Up until I arrived in Edinburgh a week ago I’d seen only nine theatre shows, not just in the last month, or year, but in my whole life.
For a thirty-four-year-old theatre-lover and performer this probably doesn’t seem very impressive, but as someone with Tourettes, my access to live performance has often been difficult, and intensely emotional. But my love of storytelling, comedy and theatre has made me persevere, and that’s led me here to the Fringe with my first show, Backstage In Biscuit Land.
A week into Edinburgh, the number of performances I’ve seen in my life has already doubled. But I’m aware of a change that’s much greater than simply the statistics; it’s a shift in my understanding of my right to access theatre on equal terms with everyone else. It’s something I’ve believed for a long time, but if I’m honest maybe sometimes more in theory than in practice.
This might sound a little odd given that there’s a thread running through my show about how my confidence in going to see stuff has grown, and how making theatre inclusive has the potential to make it better for everyone.
After many glorious theatre experiences here, I can say with confidence that some of the best moments my tics have created haven’t been when I’ve been on stage but when I’ve been in the audience.
When I went to see ‘Come Heckle Christ’ my tics asked Jesus (AKA comedian Josh Ladgrove) to choose between the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles and cum, amongst many other surreal questions. Afterwards both Josh and his producer said it was the best show they’d done and told me I’d be welcome again any time.
Josh isn’t the only person to say something like this. Comedian Laurence Clark, whose show Moments of Instant Regret really resonated with me, got in touch afterwards to ask if it was OK for him to write a piece about the experience of having me in the audience. I assured him it was. The piece he sent back opened with the line ‘Last night I did one of the best and most exhilarating performances of my stand-up career.’ He ended with, ‘far from being a distraction, Touretteshero’s presence brought out the very best in me as a stand-up comedian.’
He suggests other performers ‘consider putting on “relaxed performances” where people who find it hard to keep quiet are welcome.’ And adds, ‘I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with how they go.’
In the past I’ve often felt anxious about unintentionally becoming part of the show or about distracting the performer. My experiences so far at Edinburgh have helped me put some of these anxieties to bed.
Whether it was stand-up David Trent saying matter-of-factly at the start his set, ‘This is my friend who has Tourettes, so don’t be dicks about it’, before going on to give a brilliant performance expertly ignoring my tics, or amazing performer and songwriter Jonny from Jonny and the Baptists pausing to say ‘I’m not going to dwell on your tics but you just said “Alan Hanson” – brilliant!’
Regardless of whether my tics have been acknowledged, ignored, embraced or enjoyed, I’ve had hugely positive experiences here and seen amazing shows. At last I feel that I can say with my hand on my heart that Tourettes isn’t a barrier to going to the theatre. In fact I feel privileged to be able to take my tics out.