The Great and Perverse Dexter

Filed under: Art Pranks, Publicity Stunts

From Mark Borkowski:

dexter.jpgI love the notion of stunts and pranks if the end product generates meaningful content and lingers in the conscious. When Joey asked me to contribute to Pranks I had some great fun tripping down memory lane, and remember a bizarre prank show I staged with performance artist Dexter Augustus.

I have worked with the great and perverse Dexter, who staged daily shows in the front room of a respectable Edinburgh Morningside house (where “sex” is what nuggets of coal is packed in) to a maximum audience of six. He let the audience in for free and, on the basis that critics don’t pay for their seats, to retain the protocol of inequality, he paid each reviewer £10 to come in. He refused Ruby Wax entry because he didn’t like her coat.

On the roof of the house, he placed rave-sized speakers blasting out a repetitive egocentric two-minute ditty on a tape loop, which attracted police attention when local residents claimed they were being subjected to the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture. The coverage was superb.

I also have fond memories of the day he confounded Trevor McDonald and John Diamond on the Midweek programme with 30 minutes of gibberish. In honour of his memory, I’ve found Ian Shuttleworth’s Financial Times review that perhaps puts the whole exercise in context.

    “Gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks. Everyone needs gimmicks to get their show noticed among the 1100 here on the Fringe… and just about everyone has one. It might just be a good review blurb on their leaflet… “Nominated for the Independent award,” said a bloke thrusting a leaflet into my hand; odd that – I’m on the panel, which had just met, and we had never heard of it. Other enticements are more grandiose: free sachets of Angel Delight, or a complimentary tab at the bar. In fact, a number of shows are now serving wine from the stage as part of the show. (What do they take us reviewers for, eh?)

    But by far the biggest scam of this year’s Fringe has been perpetrated by press agent Mark Borkowski. (Never trust a man who calls his company Improperganda Ltd.) Taboo, allegedly presented by Pink & Squeezy, is presented in a private house; admission is free, but the audience is vetted by phone before being told the location. At least, so the story goes. At the press performance, we had to sign waivers certifying that we had “disabled our critical faculties” by consuming at least two free beers before being let indoors. We were also given £10 bribes; well, critics have got to pay less than the public, and if it’s free to the public… The performance itself consisted of an escalating domestic dispute, culminating in a game of Taboo (the “get your team to guess word A, without using words B, C or D” game) played by the audience as teams. (Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph proved particularly adept.) Then off we reeled, clutching even more free beers. A great way to pass an afternoon, but it bears as much relation to theatre as some pigs in a field. Borkowski knows it, and (without Archaos to play with this year) is just getting his Edinburgh jollies. If I meet a genuine punter who’s seen it, I’ll eat my spiral-bound notebook”.