Four years ago I sent out a press release for a hoax show to be performed in the gents portacabin toilet cubicle in the Pleasance Courtyard.
It was supposed to be taking the piss out of the expense of hiring rooms at the ‘Big Four’ Fringe venues – something which I can’t afford to do.
Strangely, enough people (including US Comic Tom Green) took this show seriously and I went ahead and did a performance on August 20th, 5.30pm in cubicle 3. I charged a penny for all those who want to watch – I made 11p!
I am considering bringing the show back this year (from Aug 6 to 17) this time as a mixed bill show on dates and big 4 venues toilets to be announced. Everyone is welcome.
Later in the day, I got another e-mail from Paul. this one read:
So far, three comics are willing to do spots/slots in Big 4 venue toilet. I am now SERIOUSLY considering bringing the show back!
At almost exactly the same time, I got sent a picture of three semi-naked men in black trunks and one suspended in a red bag. The accompanying e-mail read:
After having conquered the world with timber, Cirque Alfonse will now hit Edinburgh Fringe with its latest show Barbu (Bearded) Electro-Trad Cabaret
It is two weeks before the Fringe starts, but the quirkiness has started already.
“Death,” I started. “Tell me about death.”
“I am,” said Robert James Peacock, “ Director of Death on the Fringe, My main job is working freelance doing arts marketing but last year, as a voluntary thing, I started working for a charity called the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care and one of their campaigns is a thing called Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief.
“It’s an alliance of various end-of-life associations – a lot of hospices are involved, a lot of NHS Trusts – and it’s run by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care. They’re promoting another Scotland-wide festival in November called To Absent Friends.
“The basis is that we, as Brits, are not very good at talking about death and dealing with death. Everyone has to go through it sometime – everyone loses someone close to them – and, if you don’t talk about it, you don’t necessarily confront all the issues involved with it.
“You don’t know if gran wants to be buried or cremated; people don’t leave wills; people don’t know how to support people who have been through a bereavement.
“Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief is a year-round campaign doing all sorts of activities and they came to me last year and said: We would like to do something during the Edinburgh Fringe. So we came up with this idea: Death on the Fringe. Basically, all the shows on the Fringe to do with death, bereavement, grief – put them all together in one programme to raise the profile of the campaign. It also gets more people to see some shows and kick-starts a debate about death and bereavement.
“It went well last year and, this year, we’ve had a bit more time to get all the existing shows together, so we have also programmed our own series of lectures – academics and thinkers – about death.
“We have the former British Medical Journal editor Richard Smith, who’s the brother of comedian Arthur Smith, doing a lecture on 31st August about the ‘up side’ of death – based on the idea that, if no-one ever died, there would not be space for all the people who are born.
“And we have Professor Scott Murray, the Chair of Primary Palliative Care at the University of Edinburgh, comparing death in Africa with death in Scotland and how we deal with it differently.”
“Is,” I asked, “death in Scotland any different to death in England? Is there a psychological difference?”
“Well,” replied Robert, “the Celtic tradition of death is very different to the English tradition, if you think about things like Irish wakes which are very different to the Anglo Saxon treatment of death.”
“I suppose,” I said, “Scots just remain dour.”
“All the performers have been very supportive of death on the Fringe,” said Robert. “Lynn Ruth Miller’s involved.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess she’s closer to death than most.”
“Last year,” Robert reminded me, “her show was called Not Dead Yet. This year, it’s called Get a Grip. We don’t want things that are necessarily serious things about death; we want things that are contemplative, reflective, which make people think about how they want to live their lives.
“It’s not just comedy. We have a couple of plays at the Traverse Theatre. One is called A Gambler’s Guide to Dying about someone who placed all his savings on a bet that he would live to see the year 2000. The other one is called Am I Dead Yet? which is being done in conjunction with the emergency services and is about how death is no longer a moment: it’s a process.
“Then there’s a comedy play – The Ascension of Mrs Leech – in which a Mrs Brown-esque figure dies and ends up causing trouble in heaven.”
“Well,” explained Robert, “because the charity is very involved in things like hospices, Dr Death was a difficult one for us, because putting that in the programme would be almost like endorsing assisted suicide. It is a topic to debate, but we didn’t want to go so far as looking like we were endorsing it. We don’t want people to assume assisted suicide is the way to go if they haven’t explored other issues.
“With Mel Moon, although she’s now separated from Dr Death, it’s a bit too late to start adding her to the programme.”
“How,” I asked, “are you going to develop Death on the Fringe next year?”
“Well, this year, we took the step of programming some of our own stuff, like the lectures and a couple of cabaret evenings. Next year we might actually start looking at finding a space where we can host our own events throughout the Fringe.”
“It’s very interesting,” I said, “because Edinburgh does like meaty, serious subjects.”
I talked to Robert via Skype this morning.
When I got home tonight, there was an unexplained photograph from this blog’s Canadian correspondent Anna Smith.
It appeared to show a giant sloth being attacked by a giant cat while a Chinese gentleman looked on.
I was also sent a YouTube link to a video of Cirque Alfonse, the bearded French Canadians. They seem very energetic.