As a young adult, performance artist Brian Lobel was diagnosed with cancer.
His early theatre pieces were based on that ordeal, but it wasn’t easy finding audiences and venues willing to accommodate such subject matter. What’s more, he grew frustrated when well-meaning critics would describe his work as inspiring.
“No, this is anti-inspiration!” exclaims the seven-year Fringe veteran. “Everything about cancer is supposed to be inspiring, but I’m not! No one is listening.”
That frustration inspired him to create progressive arts project The Sick of the Fringe, which aims to raise awareness of the diverse range of health and science-themed shows which take place every August in Edinburgh.
Commissioned by charitable foundation Wellcome, the programme involves a series of open talks and workshops involving artists, scientists and medical practitioners.
“I want to create spaces where we can have more nuanced, considered conversations around health, medicine, illness and disability, inside the world of performance,” explains Lobel.
Key to Lobel’s mission statement is the importance of collaboration between performers who wouldn’t normally gather in a supportive, non-judgemental forum. “Edinburgh is a great place for people to tell you about themselves, but very rarely do we have a lot of dialogue across shows,” he says. “What happens is there’s a competition element: who’s the best person talking about mental health? So people think that’s the only show they have to see, and the other people they’ve heard from, they don’t have to listen to or think about any more.”
Lobel’s ultimate goal is to spread an exchange of ideas that lasts beyond the Fringe: “I want it to be relevant outside of that theatre that holds five audience members.”
He also wants to encourage young writers who may be nervous about creating highly personal work along these lines.
“I want them to know there are people in Edinburgh who will hear that show and not care whether it’s the funniest or the best,” he says. “But they’ll just feel a little bit braver to write that work. There is a community that’s interested in the ideas that you bring, so don’t be afraid to really be yourself, to talk about the things that are serious in your world, because we promise to be there to listen.”
• The Sick of the Fringe takes place in various venues around Edinburgh from 8 August. Details can be found at: http://thesickofthefringe.com/