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Outside the Box – A Live Show about Death
by Liz Rothschild
August is fast approaching and with it comes the Edinburgh Festival and as part of that, Death on the Fringe. Death now merits it’s own category and has done so for the previous two years as well. About time since it is relevant to every single person at the festival. Thanks to many important initiatives like Dying Matters, the Natural Death Centre and the Death Cafe the subject has been finally propelled into the limelight. There are a fascinating series of talks as well as relevant performances on offer throughout the three weeks of the festival.
I am a performer and a celebrant and I run a woodland burial ground between Oxford and Swindon(www.woodlandburialwestmill.co.uk – winner of Good Funeral Awards Cemetery of the Year 2015). I shall be in Edinburgh this year with my new solo piece, Outside the Box – A Live show about death at Summerhall. This is a very exciting, lively venue with many different spaces, courtyard bars, cafes and exhibition spaces. It is a thriving, all year round Arts Centre in the old Veterinary School down near the Meadows which brings very interesting work from both the UK and abroad in a variety of media, so I am delighted to be part of the team there this year.
Right now I am in the final throes of rehearsals and finding out if I can fit everything in to my car for Edinburgh. I have teams of helpers ready to join me up there both stage managing the show and tramping the streets of Edinburgh with our posters and flyers ready to replace them when they have been torn down by rival companies. It’s a jungle up there! Look out for us with our coffin on the Royal Mile and elsewhere. Come and put a postit note on the top or get a picture of yourself trying it out for size. We hope that even our presence on the streets will lift the lid a little on the subject. Every person who comes to our show also receives a free programme with a list of invaluable resources on the inside.
The show weaves in stories both personal and professional about my experiences, a hint of history and some pithy commentary on the funeral industry. It premiered at the Swindon Literature Festival and then went straight to the Brighton Fringe festival. Here’s what Zelah Senior, reviewer in Brighton said amongst other things.
Rothschild’s story telling was consummate. From the very first words: “I saw my first dead person…”, her stories were intriguing. She drew the audience in close, gently probing and questioning our society’s discomfort around death and reluctance to talk about it. The stories provided a real life backdrop for the key educational messages of her performance: you have a huge amount of choice at the end of life relating to your care, the treatment of your body after death, your funeral, and the disposal of your body – use it! Her narrative fluidly blended hard-hitting facts – 70% of us in the UK die without a will – with tender, heart-breaking experience and death bed humour.
Other responses have been very encouraging - “Informative, uplifting and life-affirming” said one audience members and Matt Holland, director of the Swindon Festival wrote “It made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me want everyone to see it” Phew! That’s lucky because my plan is tour it all over the UK during the next few years . Obviously, because I have the day job to think of back on our farm on the Wiltshire/Oxfordshire border so I shall go away on a series of minitours around the country. Luckily, I also have an excellent team who can hold the fort while I am gadding around with the show.
I started the Kicking the Bucket Festival in Oxford in 2012 – I called it a Festival of Living and Dying because I think that living and dying have become unhitched in our culture in a way that does us all a huge disservice. You cannot have inside without outside and you cannot have life without death. They inform and shape one another. When I was toying with names some people said to me “You can’t call it that! But I persisted and I am so glad I did. Over and over again people have commented on the name. It signalled that we wouldn’t have to be serious and weighty all the time - that we were allowed to be irreverent and even occasionally laugh. I wanted to reach people before they have been bereaved so that they could fully understand what was possible before being in the whirlwind of emotions that takes over when someone has died. Feedback repeatedly expressed a feeling lighter, closer to other people, less afraid.
I wanted this effect to go wider and so have been developing the script over the past five years. It is now ready and some performances in Brighton led to very long post show conversations which were wonderful and I found, as I expected, that people are full of stories and questions and delighted to be sharing those as they do at a Death Cafe. The show acts as a powerful catalyst to begin those conversations and for those who do not actually want to speak in public offers a rich range of food for thought for them to take home and digest. We are gathering some of the stories up as we go and putting them on our website and already one new tale found its way into the show because it was irresistible!
Come and see me at Summerhall. Preview on 4th August and then performances daily at 11.50 from 5th-21st. Do talk to me afterwards even though there is no opportunity to talk for long in the actual theatre because of the next group coming in to perform there. If those dates or that geography doesn’t work visit our website on www.fullcircleproductions.org.uk and see if our tour is coming anywhere near you. If not and you are interested in booking a performance do get in touch and maybe we can bring a performance to your local village hall, Arts Centre, college or festival. Ideal for Dying Matters week next May! The show will be on the road for the next couple of years at the very least. Tell your friends and your family. People often come to the Kicking the Bucket festival with their parents or children as a way of facilitating conversations they are wanting to have. I very much hope Outside the Box will act in the same way. I look forward to meeting you somewhere.
The Dying Matters Coalition is led by the National Council for Palliative Care,
the umbrella charity for end of life care in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Freephone 08000 21 44 66