Written by Tracy Gentles

Arts

Ill Communication

From a one-woman show about urinary incontinence to a musical exploring depression, taboo-busting festival The Sick of the Fringe is putting the body – and all its complexities – front and centre stage. Co-director Tracy Gentles tells us all about it…

Bourgeois and Maurice’s Antibiotic Apocalypse. Photo: The Two.

The idea for The Sick of the Fringe (TSOTF) came from a long-held excitement about the deeper understanding of ourselves, and each other, that we can take from art that places health, medicine and the body centre stage. Commissioned by Wellcome, it is a mini festival that for the last two years has run within the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and now we’re thrilled to be bringing a pretty radical programme to London.

With a line-up of more than 30 events across four venues (Wellcome Collection, Camden People’s Theatre, The Place and Conway Hall), we’re aiming to create a snapshot of the world we would dearly like to see: open, connected and diverse.

The shows, talks and workshops cover everything: from a one-woman comedy about urinary incontinence (Gusset Grippers) to a glitter-explosion of a musical about depression (My Beautiful Black Dog), to a dancer talking about moving beyond chronic pain (Performing Change), to a performance about the impact of work capability assessments (Austerity Cuts).

Tracy Gentles and Brian Lobel. Photo by Christa Holka.

Artists and speakers are tackling topics such as neurodiversity, with Alix Generous exploring how the internet can shape our perspectives (But I Read on the Internet), and Jess Thom aka Touretteshero sharing her experience working with her tics in creating Reclaiming Mouth, a new version of Samuel Beckett’s disembodied mouth play Not I.

As co-director, I’ve been working with artist Brian Lobel, experimenting with formats and ideas. We’ve spent two years mapping out the Edinburgh Fringe, highlighting the amazing range of work dealing with health and building a community for artists making difficult work, often about their own bodies, and all too often in isolation.

We’ve seen and ‘diagnosed’ more than 140 shows, making connections between a vast range of artists and performers in the thick of the Edinburgh mayhem and spreading the word that shows about sickness and wellness can resonate with anyone and everyone.

This London incarnation is an opportunity to take that even further, curating a festival that celebrates interconnectedness and intersectionality and making this work ever more visible to as large an audience as possible.

It’s that sense of visibility that I am most excited about. We are bringing together such a range of artists sharing their unique perspectives on topics that are at the same time personal to them, and relevant to everyone.

Issues around age and ageing, for instance, are explored by octogenarian Lynn Ruth Miller, the oldest performing female standup comedian in the UK, alongside six other comedians spanning seven decades (The Fringe is turning 70).

Lynn Ruth Miller.

Playing on the idea of Fringe theatre, we’ve selected work that deals with people and perspectives that can often be marginalised, on the edges of a society that now, more than ever, needs to hear (and see and feel) the viewpoints of others.

Presenting a platform that is for everyone and focuses on the body is one of the many reasons that TSOTF is so special. Ideas and thoughts about bodies, health and medicine come from all walks of life, and curating a festival in which they can all be seen together gives a powerful message.

More than that, we’re sharing these spaces with audiences, exploring ideas together. People talking openly and honestly about their own bodies and experiences of illness, disability or difference in performance spaces rather than doctors’ surgeries, clinics or other ‘designated’ areas feels like the right way to start a movement.

TSOTF London aims to remind everyone that these topics should not be treated in silos. The beauty is that we’re not highlighting one topic, but celebrating the common threads between them.

Le Gateau Chocolat’s performance, Black, is as much about sexuality and depression as it is about race. Bourgeois and Maurice have long been making sequin-spangled work that deals with queerness and politics, but they also tackle issues relating to bodies and medicine, like chemsex. Commissioning a new piece from them about drug-resistant infections and sexually transmitted disease (Antibiotic Apocalypse) brings new context to this work.

We know that there are huge gaps between people at the moment. The world is a rough place and is increasingly fragmented. When you’re in your bubble, it can be incredibly hard to see out, so sometimes being an outsider is not always a bad thing. We can learn so much from people who do not fit our usual frames of reference.

It’s only by bridging those gaps that we can effect true change, and it’s our hope that TSOTF can help.

The Sick of the Fringe takes place from 17-19 February.

@TSOTFringe
@tracygentles

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Written by Tracy Gentles

Tracy Gentles is the Manchester born, London based director of In Company Collective. Through ICC she collaborates with artists and activists to raise awareness and discussion around taboo topics such as mental health, assisted suicide, sex, race and ageing.