Northwestern University, February 2013
Directed by Jess McLeod
Costume Design by Stephanie Cluggish
Scenic Design by Shawn Ketchum Johnson
Lighting Design by Maya Fein
Sound Design by Joshua Horvath
Photography: Justin Barbin
An adaptation of Barbara Ehrenreich's novel Nickel and Dimed, this play follows Barbara through her journey in three states in an attempt to make a living on the minimum wage. She finds she can barely even survive without her money and privilege to fall back on, but meets many people along the way who have no other option but to manage, and scrape by with dignity. Beginning as a waitress at a crappy diner called Kenny’s in Key West, she soon must add hotel maid to her resume to have enough money to pay rent for her tiny trailer. After that comes the Magic Maid Service, coupled with weekend dishwashing at an elder care facility in Maine; and finally, a job at “Mall-Mart” and near homelessness in Minnesota.
Barbara has many brief encounters with customers and coworkers alike, and while their presence in the text may be as brief as one line, it was important to us that each and every character have a past and a future, to flesh out the impact that they have on Barbara’s everyday existence. We used a larger cast than is indicated in the script, as well as creating even more characters to act as customers and employees to create the sense of rush and overwhelming demand of places like Kenny’s and Mall Mart. They flood the stage, each actor changing costumes 5 or 6 times, reappearing again and again in a new persona as Barbara slogs through each job in unflattering uniforms that we watch her change into and out of onstage. Each group of workers have uniforms; I created unflattering shapes and awkward colors for them to emphasize the de-individualization required by the large corporations Barbara works for; at the same time, I added specific details of body shapes, hair, and jewelry to bring out the personalities of the workers who have lost control over even their personal appearance to these large companies. In the end, Barbara is always found out. Her hair, her teeth, her body, even her Reeboks give her away as someone who has had money, and when we finally see her in her own clothes at the epilogue, we see that she too has a uniform-- that of the educated and the affluent.