How much is beauty worth? What will people pay for an air guitar on eBay? Can I have a glass of milk?
These urgent questions – and many more besides – are answered in The Price of Everything, a performance lecture/stand-up storytelling show about value.
Self-styled ‘theatre maker’ Daniel Bye has trained with French master clown Philippe Gaulier, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre Studio; he is an Associate Artist of ARC in Stockton-on-Tees and lecturer in Theatre at the University of Bedfordshire.
He’s also fascinated by how and why we have to measure everything in money. The Price of Everything is provocatively funny, ever so slightly interactive and just a tiny bit sad.
Daniel, what price do we have to pay to see the show?
I believe it’s a tenner. I’m particularly excited when venues are able to offer the show as pay-what-you-can, as it ties in so deeply with what the show’s about. But the financial climate (that again) sadly means that isn’t often possible.
Is the price we pay the same as what it costs us?
Only if you’re measuring cost in money. It also costs you: an hour, your attention, whatever number of calories you have to pay to sit upright throughout that time, and probably a handful of other things I can’t think of.
And is that the same as its value?
Again, only if you’re measuring value in money. If you’re firmly committed to the idea that there are absolutely no other possible ways of measuring value than in pounds and pence, then you probably shouldn’t come and see the show.
Why do you think we like to quantify things?
We’ve learned that it’s necessary. But actually, we’re not very good at it. Most of the time we do it very vaguely. One of the things I think people enjoy about the show is that quantifying things as precisely as I do here is really absurd.
What is the audience going to see when you perform The Price of Everything?
Me talking. Each other laughing. Some slides. A lot of milk.
How did you arrive at the concept and then the content of The Price of Everything?
I’ve long been fascinated by the creepy way in which economics has colonised all of our brains. The only admissible arguments in public policy these days seem to be the economic ones. We’ve lost all ability to value things in any other way. Attempts to express other value systems are met with cynicism, or patronisation. What about that wouldn’t make for a comedy show?
As to the content, almost all of it was developed out of a series of conversations between me and the show’s director, Dick Bonham. Every so often I’d say something funny or interesting, and Dick would say, ‘you should put that in the show’. The other 99% of what I said has been lost to history.
Why a glass of milk?
It’s good for you.
Your pieces certainly comprise social comment, sometimes with an overtly political message, but seem to be about people first and foremost, what draws you to that territory?
I can’t think of a more pressing subject than who we are and how we choose to structure the society in which we live together. When I do, or when I decide Sellotape is that subject, look out for lots of shows about parcels.
In your opinion, is politically engaged theatre/music/art/film/comedy etc finding its audience and hitting its target effectively?
Honestly, probably not in most cases. I think audiences find it pretty hard to imagine that politically driven work is really going to be any fun, and in many cases they’re proven right. I also think that talk of ‘targets’ is, if you’ll forgive the pun, off the mark.
For me, politically effective theatre isn’t about shooting things or people down (although there might be a little of that along the way). For me, the most important thing is finding ways to acknowledge that actually, it’s up to us, the people gathered to consider this stuff. Nobody’s going to change the world for us.
But as, so far, my theatre work has failed to either bring down capitalism or put an end to global warming, I suppose I’d have to admit the jury’s still out.
Do you see your job as being to ask questions or provide answers, or neither?
Mostly questions. But if I’ve got ideas, I’m not going to pretend I haven’t in the interest of some imaginary ‘balance’. That would just be a way of my loading the dice. Even then though I suppose I’m not so much providing answers as suggesting some in the form of a question, I suppose. ‘This is what I think. Do you agree?’
Your work has been very highly praised by some very august publications do you feel any pressure as a result of being called ‘genius’, ‘near perfect’ and, as you say, even ‘intelligent’?
I wasn’t until you mentioned it…
You describe yourself as a ‘theatre maker’, what does that mean?
I don’t create the work by sitting down at my desk and writing it down in advance of rehearsals. It’s created on the rehearsal room floor. I suppose it’s a way of reflecting that the work happens in three dimensions, live, just like the way it is made; it’s not created in abstract in advance.
What’s next for Daniel Bye?
My newest show, How to Occupy an Oil Rig, is just about to go out on tour. And I’m creating a series of walking tours called Story Hunt in various different towns and cities over the summer – each of them is a tour of the things in that town that are no longer visible.
Finally, how much kindness is a glass of milk worth?
You mean a glass of milk isn’t kindness itself?!
Daniel Bye live shows:
The Price of Everything
Thur 6 Feb – Lighthouse, Poole, 8pm
Thur 13 Feb – Globe Hall, Ireby, 7.30pm
Fri 14 Feb – Haile Village Hall, 7.30pm
How To Occupy An Oil Rig
Wed 26 Feb – Norwich Arts Centre, 8pm
Thur 27 Feb – Subscription Rooms, Stroud, 8pm
Fri 28 Feb, Sat 1 Mar – Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, 7.30pm
Tues 4, Wed 5 Mar – Warwick Arts Centre. 7.45pm
Fri 7 Mar – University of Bedfordshire, 7.30pm
Sat 8 Mar – Embrace Arts, Leicester, 8pm
Tues 11 – Thur 13 Mar – Northern Stage, Newcastle, 8pm
Fri 14 Mar – Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal, 8pm
Tues 18 Mar – Alnwick Playhouse, 7.30pm
Wed 19 Mar – Unity Theatre, Liverpool, 8pm
Thur 20 Mar – mac, Birmingham, 8pm
Fri 21 Mar – Derby Theatre, 8pm
Sat 22, Sun 23 Mar – Camden People’s Theatre, London
Tues 25 Mar – Harrogate Theatre, 7.45pm
Wed 26 Mar – ARC, Stockton-on-Tees, 7pm
Thur 27 Mar – Arts Centre, Washington, 7.30pm
Sat 29 Mar – Barnsley Civic, 7.30pm