My Festival: Haley McGee

The Canadian actor, writer and theatre-maker on her uplifting new show, finding an oasis of calm in the bustling heart of Edinburgh, and her “shamefully good” lockdown.

What are you doing at this year’s festival?

I’m here performing Age is a Feeling – a show I wrote about how our relationship with mortality shapes the way we live. That makes it sound more morose than it is! Another way to describe it is, an ultimately uplifting show about our endless chances to change course while we’re alive.

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What do you most want to see this year and why?

Haley McGee. PIC: Thea Courtney
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Oh gosh. So much. An Evening with Tara Boland is a zany, wickedly wild and sneakily feminist comedy show that I saw a preview of in London and loved. And I’m very excited to see Rwandan writer and activist Kiki Katese’s The Book of Life – performed with her all-female drumming group! - at EIF.

What’s your favourite place in the city and why?

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There’s a 17th Century-style – almost - secret just off the Royal Mile that I just discovered and love. It’s called Dunbar’s Close Garden. An oasis of calm a couple steps from the bustle. I’m also a big fan of Portobello.

Who do you most like spending time with at the festival?

Anyone who’ll walk up Arthur’s Seat with me.

What do you remember about your first ever Edinburgh festival appearance?

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I first came to the Fringe in 2013, with my first solo show, Oh My Irma – which The Scotsman described as ‘defiantly distinctive’ and gave four stars! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I cried a lot. And I saw at least three shows a day. I saw live performances unlike anything I’d experienced in Canada. It changed the way I create as a theatre-maker. I loved it.

What are the best and worst things that have happened to you in Edinburgh?

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Worst? In 2013, I was convinced two older women were hating my show and essentially facilitated them walking out part way through. Best? In 2016, I started several friendships at the fringe that have endured in the intervening years. The chance to see shows and then spend a month getting to know the different creators is genuinely life changing.

How was lockdown for you? Did it change you, and if so how?

I had, what I call, a ‘shamefully good’ lockdown. I fell in love in March 2020. I was able to keep working as a voiceover artist, which is my other main gig. And I had a book deal to turn my previous solo show into a book. So I wrote a book, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, which came out in 2021. The restrictions of the pandemic slowed me down in a fantastic way, making me reconsider and change the pace at which I move through my days.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

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Meditate. But don’t be too intimidated. I use the Headspace app.

And what’s the last thing you do before you go to bed at night?

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Usually read, but I struggle with insomnia so it could be any number of things – taking melatonin, taking a bath, watching Sewing Bee. You get the picture.

Thanks for the interview! We’d like to buy you a drink. Where are we going and what are we drinking?

Let’s go to Hula in the Grassmarket and have a smoothie. Or if it’s the night before my day off, Hendricks with cucumber, please.

Age is a Feeling, Summerhall, 12.10pm, until 28 August.