“Sons of Scotland, I am Danny Wallace”: The Edinburgh Fringe ‘Yes’ Experience (Part 2)


Last Friday, Jason Henderson announced that he would become a Yes man for the day, saying yes to every opportunity that presented itself to him at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

On the morning of Saturday 10th August 2013, I awoke in my girlfriend’s flat at Leith Harbour. I had done so numerous times already during the Edinburgh Fringe but this was to be a slightly different day. This was to be the day that I allowed possibility and opportunity to guide me. This was to be the day that I rejected simply playing it safe and remaining within my comfort zone of picking and choosing what shows to go to. This was to be the day that I would step into the unknown and let a small, simple word guide me from that moment in time until past midnight. This was to be the day of Yes.

Thankfully, one of the first questions I encountered was whether I would like a lift from the flat to the city centre with my girlfriend and her friend, who had their own Fringe plans for the day. So far so good. And thus, just before 11am I found myself standing in front of the Scottish Parliament, where my Yes Day would really begin. I allowed myself a few moments to wonder at what the immediate future had in store – there were risks, concerns, even fear that it couldn’t be done for the duration of the day. But a sense of excited anticipation underpinned all these trivial worries – saying Yes would open a whole new world at the Fringe to me and I was ready to embrace it.

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And so, within about five minutes of wandering up the Royal Mile, I had my first flyer – a 2.45pm play entitled ‘Children of Mine’ awaited. I was excited. Not by the show itself – if truth be told, I didn’t bother to read what it was about – I was merely delighted by the great start to saying Yes. With my ticket bought shortly after, I journeyed on. About half an hour later, however, I realised that Yes wasn’t going to be quite as easy as perhaps I’d convinced myself – I seemed to be picking up flyers for shows that had already finished that particular morning, shows that were on in the future, or shows that clashed with my first Yes. As my completely unplanned amble around Edinburgh continued, I found myself in the Grassmarket, surrounded by the Saturday morning stalls, with traders demanding I check out their goods. I was, of course, only happy to oblige (particularly as, thankfully, none of them asked me to buy anything).

As I left the Grassmarket and headed up the Cowgate, I was presented with, what would be, my first show of the day. An older gentleman handed me a flyer for ‘Those Who Can’t Learn’ and politely asked if I’d like to come along, to which I confirmed I would. With the show at 1.15pm though, I still had more than an hour to kill and so my legs continued to transport me forwards. A few steps further and I had another show lined up, a reworking of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ at 5.05pm. I told the guy promoting the show about my Yes Day and his positivity and enthusiasm about what I was doing was fantastic. So fantastic, the prospect of going to see a play based on the Geoffrey Chaucer work I had studied, and hated, at university was one I actually welcomed.

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I moved on. As I passed the Three Sisters pub, I was admittedly pleased to hear the wonderful question fired in my direction – “would you like to pop into our beer garden for a drink?” Of course I would! With my nice, cold, Saturday lunchtime pint sunk and a little more walking around the Fringe done and dusted, I decided to make my way to the first show that Yes had awarded me. Oh dear. Those Who Can’t Learn (*) was not good. There really is no other way to put it. The show featured a Welsh businesswoman in a terrible, dilapidated  venue attempting a comedic version of a ‘how to start your own business’ lecture, complete with Powerpoint presentation. As I left the venue, I was somewhat disappointed that one of the risks I had considered earlier, that I would end up in a terrible show, had come to fruition. What if all the risks were going to? I still had about ten hours of Yes to go – this could be a disaster!

But there was nothing else to do but carry on and carry on I did. As I made my way through the huge crowds on the Royal Mile, determined as ever, I was invited over to a table by a bald man in sunglasses and invited to play a game involving a tombola. A few moments later, I had won a hazelnut and, after being asked if I would like to eat the prize and subsequently handed a nut-cracker, I was enjoying my first meal of the day. A matter of minutes later, I had dessert as I passed a shop and was invited in for a free sample of fudge. Yes may have given me a terrible comedy show, but it had also now given me a pint, a hazelnut and a cube of fudge so could I really complain? And it wasn’t long before Yes gave me the opportunity to see another show – a play entitled ‘Vessel’ at 9.05pm which, as the guy promoting the performance told me, “ends with the word Yes”.

Soon after, I found myself sitting in Venue 13, just off Canongate, awaiting the play I had received my first flyer of the day for. I wasn’t quite prepared for what came next. It turned out that Children of Mine (****) was, in fact, a theatrical piece based on the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in which 28 adults and 116 children lost their lives. The subject of the performance was, of course, tragic and the play itself was incredibly powerful and moving and, as I left the venue, I noticed just how many of the audience were wiping away tears. I slowly shuffled back up the Royal Mile in a completely different frame of mind. Obviously the play itself had impacted on me somewhat, it would be difficult to think of anyone who would not have been saddened or upset by such an emotional play. However, there was also the realisation that Yes could leave me vulnerable and open to something difficult to take in. But that wasn’t a bad thing – I was quickly recognising that Yes wasn’t just about comedy shows, free hazelnuts and fudge samples – it was about every possibility and opportunity out there.

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Time was passing quickly. I had only managed to see two shows so far, despite saying Yes to everything that I could, but my enthusiasm had only increased throughout the day and I was striding through the streets of Edinburgh with a sense of purpose, open to everything and excited by what lay in store – including The Canterbury Tales (***). My 5.05pm show of Yes Day was a reasonable hour of entertainment and a pretty impressive attempt to modernise Chaucer’s work. It was, unfortunately, just not for me – but I took a buzz from the fact that, not only had I said Yes to yet another show I would never have went to in the first place, but it contained the added ingredient of being something I would undoubtedly have actively avoided in normal circumstances.

On the way out of the Space venue on North Bridge I made sure to pick up my ticket for ‘Vessel’, which I had said Yes to earlier and which was, conveniently, also in the same theatre. But it was 6pm and that wasn’t for another three hours – I still had plenty of Yes Day time to fill. It was around this point that I realised a pint, a hazelnut and piece of fudge is not enough for a 27-year old man to function on, never mind a 27-year old man with an ever increasing number of miles walked. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long – as I walked past the ‘La Favourita’ van outside the Tron Kirk (admittedly very slowly), the young guy handing out flyers for the Italian takeaway asked me, or anyone within ear shot, if I wanted “a slice of pizza for only £3”. This was the fuel I needed to continue onwards, inhaling the reasonably-priced piece of margherita as I went.

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Another delightful Yes was soon added to the list as a man offering free hugs came into view. But a short time later, I felt a sense of concern creeping in. I was, once again, only receiving flyers and invitations to shows I couldn’t physically go to and as the time passed and tiredness grew, I wondered whether I would be wandering aimlessly for a hour couple of hours. Saying Yes was enjoyable but the endless walking really wasn’t and the need to be observing and aware of everything going on around me was beginning to drain. I was at a low point, especially as I had a growing fear that ‘Vessel’ would be the only show I’d end up going to before midnight.

And then, like a Yes shaped lifeboat in a sea of despondency, I heard those glorious, game-changing words – “awright pal, free comedy doon the stairs in twenty, ye up furrit?’ Of course I was up furrit. The energy that had momentarily subsided was soon coursing through my veins again. I had no idea what I was going to see and I hadn’t bothered to look at the name of the pub, but I felt renewed and so I grasped the opportunity. The result was an hour of my day spent at the hilarious Tom Bell: Flyer (****) show in which the aforementioned Bell had the audience in continuous laughter through his combination of stand-up and songs and I, as a member of the audience, helped to build a plane out of cardboard, glitter and glue. It was funny, fantastic and so completely random that I was in my Yes element. I was also, as I found out later, in the Canon Gait.

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I launched myself from the pub and powered my way up back towards the epicentre of the Fringe. The skies were beginning to darken but I was greedy for Yes. There had been spells of doubt, concern and dismay but I had stuck to my task and here I was, compelled by a second wind to seize what remained of Yes Day and milk it for every last positive drop. It was only a matter of minutes before I was in the Tron Kirk, enjoying the music of a cover band, after the kilted man at the door had asked me in. Vessel (****) was next – a great play with a winning cocktail of compelling story, impressive acting and tremendous physical theatre which, did indeed, end with the final utterance: “Yes, I’m saying! I do! Yes!”

It was now dark. Midnight loomed and I was beginning to tire, but Yes had grabbed me and wasn’t letting go. As I strolled along the Saturday night streets of Edinburgh I was handed a card for Room 65, a venue just further down the road, and told that I should pop in for “refreshments in a really chilled out environment”. I did. As someone who is not remotely religious, I was surprised when the first thing I saw as I entered was a giant stained glass window featuring a highly artistic scene involving a crucifix and, in front of it, stood a man preaching. I do not have the slightest problem with anyone who is religious but it’s simply not for me, and I don’t think there would ever be a time that I would have knowingly entered such a place. And yet here I was, led here by the possibility of Yes. So I got myself a cup of tea, made myself comfortable and enjoyed some tunes from a Christian band. I hadn’t been converted to the ways of religion but, once again, Yes had opened a door for me that I would never have knocked on in the first place.

As 11pm approached I decided I had to make the most of the last hour. I would parade through the streets as much as I physically could until midnight if required, but I was certain there was still one last Yes out there for me. And thankfully there was. As I passed the Dram House back on the Cowgate I was, once again, asked to come in for free comedy. I was delighted. So delighted, in fact, that I went through the wrong door and wound up on stage in front of over a hundred people. I was quickly ushered off and took my seat near the back for what would be my last show of Yes Day – Marcel Lucont’s Cabaret Fantastique (****). This was a brilliant late-night show featuring the lively Marcel Lucont as he performed stand-up, sang and introduced the three Fringe acts performing that particular night, who were all hilariously entertaining.

The show ended, the applause quietened, the audience filtered out, and I checked the time. Eight minutes past midnight. As I emerged from the Dram House, back onto the streets of Edinburgh, fireworks exploded overhead as if the city too was celebrating the completion of Yes Day. All that was left was for me to embark on the long walk back to Leith Harbour. There was, however, one final Yes to be had, although it didn’t come from me. As I made my way down Leith Walk, I encountered Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit, of whom I am a massive fan. I asked for a photograph. He said Yes. I told him about my Yes Day. He asked me about it and acknowledged that the Danny Wallace book ‘Yes Man’ is indeed a tremendous book. I left him to continue hanging about outside a chip shop and walked back to my girlfriend’s flat – physically, mentally and emotionally drained, but on a Yes-induced high…

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So just what had saying Yes done for me? Well, quite obviously, the answer was “a lot”. I had seen and experienced things that I would never, ever have seen and experienced without the power of Yes. I had learned about the tragic Aberfan mining disaster, tried a new type of fudge, got a hug, revisited the Canterbury Tales, helped to build a plane, enjoyed Christian hospitality, met the singer in one of my favourite bands, and been on stage at the Fringe. What had it cost me? Well, not all the shows were free. And it had been hard work at times. There were spells when I’d even questioned whether Yes really was the right way to go and moments when I was tested by worries and concerns. But I told myself throughout that the positivity, possibility and potential of Yes simply had to trump the negatives. And it did, unquestionably.

Stepping out from the comfort zone you find yourself in is never easy, no matter what the situation is. I would never advocate saying Yes blindly to everything in life, for it would encourage others to take advantage. But if you believe that opportunity and progress is a far better choice than simply  succumbing to fear and doubt, then the rewards are there to be enjoyed, simply by saying a little word, made up of just three letters.

Saturday 10th August 2013 was the day I embraced Yes and, despite some hard-work at times, I had a fantastic experience, filled with opportunity and possibility within the Edinburgh Fringe.

Thursday 18th September 2014 will be the day that we can embrace Yes and, despite some hard-work at times, ensure a future filled with limitless opportunity and possibility for Scotland.

Jason Henderson
National Collective