about 10 months, refining the issues we wanted to explore, discovering what we wanted to tackle and gathering as much info about the working conditions in Amazon warehouses as possible. We then met and interviewed Fulfilment Centre workers, gathering their experiences which we explored in the devising room, testing how we could best represent their stories, how we could make a piece that could be a force for change.
Fulfilment shares verbatim testimonials from Fulfilment Centre workers and experiences from a member of the creative team. How have these helped to shape the show?
Rich: The show interweaves Robox, who is the next generation fulfilment device (think Alexa 10.0), with verbatim snapshots from real Fulfilment Centre workers. We interviewed workers in the development of the show and we use the genuine statements they told us in those interviews throughout the show to tell our audience what goes on behind the scenes. We felt the best and most faithful way of communicating their experiences was to use their exact words and give a voice to the amazing real people we met.
The show will be created live every evening with suggestions by the audience. Why choose this element to explore your story?
Kezia: Amazon gets to know us, our patterns and our information and then offers us things that we want! It is hugely convenient and has all the things that we could ever want to buy. We want to mirror the positive, personal experience that we have as consumers when dealing with the online interface and expose the inner workings which enable this friendly, customer obsessed company to deliver your products every day.
Rich: Robox is your Personal Fulfilment Device and it’s only function is to get to know you so that it can make you happy. What is amazing about Amazon is how it personalises its suggestions to each individual and so it was important for our Robox to do the same. Amazon is amazingly convenient and really effective at what it does, and we as consumers don’t necessarily want to face the realities of this issue. Robox is a fun and playful interface that offers a theatrical representation of how Amazon makes our life easier and more convenient.
What can audiences expect from the show?
Kezia: While we are dealing with a powerful contemporary issue, the show is also disarmingly funny and playful. Some of the experiences we deal with in the show are shocking and the simple act of exposing audiences to what really happens when they click next day delivery is thought provoking. Robox however is delightful! And you may also get hobnobs. So they should expect a show that’s playful, thought-provoking and hobnob-y.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
Kezia: The show is about encouraging people to make conscious choices when they shop rather than allowing a company with terrible working practices to become the default option for all their needs. We are boycotting Amazon and would love the audience to leave and rethink their relationship with the giant, we want people to ask themselves if they really need that book tomorrow.
Rich: We felt that it was really important to use the platform Edinburgh offers to reach a large audience – many of which will be Amazon users. We don’t expect to take down the largest company in the world overnight, but if we can bring the real testimonials of real workers to the consumer it might just help us all to make more conscious choices when we shop.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers and theatre
Kezia: Don’t wait for the money. If you wait for the money, you will never do anything.
Rich: Make the show you want to see – don’t try and make a show you think people will want to watch (or fund).
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
Fulfilment will show from Thursday 1st until Sunday 25th August 2019 at the Underbelly Cowgate as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival. To find out more about the production, visit here…