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At Edinburgh Fringe, a Spotlight on Mental Health

Ms. Underwood has seen similar reactions. When handing out fliers for her show, she said, the reaction of many older people was, “Oh God, that sounds horrible.” On the other hand, “Young people light up. They’re excited by it.”

The Mental Health Foundation introduced a Mental Health Fringe Award last year, a prize for a work of outstanding artistic merit on the subject. But Mr. Eaton-Lewis said that working to break the silence around the topic is less of a priority for him now that so many artists talk about it openly. He is now more concerned with the mental well-being of the artists themselves, he said.

“Doing an intimate show about a traumatic experience on the Edinburgh Fringe is the most stressful environment for a show, probably in the world,” he said.

Mr. Eaton-Lewis is also organizing a workshop for performers called “Mental Health Is a Fringe Issue,” providing an opportunity to talk through both the Fringe experience and how to make theater about mental health. He said there were also free events organized by the festival itself, including “Conquering Performance Anxiety,” a session teaching practical mindfulness, breathing and meditation, and “A Mentally Well Fringe,” a series of therapeutic drop-in sessions.

Ultimately, though, there is no safety net. The Fringe is tough, and performing personal work can be painful. Mr. Eaton-Lewis pointed to the success of the 2017 festival’s breakout star, Hannah Gadsby, and her searing show “Nanette,” which became a hit for Netflix after it was recorded at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. “You just hope that somebody making a show like that is able to take care of themselves through that process,” he said. (Ms. Gadsby planned to perform at this year’s Fringe, but she pulled out in June, citing scheduling conflicts.)

The Fringe provides one of the best opportunities in the English-speaking world for an unknown theater or comedy act to forge a reputation. Nobody will stop you from booking a slot. But there may be nobody to look out for you, either. It’s a long shot at success that thousands are willing to take.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/08/theater/edinburgh-festival-fringe-mental-health.html