Lyn Gardner: We must take care of ourselves and each other to cope with the stresses of the fringe
A lot has changed in terms of support offered to artists on the fringe in recent years. The programme, backed by the Fringe Society at Fringe Central, has expanded hugely. There are not only sessions on how to make the most of your time at the festival, get venues in, and tour after the summer, but also sessions on how to make sure your voice lasts the duration and dealing with performance anxiety.
There are ‘Wild Swimming Meetups’ – the next one is today at 10.30am at Portobello Beach – and a respite room in Fringe Central for those who just need some quiet space away from the almost 24-hour buzz and bustle of Edinburgh during the festival. There are sessions on how to get the press in but also – sadly more pertinently for some – on how to then deal with negative press coverage. It reminds me of once seeing a tattoo parlour situated right next door to a laser clinic offering tattoo-removal services.
One of the most welcome areas of growth has been in supporting the mental health of artists, including with Mindful Mondays, which offers meditation and reflection, and an event called Mental Health First Aid 1-2-1s that is facilitated by the Sheffield-based Space to Breathe team. That’s more important than ever not just because the stresses and costs of getting a show to Edinburgh are increasing, but also because more and more work engages with autobiography and trauma.
But, of course, it is not just artists who might need support. Last year, I wrote about how the ‘one-show-out, next-show-in’ venue model means audiences often find themselves cut adrift on the fringe after seeing material that they have found difficult, and may need support and a space to process. Many artists creating this work do try to meet audiences post-show in the bar, but the set-up of the venue may not always make that possible and the conditions on the fringe often mean that it is the artists themselves who bear all the burden. It is a conundrum, because taking care of yourself as an artist and taking care of your audience shouldn’t be in opposition to each other but sometimes, because of the conditions on the fringe, they feel as if they are.
This year, content or trigger warnings are much more prevalent. Though early in the festival there was some discussion on Twitter around flyering – sometimes companies’ desire not to provide spoilers causes friction with people who really need to know about certain troubling themes before they buy a ticket. It’s too late when you are wedged in the middle of a row of a venue only to discover the show is triggering.
But what about others who don’t have a choice over what they see? That includes journalists, ushers and technicians.
This year, the Network of Independent Critics, such a force for good on the fringe, offered a series of drop-in well-being sessions for arts journalists on the fringe. It’s very necessary. Like many solo artists, often journalists are up in Edinburgh unsupported for the duration; it can be a lonely experience, and seeing show after show dealing with difficult subjects can take its toll. Particularly as editors often assign reviews to critics, giving them little or no choice over what they see. Added to that, relationships between artists and critics feel particularly strained this year.
But I also wonder about the technicians – that great, often overlooked army of skilled heroes without whom the fringe would grind to a halt, who night after night have to sit through the same show, having to pay close attention to every moment. Many of them full of anguish, some of them utterly harrowing. Often they are the people who lead the applause at the end and are the most enthusiastic supporters of the show. I do hope that everyone remembers to look after them too.
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