Bumblebees, Swim Class, and Gender, Oh My! The Autistic Experience at the Edinburgh Fringe | Playbill

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Playbill Goes Fringe Bumblebees, Swim Class, and Gender, Oh My! The Autistic Experience at the Edinburgh Fringe

Playbill reflects on three vastly different solo shows from this year Fringe that were written by autistic performers.

Baby Belle: Young Dumb and Full of Autism, 129.5 Steps to Autistic Success, and Beehavioral Problems: Something, Something Autism

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe offers a home to creatives of every variation, which naturally includes the neurodiverse. It would be functionally impossible to place a number on how many neurodiverse, or even how many specifically autistic, performers appeared in the thousands of shows on offer this season. Many autistic individuals prefer to keep their status private for any number of reasons, ranging from ableist expectations to a personally evolving identity. But it is undeniable that neurdiverse creatives can be found in just about every artistic discipline imaginable—and that is beautifully reflected at the Fringe.

This year, three autistic individuals—Jax Braithwaite, Stags, and Stephen Catling—chose to write solo shows about their experiences living in a neurotypical biased world. Intrigued to learn more, this autistic writer hit the pavement in support and discovered more about these writers—and myself.

Baby Belle: Young, Dumb and Full of Autism

The intersection between gender and neurodiversity is a fascinating thing. And Jax Braithwaite, otherwise known as Baby Belle, plumbed the depths of their experience with the crossroads in their musical solo show, which featured a selection of self-written comedy songs.

Braithwaite, who identifies as a demi girl, was diagnosed as autistic during the pandemic, a phenomena not uncommon for individuals assigned female at birth. The standard diagnostic markers for autism (as used throughout the Western medical field) were dictated based on the stereotypical male experience—with women being socialised as simply being "quirky" rather than receiving support for their neurodiversity. The pandemic allowed many women and non-binary individuals to sit back and reflect on their own relationship to socialization, dropping the mask for the first time since childhood to truly examine who they are inside their own mind.

Draped in pink with Trixie Mattel-inspired drag makeup, the glorious concoction that is Baby Belle dives deep into that reality, as well as their personal struggles with being constantly labelled a "magic pixie dream friend" by peers.

Baby Belle: Young, Dumb and Full of Autism ran at Greenside at Infirmary Street. It has since completed its Fringe run.

129.5 Steps to Autistic Success

There are few things more charming than listening to the recently diagnosed autistic comedian Stags tell stories. With nothing but a microphone and a rain sound machine, Stags brings his audience into his memories, ranging from disastrously mishandled greetings with acquaintances to fun cat facts, all the while charting his journey to self-acceptance after being diagnosed late in life.

Unlike the other two shows on this list, Stags' show attracted a primarily autistic crowd the day I attended. A sense of comfortable understanding could be felt in the room: After decades of having to relate to neuro-typical story pacing, it was refreshingly simple to experience a story outside of my own mind that was told at a similar pace to my own internal monologue. In particular, a story centering on his school swim lessons and his experience at a swimming exhibition had the audience doubled up in laughter.  

129.5 Steps to Autistic Success runs at Laughing Horse at City Cafe through August 27.

Beehavioural Problems: Something Something Autism

This utterly absurd evening of comedy by Stephen Catling pushes the boundaries of the sympathetic theatrical response by bringing audience members into the neurodiverse thought process, and all that that entails. As the only other self-identified autistic person in the room (yes, Catling did a check at the top of the show), it was fascinating to watch audience members struggle to keep up with his changes in thought, tendency towards distraction, and his memories of ableism in the workplace. 

With heavy reliance on consented audience participation, Catling dares to do what many autistic individuals are taught to avoid at all costs in front of neurotypicals: fully unmask. One can only hope that more artists will be comfortable existing uncovered in such a way, as society continues to explore its ingrained bias' against the neurodivergent.

Beehavioural Problems: Something Something Autism runs at theSpace at Surgeons Hall through August 26.

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