I tried stand-up once and it was horrible. Being used to the open-armed cabaret audience I was surprised to find that comedy punters were a lot more ‘Go on then, do your jokes’ than ‘Yay! Jokes!’ Not exactly how a life-long jazz fiend had imagined her first gig at Ronnie Scotts, but I limped through with a basket of fruit on my head and had a nice time getting pissed with the acts who were off of the telly afterwards.
My respect for a comic who can nail it went up one-hundredfold that night, and whilst stand-up is not always my bag owing to the boy’s club/lowest common denominator vibe of a lot of mainstream TV routines, I’m always pleased to hear from a truly interesting take on the world and snort-laugh uncontrollably in support of a zinger. Despite almost enitely avoiding stand-up at the Fringe in favour of intense theatre I did find a good'un for you.
Lost Voice Guy’s “Hated By The Daily Mail” t-shirt made me warm to him immediately, and his solo show ‘Disability For Dunces’ was enjoyable and, best of all, totally daft. I love a silly sausage, and Lost Voice Guy aka Lee Ridley has appealing self-deprecation down, and despite a bit of an energy dip in the middle and a few tacky Hitler jokes I left ‘Disability for Dunces’ impressed by his work.
The premise is a Q&A session on the most outrageous, stupid and rude questions he has been asked about having cerebral palsy, or as he put it “a disability FAQ for stupid people”, and incorporates pop music, tech jokes with his Lightwriter and iPad and the joyous pupetting of a smashed-up vent dummy named Ian Duncan Smith. I felt both welcomed and challenged, occasionally directly insulted, and his connection to the audience was genuine and playful.
Opting for a pan-generational attack, he delivers a dizzying rant encompassing Bond villains, the Green Cross Code, Middle Ages burnings, Kanye West, religious curses and, of course, Edinburgh’s famous inaccessibility which told the audience exactly where they stood in his opinion; “the general public are totally stupid”. Fluffy disability confidence training this is not, and all the more memorable for LVG’s prankster vibe.
Towards the end of the show there are a couple of highly quotable jokes that I won’t spoil for you as LVG is on tour round the UK and will appeal to dunces, disabled folks and comedy fans of all stripes. So, get on it, tour dates here.
I am in bits. Sue MacLaine and Nadia Nadarajah have taken me apart by subtle means, by invisible means, with fast-moving fingers, and I am discombobulated by unnamed emotions after their performance of Can I Start Again Please?
MacLaine and Nadarajah’s dissection and examination of language, meaning and intent is so elegant that even though I knew the themes of the piece were going to be hard; abuse, survival, silence; the slow burn build still took me by surprise when I found myself crying and speechless. An amazing piece of theatre from two gifted performers.
Their synchronised movements and expressions are both visually arresting and moving, and recall how lonely it can be to try and express individual experience, even with shared language and understanding. Go and see it whenever you can!
Part of the emotional shot to the heart surely came from my having spent the preceding morning getting revved up at Fringe Central, listening to Jess Thom, Richard Butchins and Jo Verrant speak dynamically about ‘Disability: A Creative Advantage’. A great hour of discussion, frankness and calls to action, from both the new and older guard of disability arts.
It is notable throughout my whole Fringe experience that public/panelled discussion of disability arts is vehemently positive and progressive, whereas the experiences reflected in performance and art are more diverse, touching on sadness, frustration and isolation too, much of it specific to experience of impairment or disability.
Art and debate serve different functions, yes, but ultimately do we not want a joined-up sector where critique and creation equally reflect life? Can we rally ourselves to surf the wave of public interest in disability arts, whilst also sharing truth about anger and injustice? Are we setting up arty super-crip expectations, or is there simply still an ocean of patronising attitudes to swim through, best done so with a clear ‘fuck you/piss on pity’?
Being an artist is hard; one of the most challenging and under-supported roles a person can take on, and it is up to every individual artist how they position themselves in the public eye, and the right of every panellist and participant to share their stories however they choose.
Nobody wants to be inspiration porn, or be to spoken down to, looked over or left out, but the juggling act between funding, PR, touring, creative expression, practicalities and logistics and the existential nature of the profession should be more openly discussed. This shit is TOUGH!
There is everything to play for right now, even with the budget looming and the arts’ delicate neck first on the chopping block, and I am interested to see how this phase pans out; with the British Council, Arts Council and some mainstream media starting to wake up to the value of diversity and equality it’s a good time to figure out our narratives and our place in history as whole, flawed, individual people with as much to learn as to teach.
Yesterday I was supposed to be swanning about Edinburgh seeing shows and catching up with old pals, but an airport bomb scare threw things off so all I managed was to go to the iF Platform launch and British Council Showcase opening party and give myself a hangover before leaving. Should have had more cheese nibblies. Today; actual work, in the form of the If Not Now, When? conference, attended by the great and the good, and the new and wide-eyed.
As a rookie producer also pretty green to Disability Arts I am conscious of my potential role within a community seeking to amplify and develop it’s own voice, and how best to sculpt my skillset and knowledge to best serve it.
‘Producer’ is a pretty nebulous job title, defined by individual relationships and techniques, and by the specific artistic and practical requirements and ambitions of the project.
Back in 2013 I attended an event hosted by Theatre Bristol called ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’; a day dedicated to examining some of the permutations of the artist/producer relationship, and a day on which I rather starrily-eyed met the fabulous Jenny Sealey, who’s relationship with producer Hetty Shand was the strongest and most pragmatic of those expressed by the panel.
Their working relationship seemed to fit my just-forming ideas of a role where I could be a critical friend, a cheerleader, an opener of doors and a charmer-off of powerful pants for the development of subversive and radical ideas, ideally all wrapped in a powerhouse package of strong personalities, unique vision and unrelenting hard work. (Yes, I do think producing is a bit of a buddy movie. What of it? Cue montage!)
I’m not there yet- speaking to one of the delegates on the British Council ‘Emerging Producers Platform’ at the swanky Showcase party last night I realised that I am not yet even an emerging producer. I am a pupil, a larvae, pupal, but the time to learn FAST how to play the game and change the rules at the same time is NOW.
Our final panel today asked Where Are The Champions? and I want to say, I’m right here. My track record is shorter than my mini-dress but inch by administrated inch I am learning, and my commitment to the possibilities and politics of this avant garde scene deepens every day.
Amongst the leading voices in Getting Shit Done In Disability Arts today almost everyone referenced the repetitious and historic nature of labels, access, perceptions and opportunities. Well, I’m part of the new guard, and whilst I want to know the heritage I am becoming a part of, I also feel that my freshness and relative lack of ties to the movement can work in my favour.
I think it’s time we 18-30s in Disability Arts had a little shindig and figured out our place in all this, and what we can manifest as the next chapter in Disability Arts. Colin Hambrook has told me that there has been a huge resistance amongst younger disabled people to be identified by or associated with the Disability Arts scene, and I think that a large part of that is the increasingly individualistic culture we have grown up in.
‘Community’ means ‘available resources/influences’ to someone who had the internet from age 14 and sought out people from across the globe who could take me away from my rural prison. My community is an international one, one of diverse people taking what they need to learn from each other to add to their ever-growing collection of influences. We rarely meet, if ever, but that makes it no less real, and we’re generally really good at things like change, persuasion, branding, marketing and mass communication. Most of all we’re good at not accepting what we’re given and instead forging our own paths, making us ideal leaders and allies within artistic and social movements.
As a champion I will:
1. Find ways to bring the disability arts avant garde the proper recognition it deserves from the point of conception through securing easily accessible development money, and not waiting for invitations from venues to suit their agendas and responsibilities. Art is happening all the time, and to be satisfied with the opportunities available from a few dedicated platforms and funds is not enough, although a wonderful place to start from.
2. Use my marketing and persuasion skills to forge influential mainstream connections and pitch work at the highest possible level- leading by example in terms of scope and standard.
3. Be ever-inquisitive about how conditions for artists can be improved, and how best-practice can be most effectively shared between producers and programmers to benefit them.
4. Get my ass out of bed every day I can and keep learning.
Thrilled as I am to be representing Dao at the Fringe this year, from even the briefest glance at the programme I can tell I'm going to be a whimpering, knackered mess by the end. There are so many performances and events by and for disabled artists this year that I'll need equal amounts of speed, spirulina and 'shut up, you have the coolest job going' to keep me going.
Unlimited and the British Council are in town, and shows touching on everything from mental health to mortality can be found across comedy, theatre, dance, music, events and cabaret. I'll also be getting jacked up on professional development at events at Zoo Southside, Summerhall, Forest Fringe and Fringe Central.
Colin Hambrook and I will be up reviewing and schmoozing from August 23rd-31st so if you see us do please say hello.
A few of my top tips and tantalising treats for your dance cards are as follows:
Dive Cabaret: Last year the lineup included some of the most riotously profane signed poetry imaginable, and as DIVE organisers Annabel and Annabel have started working with local disability social network Get2gether I'm hopeful of meeting some new pals AND expanding my pornographic BSL vocabulary.
Good for: queer cabaret, inclusive programming, dirty thrills.
iF Platform: A gorgeous collection of leading UK disabled artists covering heaps of styles and approaches curated by Stopgap. I'm particularly looking forward to Jo Bannon's Alba; her sensitive style and chic aesthetic make my heart sing. Touretteshero's Backstage In Biscuitland looks like an absolute scream, and our man Rowan James' Easy For You To Say looks like it'll ring my bell politically, despite my mild allergy to beat-boxing.
Good for: connecting the regional dots of the UK's rich scene, assured quality.
Black- Le Gateau Chocolat: The first solo show from international operatic drag star Le Gateau Chocolat promises a soulful look at what a picnic it is growing up black, gay and depressed in Nigeria. Having seen Gateau as a cabaret performer many times I am already in love with his voice and adorable stage presence, and Black is top of my list for confessional one-handers.
Good for: knee-tremblng vocal talent, testing the resilience of waterproof mascara.
Abnormally Funny People: Celebrating their 10th anniversary this year, Abnormally Funny People has a rotating all-star cast of stand-ups bringing you their best bits every night, including Gareth Berliner, Eshaan Akbar, Liz Carr and Tanyalee Davis. This is where mama keeps the juice; go at least twice.
Good for: variety, famous faces, songs and laughs.
Bryony Kimmings- Fake it Til You Make It: Bryony's previous work on sex, celebrity, feminism and drunkenness make her something of a performance pin-up of mine. Partnering with her fiancee Tim to present a work on severe clinical depression, masculinity and love with her trademark humour looks to be another in a long line of hits for her.
Good for: fantastic aesthetics, frank humour and live-art influences.
Guerilla Aspies- Paul Wady: I'm a sucker for a spoof lecture, and Paul's whip-smart daftery should do really well to promote his book 'Guerilla Aspies- A Neurotypical Society Infiltration Manual'. Aimed at preaching to the unconverted but with plenty of insider jokes for his fellow aspies, Paul is on a mission to help you 'see things our way'.
Best for: TED lovers and haters, slideshow junkies, fact-finders and newbies.
Euan's Guide: Not a show but a resource listing and reviewing venues for accessibility. You can also get helpful info from the EdFringe website.
Anything I simply MUST see? Stick your recommendations in the comments below please, and I'll get back to trawling the programme for even more goodies to check out.