Edinburgh Fringe Festival getting more socially aware

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Audiences are encouraged to become activists

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16th July 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

More shows at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe will address social issues than before.

Analysis of the subjects explored in the theatre programme for the forthcoming event showed that there is a nine per cent increase in performances looking at the likes of disability, race and gender equality.

The work was carried out by the SIT-UP Awards which were launched last year by Fringe patron and philanthropist David Graham.

They aim to encourage the audience into some form of activism if they’ve been affected by the work they have seen on stage and to help theatre companies achieve greater social impact.

SIT-UP analysed more than 1,000 performances and found an increase of 9% dealing with social issues compared to last year.

Out of 1,033 shows, 366 of them are looking at a range of social issues; this represents 35.4% of this year's theatre programme, compared to 26.4% in 2018.

Mental health still remains the biggest issue that is being tackled through performance (17.7%). Gender and identity has increased to 15.5% (11.4% in 2018), and health and disability represents 8.2% of the programme.

Theatre about our use of digital is on the rise - 6.8%, as are shows about the environment – 4.9%.

Other issues being explored include: LGBTQ+ (7.9%); grief and death (6.5%); race (6.0%); abuse and bullying (4.6%); society (4.6%); human rights and prison (3.5%); #metoo (3.0%); addiction (2.7%); refugees (2.5%); dementia and Alzheimers (1.6%); loneliness (1.4%); poverty and homelessness (1.4%) and ageing (1.1%).

SIT-UP Awards founder, David Graham said: “It’s great to see more and more shows that are looking at a wide range of social issues. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe really demonstrates how theatre reflects the issues and concerns of our society.

"This year, instead of the winner being chosen by a panel of industry professionals, it will be the audience themselves who will make the final choice.”

Jez Bond, artistic director of Park Theatre, added: “We’re thrilled to be working with SIT-UP to support theatre companies bringing important issues to light, and are looking forward to presenting some of the best of the festival here for London audiences in September.”

The 2019 SIT-UP award of £5,000 will be given to the production that creates the greatest change in audience perception, understanding and empathy for an issue, the intention being that the money is used to further their message. The winner will also be offered a London showcase at the multiple award-winning Park Theatre.

Meanwhile, the 2019 SIT-UP Audience Engagement Award of £1,000 will recognise a production or company who has developed or adopted a particularly innovative way of engaging with its audiences. 

Two further initiatives are being launched this year: the SIT-UP Tickets scheme which will underwrite the cost of several tickets for shows if a company/production can demonstrate links to a relevant audience who would benefit from seeing their show and not otherwise be able to afford to attend and SIT-UP & Talk is a place to create a more active post-show discussion, an effective way to engage with audiences who wish to explore the issues whilst it is still fresh in their minds.