Hollywood Actor, Garth McLean, makes his debut at Edinburgh Fringe this year with his one man show, Looking for Lightning. It tells his journey from his being diagnosed with MS in 1996 to travelling the world teaching others to manage the disease, using Iyengar Yoga as a tool.
Garth spoke with The Fountain about how he needed to spread the word about Iyengar being a great technique for managing MS and his plans for the Fringe.
TF: You are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, how exciting…Looking for Lightning certainly sounds insightful, what is the premise?
Looking For Lightning was initially born out of a creative writing exercise about one’s response to the terror attacks of 9/11 in NYC. As I reflected on those events, and with the ongoing threat of terror attacks in our society, it prompted me to write about the terrorising events of personally being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
My situation is drastically different than the events of 9/11, however, parallel lines were drawn with similar feelings of anxiety, fear, doubt, sadness and uncertainty. With my background as an actor, it prompted me to pen my story in a more theatrical form and to speak to the more universal theme of summoning the strength to face the challenges of an uncertain future.
On a personal level, I embraced a yoga practice on the recommendation of my neurologist. That alone has been profound and enlightening. I also received countless well intentioned suggestions for ways to manage and overcome the condition. One of those suggestions included an urban legend that being struck by Lightning could actually cure MS.
I’ve opted instead for following the path of yoga towards physical relief, balance and mental well being.
TF: What type of research did you do for a project like this?
My direct personal experience with overcoming some of the most frightening symptoms associated MS provided a fertile basis for the piece.
As I embraced and applied myself to the yoga, I could literally feel my body (and mind) transforming through the daily practice of Iyengar Yoga. I soon began to feel strong and more stable. This motivated me to share this in a medium that could reach a larger audience.
Having worked and trained as an actor, initially under Sanford Meisner in NYC, I applied that same investigation of transparent, rigorous honesty and self reflection to write the piece. My significant exposure to the theatre world, experience as an actor, annual trips to study in India since 2000 and now as a senior certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, 2009 I have worked with countless persons with neurological conditions worldwide with varying degrees of physical ability. This has all helped.
TF: And what drove the project, where did your influences lie?
With the current dynamics of the ever present threat of terrorism and senseless gun violence facing the world, I am reminded that we are not safe anywhere. It seemed timely to bring the show to the international stage. My life was literally transformed by the work and under the tutelage of BKS Iyengar. It offered tangible hope.
“Every day you must walk the line between courage and caution,” were some of Mr. Iyengar’s initial words of advice that have inspired and stayed with me. Other senior Iyengar Yoga teachers in the US also initially guided me.
Once I started to teach persons with MS and other neurological challenges, I gained an incredible amount of inspiration from the students. I could see a similar transformations happening with them and their sense of self-empowerment… even if the task at hand is as simple as being able to sit or stand up independently. Their courage and determination to overcome their challenges inspires me. I am also deeply inspired and moved by the actions of brave first responders to crisis situations.
2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of BKS Iyengar’s birth. In this centenary year of global celebrations honouring Mr.Iyengar’s existence, it is my way to further honour his profound contribution to humanity. Perhaps sharing my story will provide insight to others who may struggle with similar situations.
TF: What are your plans for the Fringe, have you been before?
I have been to Edinburgh in past, though this is my first time at the Fringe. By bringing the show to the Fringe, my hope is to further raise awareness of living well with multiple sclerosis.
I understand that Northern Scotland has one of the highest per capita rates of MS on the planet. Although each case is individual, there are similarities. Looking For Lightning gives a voice to what some of us who live with MS deal with it daily.
Additionally, The Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, based in Edinburgh is committed to clinical research for MS and neurological conditions. I hope to help raise further awareness of the groundbreaking work they do at the Clinic. I intend to make a donation from the proceeds of the show to further their research work.
And, of course I’m super excited to take in, learn from and be inspired by the range of talented artists at the largest arts festival in the world!
TF: And what are your future plans beyond LFL?
I will continue to perform Lightning as long as there is interest. Many who have seen the show have expressed they would like to share the experience with others. Ideally it would be great to tour the show or have the piece developed into a documentary to further serve the community in the film medium.
I’ve also been toying with developing another show looking deeper into the individual lives of people who have been transformed by yoga when they’ve otherwise lost hope and have been given another chance.
I continue to offer yoga workshops for persons with MS and other challenges around the globe. I return to the UK to teach in London the last weekend of October. Beyond that, I remain open to continue to learn, explore, teach and embrace whatever artistic possibilities are presented.
Looking for Lightning, C Royale, Venue 6, August 1st – 13th, 15th – 20th, 22nd – 27th, 16.00 (1 hr 10 mins)