"HAVE you ever exposed yourself and felt that you might not be coming across well?”

I am watching Victor Esses’s show, The Death & Life of All of Us (below) (11.30am, Summerhall), and wonder about the weight of this question he asks the audience. I am curious about the experience of artists of colour at the Fringe, where audiences and performers are by and large white.

Do these artists feel seen and received as they had hoped and intended? Or do they feel misunderstood – their stories and art being treated as mere spectacle? It is hard to not feel like Esses’s question is somehow signalling the experience of vulnerability and uncertainty that performers of colour reckon with.

Esses is a queer Jewish artist of Lebanese descent, born and raised in Brazil. He finds that neither his identity nor experience are often represented within art that presumes to be universal. And so, he writes to make sense of the complexity of his being in the world and performs to give this complexity visibility and meaning.

The National:

In his Fringe show, he touches on how identity becomes silenced, in art and in the world – overlaying the silences borne by his now Catholic Italy-domiciled aunt about her Jewish and Lebanese identity with the silences he has borne himself about his queerness.

In a festival with more than 3000 shows, presenting his work is no easy task. “I am very aware that this is a marathon process,” Esses notes, “where I have to translate myself to reach out to all kinds of audiences, but the mostly white audience.

“I have to make things digestible. And it does take its toll. Sometimes there is this feeling that I had to make you believe that my story is interesting, and that is worth your time, and that is worth your thinking and experiencing, you know.”

Esses believes more could be done to support artists of colour at the Festival given their position as a numerical minority. Festival organisers could speak directly to artists to figure out ways to amplify their voices.

“Create events where artists of colour could come and talk to the community, and you can have that exchange which can be beneficial for both,” he says. “Because, you know, it’s always inspiring as well. And sometimes just making themselves available to have a chat about being a person of colour in Edinburgh.”

Like Esses, stand-up comic Cyrus McQueen knows how Blackness or “otherness” creates an uphill battle for artists of colour at the Fringe. It feels sometimes like audiences and reviewers cannot quite see him.

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“I now know after a ‘meet the media’ event, given the paucity of reviewers of colour to help amplify our voices… it feels like people are staring through me,” he explains. But he uses comedy to speak back to, and laugh back at, a society that has “devalued my life, legitimacy and time”.

In his current show, The Chocolate Scot (9.20pm, The Mash House),

McQueen unapologetically brings all of himself – “my Blackness, my humanity, my spirituality, my true voice” – in telling his story. His show contains, as he describes, “multitudes” – from the experiences of West Indian nannies in New York and the reaction of the royal family to Blackness to the moral panic of drag queens reading to kids. Perhaps the most hilarious bit of the show is his narration of the encounter between white New Yorkers in search of Banksy and the Black entrepreneurial spirit.

While McQueen calls out racism, he also calls upon a sense of shared humanity. “The Chocolate Scot” is, in fact, McQueen’s daughter with his white Scottish wife, and the embodiment of what becomes possible when people come together through love and mutual recognition.

He hopes this is what his audience can experience through his comedy too: “Black folks and white folks represent binary poles within a problematic social construct. But on a fundamental level we really are the same. We’re all just trying to crack on and make some sense of it all.”

For Agomoni Ganguli Mitra, a dancer and writer of Indian descent, growing up in the predominantly white context of Switzerland, being made to feel uncomfortable has been the norm. So, performing in front of a predominantly white audience doesn’t feel much different.

Her ensemble show, What Draupadi Said to Penelope, (August 24-27, 7.30pm, LifeCare Centre) imagines a conversation between women across space and time. But, more importantly, it is a show where, through Indian classical dance and music, “importance is given to this idea that women from elsewhere [the Indian epic, The Mahabharata] are teaching Penelope something, who is sort of the heart of European civilization really,” Ganguli Mitra explains.

She believes that audiences going into shows like these are willing to be made uncomfortable. But it is also not the job of the artist to ensure that audiences “get it”.

“We didn’t just want for it to be something that a mostly Western audience would come and watch about India,” she adds.

Like for Esses and McQueen, art is as much about speaking to one’s own communities, as it is about speaking truth to power.

“It’s a sort of a reflective piece in that we wanted to do something where we felt like we were telling our stories almost to each other rather than worrying about what the audience was gonna take from that,” Ganguli Mitra says.

READ MORE: Comedian Tim Vine on how the Edinburgh Fringe changed his life

“And audiences are different. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they think it’s weird, but I’m quite comfortable in that kind of discomfort, of not quite knowing what the audience is going to take from that.”

For people of colour, being misunderstood is part of the daily experience of being minoritised. This experience profoundly shapes the work of artists of colour like Esses, McQueen and Ganguli Mitra. But ultimately, what they hope for is that people connect to their stories on a human basis.

“Since I started making this kind of work, it’s been about being very specific in the uniqueness of these stories,” Esses notes. “But it’s showing how these are very human stories that everyone can relate to, and people who feel other, they find themselves seen on stage.”

The Death and Life of All of Us is at Summerhall until August 27, 

The Chocolate Scot is at The Mash House until August 27.

What Draupadi Said To Penelope is at the LifeCare Centre from August 24 to 27.