Thursday, August 01, 2019

Edinburgh Festival 2019 blog: Two shows and one theatre company.

It is 6:54am on the morning of Friday the second of August 2019.  I am sitting at my computer, in a hostel that is dead central to the action of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe of theatre and performances.  The Cow Gate area of Edinburgh.

Outside the great, huge grey gothic monster that is Edinburgh is waking up.  The cars and lorries glide by like waves on a beach that go sideways instead of forwards and backwards.  Seagulls comment occasionally. Metal clanks as bins empty the treasures of the nights before.

Tonight it gets intense.  Tomorrow equally so.  The weekend brings more noise and revelry.  Joyous humanity, striving for euphoria.  Why not.  It's going to be interesting to share it this closely all these stories above the different ground levels around here.  

Out of the window you can see buildings that start two to three stories below the bridges they are build on, and go up another four or even five.  Many windows, some exposing the lives within.  A grim world of stone cages, hinting of the colourful life they contain.

I sit here in a rented room, my base for sixteen days.  It would normally be 25 but I ran out of holiday time.  Also the period is within my regular budget.  Sadly the usual places fell through as the people who rent them got wise to just how much they could be making if they let them per day.  Accommodation is a viciously priced business at this time of year, around here.  Why not?  What would you do if you owned a place you could rent.

It's a matter of time before the joys of sharing for a short while give way to Air B and B I know.  Or just plain a cheaper private rent.  Last year my friend George from Los Angeles rented an absolute palace off the Haymarket area down the road.  Yeah it cost but someone else was paying as part of his mighty Magic 8 Ball, my life with Aspergers show.  Timing meant I never got to see it as it clashed with my two productions.  But we will meet again.  George used to come round to our apartment round the back of the Pleasant Courtyard to use our washing machines and chat.  A fascinating, brave man.

George Steeves had become one more cutting edge pioneer of an art form that does not entirely exist. Neurodiverse self advocacy theatre.  Although there have been representations such as the West End of London run of Rain Man, I write of when autistic people write, produce and perform their own work.  They started as 'my name is xxxx and I have autism and this is what it is like'.  Tales of hardship ensued.  It was impossible to know where being autistic ended and describing mental health issues and the performers own personal limitations and that of his social world began.  Now things have moved on.

Back in 2015, Cian Binchy and I were the first people to have shows that blatantly gave it away that we were autistic, and what it was like.  They both lasted for many years until my Guerilla Aspies - Become Autistic with Paul Wady, remained to return each year.  For a few years the Ross Hepburn is Beetlejuice'd show on the PBH Free Fringe, revealed it's narrator had Aspergers at the end.  Great hyperactive work it was too.

(Ah, that snob term.  I'm so clever and functional.  Performers use it to differentiate from representing relative mental disability.  Personally I eschew the snobbery of it and just call myself and my work, autistic and representing being autistic.  As usual with Aspies, a term I still paradoxically use, we are all deeply individual).

Eh?  I thought I didn't like it.  Already I've given away the complex paradoxes of language around being autistic.  Or was it having autism.  Or being a person with autism?  There are ongoing and I think, somewhat unsolvable debates around how you say you are autistic.  That statement alone merely contributes rather than resolves.  Look - I gotta say it somehow.  If you are homosexual it is easy - just say you are gay.  But with the spectrum....yep, another term, oh it goes on and on.  Oh, come to think of it we ended up with the ever expanding LGBTI instead of...  Oh, here we go again.

Indeed autistic people tend to argue endlessly about the different terms involved in the different aspects of being NeuroAtypical.  Fine definitions of finer and finer classifications of...a small number of personal characteristics you can have that define you as one of us.  The things we hold in common.  There.  Simple.  Our shared natures.  

From this people like myself attempt to create art that expresses what our lives are like and who we are as people.  It originally centred around what went wrong in relation to an ideal of ability and the infamous but universally used term functionality.  Autism was and still is, usually defined via deficit, or savant genius skills.  I seek to show how many of us are in-between.  Hang on, doesn't that sound like most people?  

Our work, such as Anders Lee's Dummy which is playing this year, focuses on showing character, personality, maturity and yes, individual identity.  The orthodoxy around being autistic (I will use the term and that's that.  I've gone into the endless definitions/predications debates) says that IF YOU HAVE MET ONE PERSON WITH AUTISM, THEN YOU HAVE MET ONE PERSON WITH AUTISM...THAT IT EXPRESSES IN SO MANY INDIVIDUAL WAYS.  Like we don't have characters.  Just that the condition we can be defined as having manifests so individually in each of us.  Oh, so if we didn't have it we'd all be uniform people then?  Like everyone who doesn't have it always is.....  Oh I forgot.  Another cliche is that we don't ' do sarcasm.

Anders was and still is, a New York city based comedian in his twenties.  Then two years ago he came to see both my show and the Stealth Aspies company, went home and produced a frank and brave reveal of his own vulnerabilities that discussed what is normal.  I consider it better and more advanced than what I am performing.  I see Anders as having build on top of our work.  Which is exactly what I dreamed of happening in the field of Neurodiversity self advocacy performance.  

More to come.  


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