Backstage at the Fringe

| by Jess Thom

Jess Thom writes about relaxed performances, her show Backstage in Biscuit Land, and changing the world "one tic at a time".


I went to the Fringe for the first time last year and it blew me away. I debuted my first ever show Backstage in Biscuit Land and I saw more theatre in three weeks than I’d seen in my entire life to date.

I’m Jess, an artist, writer and part-time superhero. I also have Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological condition that means I make movements and noises I can’t control called tics. My most frequent vocal tic is “Biscuit” which I say 16,000 times a day!

Despite popular belief, it’s not a rare condition – an estimated 300,000 people have it in the UK alone, and it’s not all about swearing either! But it can have an enormous impact on a person’s wellbeing, and while Edinburgh’s not the most accessible city at the best of times, a lot of progress has been made since last year, and I’m amazed by the change.

I’ve been up again for a special weeklong run of Backstage in Biscuit Land as part of the British Council showcase, and it’s been amazing.

When we were putting the show together back in 2014, our plan was to create a piece about life with Tourette’s just for the Fringe that year, and we had no plans to take it any further.

But following a Total Theatre Award and an astonishingly warm and welcoming reaction from fellow performers, producers and directors, I realised that making theatre genuinely inclusive has the potential to make it better for everyone.

It became my mission to share this exciting and important message with audiences up and down the country. So returning to Edinburgh this August felt both natural and necessary.

The British Council has helped me see that there’s an international audience for my work and it’s been wonderful meeting delegates from all over the world and inviting them to join me in Biscuit Land.

In the show I advocate for “relaxed performances”, which invite audience members who find it difficult to observe the regular rules of theatre, those with a learning difficulty, Autism, or anyone who may make noises during the show.

As a direct result of seeing Backstage in Biscuit Land performers such as Nina Conti, Daniel Kitson and Mark Thomas have all put on “relaxed performances” of their own. I would like to help make this a global phenomenon and with the right support and opportunities, I believe passionately that this can be achieved.

Having Tourette’s can be an incredibly isolating and lonely experience and I don’t want anyone to miss out on the incredible creative work the world has to offer simply because they feel unwelcome.

Attitude change can happen quickly, often during a single conversation, and while not much can be done about the physical symptoms of my condition, improving the social impact is something we can all help with. Put simply, my goal is to change the world, “one tic at a time.” Why not join me? 

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