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Mental health and women’s issues in the spotlight at Edinburgh Fringe


A quarter of all shows at this year's Fringe festival have a social impact finds a new festival award programme

A quarter of theatre productions at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe deal with social issues.

Mental health is the most common social issue to feature in a fringe show, with 42 shows focusing on it.

Given the recent press covergage of the #metoo campaign and women in society in general, it is not surprising that these are hot topics at the festival this year, with a combined forty shows.

With 2018 being the 70th anniversary of the NHS, five productions relate to the health service. Social media is also high on the agenda rising substantially from one production last year to twelve this year.

Plays around refugee and migration issues, however, have fallen. And, despite the media attention surrounding David Attenborough's powerful rallying call to do more to protect the environment, this is not reflected on the fringe with just one show focusing on green issues.

Other significant changes include productions looking at abuse which has seen an increase whilst productions around human rights and prison have seen a decrease from 2017.

An interesting addition to this year’s fringe are two productions looking at the role of young carers.

Mental Health 42 17.9% 52 23.9%
Women in society and #Metoo 40 17% 5 2.3%
LGBT 25 10.6% 38 17.4%
Abuse 19 8.1% 11 5%
Grief and death 17 7.2% 24 11%
Race 15 6.4% 11 5%
Disability and health 13 5.5% 15 6.9%
Social media 12 5.1% 1 0.5%
Poverty and homelessness 9 3.8% 4 1.8%
Refugees 9 3.4% 21 9.6%

The research comes from the SIT-UP Awards. The social impact theatre awards are launching this year to recognise the important role theatre plays in reflecting social issues. When the team analysed this year's Fringe programme they discovered 235 of the 966 shows, (24.3%) focused on social issues.

David Graham, founder of The SIT-UP Awards said: “Theatre can play a crucial role in highlighting the many issues that society faces today. The arts provide an excellent platform to act as a catalyst for change. The SIT-UP Awards have been set up to help productions have a further life or to help them raise awareness of a pertinent issue.”

The winner of the inaugural SIT-UP Award in 2018 will receive £5,000. They will be able to use £1,000 as they please, while the remaining £4000 is to amplify the social impact by perhaps staging it elsewhere or producing educational materials.

A second £1,000 prize will be awarded to a production that engages with audiences in an innovative way.

Alice Millest, co-founder and trustee of the charity theatre company Clean Break and youth-led initiative Art Against Knives added: "We have become almost numb to the sterile facts and figures we read about in the media or hear on the news. Empathy for strangers can only be built through connection and experience.

“When theatre is at its best, an audience is captivated by a story and lives it alongside the characters. Through this experience we build compassion and a desire to do something to help.”



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