Wrote this play that is an exploration of the experiences of working as a cashier for a Canadian grocery chain to make visible how corporations contribute to systemic poverty of their staff and how public opinions shape how workers are treated
Clara – late 30s to early 40s
Mathias Alexander Grovener (Matty G) – early twenties
Shadows 1 & 2 (Loss Prevention and Human Resource representatives)
Name: Mathias Andrew Grovener. My closest friends call me Matty G. Profession: Star director…no-no-no…blockbuster movie director…ya! I grew up in God’s country. Most of you know it as Cape Breton…The bustling metropolis of Sydney. The film industry’s not exactly booming there. Call centres sure are! I needed to get out of hickville, so I moved to Halifax—the big city. Only a few of us are lucky enough to get out. The rest of them don’t know there’s a whole other world out there. But I do, and I’m never going back. I love Halifax. Opportunities. Clubs. Hot chicks. I’m a rising star already. I’m fast. The fastest in the west. [Enacts the smoking guns.] Man, life is good. [Holsters the smoking guns.] This is where it’s all going to happen. I just graduated from school with my certificate in Digital Filmmaking. I was top of my class. Okay, maybe not the very top. But after fifteen grand and six grueling months of school I’m ready for anything. Needed some money to live and pay my student loans. This guy that my mom and I cleaned offices for back home owns a business here. I guess I could have gotten a job with him, but I couldn’t call him. I didn’t have any minutes on my phone. So I just walked in off the street and landed a job at CorporateFoods. [Waves his hand at tills and jumps on the belt.] Pretty sweet. Clara, one of the girls I work with, she doesn’t seem to like her job much, but she still works really hard which doesn’t make sense to me. She definitely doesn’t believe in the rising star program. Actually, it really seems to piss her off. But hey, I’ve worked hard to get this star and I think it’s neat. She’s old but she seems really smart. She doesn’t understand where I’m coming from. She’s from Alberta. It’s different out there. She’s a good friend though. Invites me over for dinner. [Jumps off the belt.] Oh! This one time, I thought I would treat her to dinner, so I brought over two Swanson McRib TV dinners (that’s what she calls them). When there’s a sale they’re two bucks each and I buy them buy the cartload. Anyway, I dropped one upside down on the floor. McRibs and bar-b-que sauce everywhere. I was so upset, but Clara was cool. She let me eat hers. [Imitates father’s voice.] My dad always said, “You gotta toughen up son,” but when the going got tough he sure left us in a hurry. Mom says it’s okay for me to be sensitive. And hey, I’m an artiste. We’re naturally sensitive. Shit – I’m going to be late for work!!
[Lights fade on MATTY G. Music up. Lights transition to “natural daylight” as music fades out.]
[CLARA is sitting outside the store. MATTY G approaches her.]
MATTY G Hey Clara. [MATTY G tries to do a high five.]
CLARA Hi Matty. How’re you this morning?
MATTY G I’m pumped. This is going to be an awesome day buddy. Hey, the sun’s shining, the birds are singing…
CLARA Who fed you breakfast this morning Snow White? The Seven Dwarfs?
MATTY G Dude you made a joke! [Tries to do a high five, CLARA doesn’t get it] And a film reference! [Tries to do a high five, CLARA still doesn’t get it so MATTY G lifts her arm so he can high five her]
CLARA Yeah imagine that. Clara with a sense of humour and all before 7 in the morning no less.
MATTY G I just have a feeling that today is going to be great. The customers are going to be nice!
CLARA I’m not going to set my expectations too high my little Matty G. [Ruffles his hair.] After all, it’s only Wednesday.
MATTY G [Fixes his hair.] Ahhh, come on. You gotta give people a chance. Hey, maybe they’ll let me do carts today!
CLARA I thought you were all pumped for the awesome customers who are going to grace your till?
MATTY G [MATTY G sings.] Yah but the sun is shining and the birds are singing!!
CLARA Whatever Walt Disney.
MATTY G Okay, I’d rather be outside pushing carts than inside on cash. People thank me when I take their carts. And then all I have to do is come in and cash like a demon for ten minutes and voila—I keep my star!
CLARA Go ask. [As MATTY runs into the store and heads to customer service CLARA calls after him.] The worst they can say is no.
[Light transition from the natural outdoor lighting to dim lighting of a big box store before all the lights go on. They go into the store. CLARA walks by the wall of shame on the way to her register and gives the wall the middle finger.]
CLARA You and your fucking stars! [MATTY G approached the registers with a dejected look on his face.] What did they say?
MATTY G They said no. Short staffed. I guess people called in sick?
CLARA Maybe, but I bet they didn’t schedule enough cashiers. Budget cuts. Maybe you can do carts later. You never know.
MATTY G [Sighs.] Yah, you never know. How’s school going?
CLARA I’m really stressed. Taking five courses and working full-time—it’s killing me. And I have to write a play—that’s going to be performed on stage—in front of an audience! I’m having a bit of performance anxiety; after all it’s my first time.
MATTY G Performance anxiety?……Oh, I get it! A play? You’re writing a play? Dude, I could be the director and I’ll become rich and famous and move to Hollywood and have a pool and hot chicks…I can see it now. Fucking awesome man!!
CLARA [Very uncomfortable.] Matty, that would be really neat but…it’s a play not a movie. And I already have a director. Don’t take this wrong, I’m no expert but I think directing a play is pretty different than directing a movie.
MATTY G Oh yeah – you’re probably right. [Pause] Hey maybe I can be the producer. They’re pretty important aren’t they? Or I can film it for you! Then I can use what I learned in school. I can edit it, put in credits and music…
CLARA I don’t think we need all that but if you want to record it for me that would be great. Then I can send it to my friends back home.
MATTY G [Dejectedly] I just want to get involved and get my name on it. It sounds so cool. Since I finished school no one has given me a break.
CLARA It’s only been two months. Give it some time. You never know who’s going to walk through that door. [Points to door.]
MATTY G Oh yeah. James Cameron’s going to walk in any second and ask me to work on his next film. Look here he comes now….Nope, just another customer buying overpriced organic produce from Mexico.
CLARA Organic my ass!! Just the pseudo-bourgeoisie coming for their cheap pop and frozen pizza. Let the games begin.
[Lights snap on to the bright fluorescent light of a big box store and the sound of scanning starts. CLARA and MATTY G greet customers with the standard greeting four or five times to establish the routine of the day.]
MATTY [Alternate lines] Good Morning. How are you today? Did you find everything you were looking for? Do you have your own bags with you today? Collecting points? [Repeat the lines three times, each times faster to establish the routine for the day. CUSTOMER ONE approaches CLARA’S till.]
CLARA Good morning. How are you today? Did you find everything you were looking for?
CUSTOMER 1 I’m okay but I couldn’t find the cheese that’s on sale. Do you have any more?
CLARA I’m not sure but I can check for you.
CUSTOMER 1 Don’t worry about it. I’m in a hurry. I’ll get it another time.
CLARA Do you have your own bags?
CUSTOMER 1 Oh, yes. [Passes CLARA her bags.]
CLARA Are you collecting points?
CUSTOMER 1 No. Do you have to ask that every time?
CLARA If I want to keep my job.
CUSTOMER 1 That’s pretty sad.
CLARA Well it’s definitely tedious. We get in serious trouble if we don’t ask. What are you gonna do?
CUSTOMER 1 Makes me glad that I got my degree. I don’t think I could do your job.
CLARA Some days I don’t think I can either. $9.97 please.
CUSTOMER 1 Here’s a ten. Keep the pennies. [Turns to leave and stops.] Ever thought of going back to school?
CLARA Oh it’s crossed my mind a few times…
[Lights fade and the sound of scanning starts. Music up. Lights come up as music fades.]
CLARA Good morning. [CUSTOMER TWO looks up but doesn’t respond. CLARA speaks under her breath.] Okay. [Outloud] Do you have bags with you today? [CUSTOMER TWO tosses them at CLARA.] Hmmm…what’s this? It looks like a lemon but it’s too big…
CUSTOMER 2 It’s a grapefruit. My god…
CLARA [Closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Questioningly holds it up for MATTY G to see. MATTY G shrugs his shoulders and moves closer to his till.] What kind of grapefruit?
CUSTOMER 2 Just a grapefruit…How pathetic are you. You don’t know what a grapefruit is?
CLARA [Takes a deep, shaky breath.] I know–what–a–grapefruit–is. I just don’t know what type this is. [Looks up a code and types it in. Looks directly at MATTY G.]
CUSTOMER 2 Why are you scanning so fast!
CLARA They time us. $35.44.
CUSTOMER 2 Maybe you should slow down. It would improve your customer service. And you might want to learn the different types of fruit you sell. [CLARA hands CUSTOMER TWO the receipt and doesn’t respond. CUSTOMER 2 grabs their bags and starts walking away.] I hope you’re encouraging your children to stay in school. Maybe they can learn more than you did!
[CLARA is visibly shaking. MATTY G walks over to her.]
MATTY G Hey buddy you okay?
CLARA [Her voice is quivering.] She doesn’t know anything about me. This uniform isn’t who I am! Miserable bitch.
MATTY G She must be a south-ender. [Tries to laugh.]
CLARA 8:15. Just fucking great.
MATTY G What does she know…You don’t have kids. Except me!!! Maybe they’ll let me do carts. [CLARA shakes her head at him and smiles.] What was it by the way?
CLARA A white grapefruit I guess. It’s the only code I could find.
[MATTY G exits stage right. Lights fade and the sound of scanning starts. Music up Lights come up as music fades]
CUSTOMER 3 Hi Clara.
CLARA Hello… [Pretends to recognize CUSTOMER THREE.]
CUSTOMER 3 How’s your day going? [Hands Clara her bags.]
CLARA Not bad…a few… unhappy customers but other than that I guess I can’t complain.
CUSTOMER 3 I’ve worked retail. People can be so nasty.
CLARA Ya, but I also bartend and I love it. No one gives the bartender a hard time. If they want another drink…
CUSTOMER 3 True! You’re an amazing packer.
CLARA Thanks. I take advanced bagging at university.
CUSTOMER 3 [Laughs] Are you from here?
CLARA God no!
CUSTOMER 3 Where’s home?
CUSTOMER 3 Wow. It’s usually the other way around. What brought you here?
CUSTOMER 3 What are you taking?
CUSTOMER 3 Now that’s cool. You know this is a tough job. You should be proud about being a great packer.
CLARA I am. That’s why I’m always on the wall of shame.
CUSTOMER 3 There’s a wall?
CLARA If you scan fast you get a rising star. [MATTY G bow slightly or points to himself.] If not…
CUSTOMER 3 My god that’s juvenile.
CLARA It’s downright degrading. And on the wall for all the customers to see…It’s like being in grade one.
CUSTOMER 3 What do you get for being a great packer?
CLARA An unhappy face…Grief…And possibly a ten cent raise! [CUSTOMER THREE shakes her head.] Thanks for cheering me up. Are you collecting points? [CUSTOMER 3 hands CLARA her Visa.]
CUSTOMER 3 Yes.
CLARA [Leans into CUSTOMER THREE lowering her voice.] I’ll give you a few extra points for your bags just for making my day. Be sure to come to my till the next time you see me.
CUSTOMER 3 Thanks. And, hang in there. If you’re ever looking for a little extra work on the side give me a call – I can always use someone with a good head on their shoulders Clara, don’t take any crap from anyone. [CUSTOMER THREE hands CLARA a business card and walks away.]
CLARA I never do. [Turns to MATTY G] She must be a “come from away.”
MATTY G What’d you say to her?
CLARA I gave her extra points for her bags.
MATTY G Why?
CLARA She was nice to me. I’m training the good customers. Like Pavlov’s dog.
MATTY G Does it work?
CLARA I don’t know but it makes me feel better.
MATTY G I never would have thought of that.
CLARA By the way, my last customer…she works for a catering company that supplies food for movie crews…[CLARA hands MATTY G a business card.]
MATTY G And…
CLARA Just thought it could be a foot in the door for you.
MATTY G A catering company? I’m a film director not a cook. [MATTY G hands the business card back to CLARA.]
[MATTY exits as lights fade, CLARA exits in the blackout. Lights fade and music up, Music fades as lights come up. MATTY G exits stage right. CLARA exists stage left.]
[FRONT-END SUPERVISOR walks up to MATTY G.]
SUPERVISOR Matt you need to go up to the office. There’s someone that needs to talk to you.
MATTY G Who?
SUPERVISOR Our new loss prevention rep.
MATTY G Loss prevention? What do you mean?
SUPERVISOR Just go to the office. They’re waiting for you.
[SUPERVISOR exits. Two large shadowa appears on the wall. MATTY G walks up and stands in front of the wall underneath the shadows. Voices of shadows is from offstage through microphone in an ominous tone.]
MATTY G Hey…
SHADOWS Mathias I hear you’ve been playing Robin Hood.
MATTY G Huh?
SHADOWS You’ve been stealing from CorporateFoods to benefit customers.
MATTY G What? What do you mean stealing? I’m not Robin Hood.
SHADOWS Someone reported you. You’ve been giving out extra bag points, haven’t you.
MATTY G Well just a few times. Just so customers will like me.
SHADOWS Those points cost us money.
MATTY G Money? They’re just points.
SHADOWS No Mathias. Points equal money. You’ve committed a criminal offence.
MATTY G Criminal…but…
SHADOWS We have no choice but to phone the police. We’ll be laying charges for fraudulent theft. You’ll be sent to jail.
MATTY G Jail…I didn’t do anything…I’m a rising star…I just graduated from school. I’m going to be a movie director.
SHADOWS This may make that very difficult for you…but I think I may have another solution.
MATTY G What is it – I’ll do anything!
[Lights fade, – Music up. Music fades as an isolated pool of light comes up on SR and SL. MATTY G stands in one pool and CLARA in another]
CLARA [CLARA looks at her phone.] Hey Matty. What’s happening?
MATTY G I got fired.
MATTY G They said I was stealing. Someone reported me for giving out extra points. I didn’t think anything of it because you do it all the time.
CLARA Hold it. This doesn’t make sense.
MATTY G My mom is going to be so disappointed. They want me to pay restitution. Clara, I don’t want to go to jail.
CLARA Matty just stop. They can’t send you to jail. Think about this logically. You didn’t steal anything. What’s this restitution they’re talking about?
MATTY G They want me to sign an agreement saying I’ll pay them four hundred dollars or they’ll press charges.
CLARA Four hundred dollars? Where did they come up with this magical number?
MATTY G They said it’s for every bag point I’ve ever given out.
CLARA I don’t want to seem mean…but think about it! They’re going to make you pay for every legitimate point you’ve given out? It’s not logical. They’re just trying to scare you. Let them try to take you to court.
MATTY G What do you mean?
CLARA Look, they can’t prove you did anything—intentionally. And they can’t make you pay for something you were supposed to do. Do you really think they are going to pay their lawyers $350 an hour to go after you? Do you really think the police will give a shit about this?
MATTY G Should I sign the document?
CLARA Ahhh no…
MATTY G I can’t be a film director with a criminal record. What am I going to do?
CLARA It’s simple. Don’t do anything. Just go get another job.
MATTY G Buddy, I’m so freaked out right now…
CLARA Calm down. I’m here for you. There are plenty of minimum wage jobs out there for companies that will treat you way better. Remember what we keep saying: [In unison.] it’s just cash flow until you get your big break. It’s going to be okay.
MATTY G Thanks dude. I’m going to go call my mom now. Wish me luck
CLARA I know you can do it! Call me and let me know how it goes.
MATTY G Ya sure…[MATTY G hangs up phone before CLARA finishes.]
CLARA I mean it Matty. Call me! Matty…What the fuck have I done
MATTY G [Lights fade as music comes up. Lights come up to “big box store” lighting as music fades.]
CLARA Matty, what are you doing here? Are you crazy?
MATTY G I need to pick up my stuff.
CLARA Matty. [CLARA grabs his arm.] Look at me. Are you okay?
MATTY G Everything’s great.
CLARA You didn’t call me back. I’ve been worried sick.
MATTY G I’ve just been crazy busy looking for a new job.
CLARA Any luck yet?
MATTY G Not yet, but something will come up.
CLARA Do you need help with your resume? I’m really good at writing them.
MATTY G Thanks bud, but I’ve got it covered.
CLARA You can stay with me until you get another job. No rent!
MATTY G Thanks but I’m okay.
CLARA I could have picked up your stuff. You didn’t have to come back here.
MATTY G I don’t mind.
CLARA What did your mom say?
MATTY G She was cool with it.
CLARA I don’t believe you! Matty what did she say?
MATTY G Don’t be mad at me. Okay? I have to go home. My family is coming to pick me up.
CLARA You’re going back to a city with no future to be her surrogate husband? I can’t believe this! She’s convinced you to give up and you let her! She knows you’ll never leave once you’re back. She’ll guilt you to death. But hey, what do your dreams matter? At least she won’t be lonely anymore. Maybe you two can go clean offices together.
MATTY G At least I’m escaping CorporateFoods. My Uncle Scott got me a job working with him at McDonalds.
CLARA Oh yeah, that’s so much better than this!!
MATTY G Hey, if I’m good I’ll get a promotion and get to work the back shift.
CLARA You mean you won’t have to deal with people anymore?
MATTY G Exactly! Just the odd drive through customers. Work through the night and sleep during the day!
CLARA [Exasperated] This is want your mom wants for you…? I can’t believe her…
MATTY G Hey, she dropped everything to come and get me. This way I can save money for a while and eventually I can move to Toronto and become a film director extradonaire!
CLARA Matty I’m soooo sorry you got fired – it shouldn’t have happened… but you have to give this film thing time. I’ve given up everything to move here and become a playwright. Maybe I’ll fail and maybe I won’t. But we both know the CorporateFoods of the world are just cash flow. Don’t let anyone destroy your dreams.
MATTY G My school buddies were right. You work for these big companies and you’re a sell-out. I caved. Now I pay.
CLARA No. You don’t get it…
MATTY G It doesn’t matter… I have to grab my stuff before they come in.
CLARA Hang on. What about the $400? [MATTY G looks away.] Son of a bitch! She made you to sign it. Didn’t she?
MATTY G I had to. My Mom doesn’t have the money. She can’t afford a lawyer. Aunt Pearl’s right. You can’t fight the big guys.
[CLARA stands dejectedly as MATTY G goes to the board and grabs his star and comes back to CLARA.]
CLARA Where’s “your stuff”? What the fuck are you doing what that?
MATTY G Bud I’m a rising star and no one is taking that away from me.
CLARA Do you know what that thing means?
MATTY G Yeah. It means I’ll be successful. I’m already a success.
CLARA No…it means you’re a number. Is your goal in life just to be the fastest scanner?
MATTY G You’re just jealous because you aren’t!
CLARA No I’m not!!
MATTY G Okay. Sorry!
CLARA That stupid star doesn’t define you. It doesn’t make you a film director, or a better person, or anything!
MATTY G It says I’ll make it. No matter where I am.
CLARA No it doesn’t. It takes away your power. Matty fast doesn’t equal good. It just means fast. You’ll miss all the great stories out there if you believe in that fucking star. Leave it behind…please!
MATTY G I can’t.
CLARA It’s just a corporate symbol of bullshit…of subservience.
MATTY G It’s important to me….I need it.
CLARA Why!?!…I guess you just do. I hope…Maybe…I don’t know…in a few years…who knows…Matty I just want so much for you…
MATTY G I know you do. And you’ve been so good to me. [MATTY G hugs CKARA.] Here — I want you to have this. Remember me by it and let it be your muse.
CLARA I don’t want…
MATTY G Please – take it! I gotta go. My family’s waiting…Keep it real…
[MATTY G high fives CLARA and she high fives him back distractedly. MATTY G leaves.]
[Lights fade and house lights come up on the audience as CLARA walks into the audience and tears up the star and tosses the pieces as she delivers her monologue.]
CLARA Cut us with taunts and barbs
Silence us with disdain
Shackle us with twinkling stars.
We’ll pledge allegiance all the same.
Surrender our souls for subsistence
We’ll be fast, the fastest there is
And you’ll get your cheap pop and frozen pizzas
On the backs of the lowly cashiers.
[Lights slowly fade to black as CLARA walks out of the audience and onto the stage.] ???Clara goes back to her til???