We are creeping closer to the half way point of this year's Edinburgh Festival and it has been the usual rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, but this year's fringe really has been an eye opening experience for my team here at TESTOSTERONE. Having produced a number of different productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival over many years now, this has been the first time that a show my awesome team and I have flyered for has caused such a visibly disdainful reaction. TESTOSTERONE has proven to be much more divisive than I think we had perhaps naively expected. Although TESTOSTERONE is not simply a trans narrative, but an objective look at the sometimes toxic world of masculinity through the eyes of a new man, around one in ten tables of punters start slipping each other sideways glances as soon as you mention there's a transgender person at the centre of this show. Some people are outright telling us this show is not for them as soon as we mention this.
There are many productions with transgender narratives at the Fringe this year. The overwhelming difference between TESTOSTERONE and the other shows being presented is that our production is not about being transgender or transitioning. That does appear as part of Kit's story, but our focus is one step beyond that, transitioning has happened and is a thing of the past. What we're interested in is what then happens once a FTM transgender person becomes immersed in the world of masculinity? What is the difference between the two gender worlds that they have experienced? What has Kit learnt? What has been gained and what has been lost? What does it mean to be a man? The perspective of TESTOSTERONE has far more in common with Grayson Perry's The Descent of Man than it does with the other trans narrative shows at the Fringe this year. Perry observes in his ground breaking book that “Gender inequality is a huge issue for all of us and… the world would be a better place without it.” “I often look at men and think that they seem to be victims of this drive to perform their gender. What are they afraid of? Why do they play the man so extremely, whether with muscles or knowledge or wit?” “Boys are taught to be brave but in quite a specific way, mainly when facing physical danger on the sports field or in the playground. But what about emotional danger?” TESTOSTERONE is an almost feminist, light unpacking of this big and crucial issue. It's not providing answers, merely signposting theatre goers who might not have heard of Perry's argument to the beginning of the conversation.
But because there's a trans person at the centre of this provocation it has proven to be divisive. We knew it would be, but it is interesting to experience this out in the field. I've said for years now that if it can be true to say that the future exists in a science lab somewhere then it can also be true to say that the future of culture exists at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. When I came here three years ago with Backstage in Biscuit Land by Touretteshero, the theatre and entertainment landscape across the UK presented a noticeably different face to the one we see now. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe itself was significantly less accessible, fewer theatres around the UK had considered how a person who uses a wheelchair might gain access to their stage - let alone get around the dressing rooms or have use of an accessible toilet from backstage. Comedians were still making inappropriate jokes about mental health and disability. It was socially normally for people to use discriminative language as part of their everyday speech. Three years later and any comedians making the same kind of jokes now get lampooned for it, language on the whole has been cleared up, and - in no small part influenced by the success of Backstage in Biscuit Land -many festivals around the UK are now much more on it with regards to Access, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. There's still a long way to go obviously and it's not all down to Touretteshero, but Jess Thom's work has been a big driving force. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe implemented a three year access improvement business plan off the back of a meeting and discussion they had with Jess about her problems with getting around the city. The Pleasance Courtyard, which presented Backstage in Biscuit Land, has gone through a redevelopment and access has been at the heart of their improvements. Venues the show toured to throughout the UK have been able to push access to the fore - many of these local authority run, and often one of the last front line services being offered by councils and often the last department thinking about access and inclusion at the moment. By presenting a show like Backstage in Biscuit Land and inviting Councillors to see the show, venues have been able to demonstrate the need to implement a host of step changes in improving access and inclusion at their venue and throughout the council as well as helping cement their importance as a necessary front line service. Last of all, relaxed performances and access needs have become woven into the very fabric of theatre making. The culture around access in this country has noticeably shifted since one little production of Backstage in Biscuit Land nervously wheeled out onto the stage for the first time at the Pleasance Above in 2014.
And we are already seeing the same with trans issues of inclusion at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Many of the venues now have gender neutral toilets. I keep hearing the same conversation where ever I go... Men complaining they have to queue more now. Women pleased they no longer have to queue for so long. But no one really outright objecting. People get used to things very quickly... That's why we've done so well as a species. We adapt. In three or four years time this will almost certainly be the norm all over the country. And the sneers and up turned noses being experienced by my flyer team and I at the moment is simply paving the way for future trans performers who will be flyering this very same courtyard years from now without it being any kind of big deal at all. Adapting to be more inclusive and thoughtful of the needs of other people on the fringes of society is one of the best things about being British. We do it. And I think part of the reason why we are one of the more inclusive societies in the world is because we have the Edinburgh Fringe Festival driving this along. And then we take that drive and promote this inclusion all over the globe through the work of the British Council. It feels great to be part of this pollination process and it gives me the strength to continue flyering regardless of the rain and intermittent sour faces. We are paving the way for future smiles.