I sat outside on a cool evening in a quiet back corner of Summerhall chatting with Ellie Dubois, the creator and director of Ringside. It was the time on my ticket, but they were running about five minutes behind, so Ellie kindly asked if that was all right. We chatted about how hot the venues get on these summer days when the crowds are big and the ventilation isn’t designed to sustain so many bodies for so many hours a day. But this performance would be different. It would be only me.
Ellie excused herself to check on things, then invited me in. She led me through the Dissection Room, and into a large back storage space that was cleared out with nothing but a beam of light that I was instructed to stand behind and a trapeze hanging in the middle of the room.
I stood as instructed, then a woman, Cory Johnson, walked in and stood next to me. Very close. She was made up like a 40s pin-up girl. She smiled a little. She looked at me, and then took my hand. I felt the chalk from her hand brush the white powder off on mine. She led me to the trapeze. We looked at the trapeze together, then she took a few steps back. I looked up. I wanted to leap and take hold of it, but restrained myself for fear of breaking apart the careful sequence of events Johnson was carrying out. But I wanted to leap.
She exchanged places with me, so she stood under the trapeze. After some time, she leapt and grasped the bar. Then she performed for me. She looked at me often. I felt very tall somehow, and wanted to join. But again, holding the idea of a passive role that was written for me, I stood still and witnessed. Ringside blurs this notion of passivity, offering temptations that perhaps other audience members respond to differently, or perhaps we are predictable, and the show follows the same sequence each time. Johnson took her time, moved her fingers deliberately on the ropes, and when she finished her routine she walked out of the room.
I was left standing alone. Chalk on my hands.
As I walked out a man stood at the exit. What had felt personal and sincere suddenly became layered and possibly dangerous. Was I seen as a customer who might get out of hand by taking the show up on one of its temptations? Had the performance been a kind of seduction that narrowly managed its limits? Or was it simply the last performance of the night and he was coming in to close up? In the context of the show it was difficult to tell one possibility apart from the other. Ringside’s many shades of closeness left me in a hazy curiosity. In a festival filled with wild and crazy and exhausting, Ringside pushes the world aside for a few breathtaking moments.
The Edinburgh Fringe run is sold out. If Ringside is programmed elsewhere, I suggest you purchase tickets as quickly as possible.