Into the Unknown and into your own head(phones) at Edinburgh Fringe
By Dan James, Festivals Edinburgh Blogger in Residence, August 2018
I closed my eyes, and a hand touched mine briefly, when I opened them the view hadn't changed yet I felt different. As the gentle music came to an end in my headphones, I had finished the story of the show in my own head, and I knew it would be a different ending for everyone who came and sat on this park bench in front of Arthur's Seat.
I'd only paid a £1 for the ticket, a ticket which offered the opportunity to 'Sit With Us for a Moment and Remember' and before arriving I wondered how anyone could put a price on a public park bench. But as the voice in my headphones talked of remembering, of slowing down, of taking a moment in the modern world to remember the past yet think about the future I realised it was a priceless reminder we all needed.
As with so much of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the story plays on in front of you or around you but the ending, the conclusion, usually comes later, formed by our own minds and away from the creative who masterminded the show.
The theme of this year's Fringe is 'Into the Unknown' - an official challenge as it may be to discover something new, to push our minds to a different place, to create our own adventures, and stories, amongst the Festival city.
It's a challenge I've awkwardly accepted, and it's been pushing my comfort zone, and confidence, to a whole other level.
I scoffed at the idea of a Silent Disco as my friend Vicki told me we had to do it. I didn't have a problem with the idea; I had a problem with looking like an idiot in front of strangers.
But a few hours later, as the beats of music legends pumped through my headphones and I danced my way around the city with a group of equally embarrassed at first but soon to be fully fledged dancers, I quickly stopped caring what strangers would think and let myself go with the moment. What was happening in the outside world suddenly didn't matter, just what was happening in my head.
I suppose dancing through the Meadows of Edinburgh to some Michael Jackson and singing your heart out as the world is unaware of the music in your ears might not sound like a culturally enlighting experience but, for me anyway, it was.
The group laughed, sang and danced through the streets and a wave of energy and happy emotions pumped through me. I'd let Vicki drag me Into the Unknown, and the results had been unexpected.
As I removed the headphones with a grin at the end of our tour, I felt a new-found level of confidence and a buzz for life. I thought of all the times I'd said no to things because I was too embarrassed, once-in-a-lifetime things that had been offered to me during my travels and vowed to myself the next time I found myself in a far-flung place I wouldn't let confidence make me miss out.
Heading Into the Unknown is scary, especially in the modern world where social media adds pressure to the every day, but the theme makes sense for a festival that celebrates diversity and creativity. Where better to let loose and try to free the shackles of our own mind than in a festival city where anything goes and no one can really be shocked at whats going on.
Businesspeople in suits and parents pushing prams carried on their day as our 30-strong crowd sang and dance around them. This is Edinburgh in August, to be shocked or pass judgement isn't really in this months DNA.
Later that day I'd sit in the meadows behind the circus hub, put in my own headphones and cry. I'd think of my Grandma who has passed on, think of her bench that I haven't visited in years, and I'd take another moment to remember. The side effects of the Fringe can be as powerful as the shows themselves.
When we take ourselves into the unknown our senses are heightened, it's natural, we become more aware and thus more cautious, and I can't think of a better, more supportive environment to push us beyond our boundaries than the Fringe.
Putting headphones on in a city like this in August might seem like madness; why would you want to drown out the very reason for being here, why would you want to retreat to your own head when you can retreat to a beer garden below an upside-down purple cow or alongside a circus tent.
But really, why wouldn't you?
Why wouldn't you want to take the energy of the Edinburgh Festivals and use it to better yourself, to help yourself, in some cases to heal yourself? Heading into the unknown is different for everyone, heading into your own head is different for everyone, and maybe putting on some headphones is the first step into the unknown, because it's about you and not anyone else.
Why not just start with the free downloadable audio guide tour of the Fringe. Plug in your headphones and walk through the city cutting out all the performers and noise, learn about the Fringe, but also see the city in a new way.
Maybe it will lead onto taking a moment to remember or a moment to dance? It's incredible what we can accomplish when we retreat into our own headspace.