My Festival: Livia Kojo Alour

The Black Sheep actor/writer/singer on Edinburgh dive bars, sword swallowing, and becoming a poet

What are you doing at this year’s festival?

I’m very proud to be bringing my debut solo show Black Sheep to the Fringe this year. It’s an autobiographical story about a queer Black woman finding love. I’d describe it as a blend of experimental theatre with circus performance, spoken word and live singing.

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

I definitely want to see productions from other queer or POC (people of colour) producers and especially queer POC. I’m looking forward to Sadiq Ali’s The Chosen Haram, an exploration of what it means to be queer and Muslim (or ex-Muslim), and Who Murdered My Cat? by Roann Hassani McCloskey, looking at growing up queer and mixed-race in 1990s London. Also Sophie Duker: Hag and Lara Ricote: GRL/LATNX/DEF.

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

I love just walking through the city – the views are so spectacular! To be able to stand on the Royal Mile in the middle of all the Fringe chaos and look right out to the calm blue sea. One year we filmed at the top of Arthur’s Seat during the Fringe and the view was so spectacular I still remember it vividly.

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

Livia Kojo Alour in Black Sheep PIC: Sarah HicksonLivia Kojo Alour in Black Sheep PIC: Sarah Hickson
Livia Kojo Alour in Black Sheep PIC: Sarah Hickson

I have some good friends in Edinburgh, some of whom I’ve known for almost 20 years now, and I love spending time with them. We often go to shows together and have drinks and dinners. Apart from that, I love meeting new artists from around the world, seeing their work and exchanging stories of travelling or performing.

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

My first ever festival was in 2013. I came up as an inexperienced cabaret performer and still have glorious memories! I worked myself through every show possible and met so many amazing people, some of whom are still my friends today. I performed everywhere from the Assembly big top to a dive bar on the Free Fringe. It was soooo much fun and ignited my long-lasting love for the Fringe.

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

My best experience so far was coming to the Fringe in 2017 with Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman show. The show starred a group of queer female-identifying performers who I bonded with immensely during the process of making the show. I’m proud to say that Marisa Carnesky is still my mentor and friend today. I also got to share a bedroom for a whole month with the writer and LGBT+ educator Amy Ridler. We labelled our favourite drink a “Rum F*** Off” and had so many I lost count.

My worst experience was when I got thrown out of my accommodation during the Fringe one year after the producer had made unsuccessful advances. He drove me to the station in the middle of the night and made me sleep outside. I was really scared. For a long time I couldn’t speak about this as I was worried about my reputation. Nowadays I use those kind of terrible experiences as inspiration when I write.

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

Yes, lockdown absolutely changed my life. I was struggling with my busy schedule as a sword swallower and needed a break, to be honest. When we got locked down, I had a really long rest. After that, I set out to finish my solo show. In the midst of that, I also started writing a lot of poetry. My debut collection will be out on 15 September, published by Polari Press. Without lockdown, I would not be here now with a show and a book!

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I am a complete introvert. I love being alone or prefer to meet up with only one person at a time.

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

I make an iced oatmeal latte and drink it while staring into the room. I usually feel horrible before coffee!

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

Probably Instagram scrolling. I know it’s bad – I’m so guilty. I wait for my cats to come to bed and then go to sleep hugging one in each arm.

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

My favourite drink is red wine. But since we’re in Scotland a whisky will definitely be appreciated as well! So either let’s head to a great whisky bar (I’ve heard good things about the Scottish Malt Whisky Society’s Kaleidoscope Bar), or just bring along a bottle for us to drink after my show?

Livia Kojo Alour’s Black Sheep is at the Assembly Rooms, 9pm, until 27 August

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