The Fringe, mental health and performers: 'If you're struggling, don't feel like you have to do it alone'

This article is from 2018

The Fringe can damage your mental health. Here's how to prevent that

Lost in Thought

We talked to companies tackling the subject of mental health about how they plan to look after their own well-being during the Fringe

One in four people in Britain are currently affected by mental health problems, according to the charity Mind. It's a troubling statistic. With the mayhem of the Fringe a potential hotspot for excess, anxiety and stress, many of the companies exploring mental health have now designed strategies for self-care during August in Edinburgh. Here they offer up a selection of tips and sage advice, demonstrating that mental health is more than just a fashionable theme for a show.

Gulliver Returns focuses on a life-changing trauma faced by a couple, and a man caught up in a fantasy world. Writer and director Dan Coleman explains: 'It uses the idea of a person becoming lost in a book to explore the dislocating effect that grief has on your sense of self, the world, relationships with others'. As for the Fringe, he says: 'I think having your own space is really important. Keeping in contact with the outside world is really important. Getting some sleep is really important. The occasional fried Mars bar helps as well.'

Writer Lucy Danser's new show Lost In Thought aims to dispel some myths around OCD, focusing on Felicity, a young woman with the condition. 'It's naturally difficult to stay healthy at the Fringe, but we are even more serious about it this year because of the topic of the play and our writer and actor both having OCD,' she says. 'A core part of that has been the importance of accommodation and healthy eating. We've organised accommodation for our team that's not too far but also not too central to the hubbub of the festival to ensure that everyone has a place that's calm and quiet.'

Bebe Sanders, writer and performer of Violet warns against alcohol. 'If you are feeling anxious or mentally unstable, it is a categorically terrible idea – something I learnt the hard way. Also, all the basics: try and get enough sleep, eat good food, not just chips from a van. And try to connect with other people who might be experiencing similar things to you. There are some wonderful ways to connect with people – just reach out. If you're struggling, don't feel like you have to do it alone.'

Lesley Wilson, writer of Wired, which deals with PTSD in the military – and systemic misogyny – takes the advice of Fringe veterans. 'I often hear them saying, "It's a marathon not a sprint", which I think is good advice. I think what I learned last year, and am holding close to my heart, is to keep my feet on the ground and remember that the Fringe comes and goes but life, love and relationships go on beyond August.'

'Personally, I've got my running shoes and I'm going to start an intimate relationship with Arthur's Seat,' says Robin Kelly of Valerie, an intergenerational cabaret. 'Positive self-care in the Fringe has been a lynchpin of our strategy for coming to Edinburgh. We're coming from New Zealand, which means a huge financial burden, but leaving our support structures behind. So as a company we're looking inward to support each other with super-practical steps. The most important of these is that we have scheduled time across August to check back in with families/therapists/partners/friends at home, and we all understand that that is a priority which supersedes anything else.'

Fringe time can damage your mental health. Here's what you can do

Really Want to Hurt Me
Ben SantaMaria's solo show, Really Want to Hurt Me, details the experience of growing up gay in Devon during the 1980s. 'The Fringe is a unique place to get lost in just about everything you could imagine. A refrain I keep hearing, though, is what a lonely experience it can be for most people at some point. So maybe we can all take a tip from that scared 80s schoolboy and dare to reach out to connect with others that bit more often, instead of getting trapped in thinking we don't belong. I also personally swear by transcendental meditation.'

In Lovecraft (Not The Sex Shop), Welsh performer Carys Eleri probes the neuroscience of relationships, using music and theatre. She observes that 'last time I came to Edinburgh, I signed up for a month's membership at a hotel spa to exercise, swim and relax during the mayhem. I also took myself out of Edinburgh on my weekly day off to stay at at B&Bs in the countryside and have some peace and quiet. Good diet helps too. This time, my show is quite vocally demanding, so I'll have to lay off the sauce as much as I can.'

A Clown Show About Rain, produced by Silent Faces, takes a more abstract, but no less touching, approach to mental health with its sad clowns. Their advice is not to feel pressure.'Don't succumb to the pressure of having a "perfect" Fringe! There will always be emails you forget to send, shows you don't manage to see, performances that don't go so well, money you shouldn't have spent and events you should have gone to, but your mental health is more important. Taking time for yourself, whether it is a coffee break, a nice walk, a trip to the cinema – you deserve to take time to do the things that make you feel normal.'

Tender comedy-drama All Change follows elderly, fragile Ivor, who is determined not to be put into a care home, and daughter Lily, who has already packed his case. 'Performing three plays during the Fringe will be a challenge,' admits actor Tim Marriot. 'Audience reaction and reviews can feel personal, so we need to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. I will try and make myself and my company as resilient as possible by keeping physically fit, eating and sleeping well, keeping regular hours and avoiding too many late nights and alcohol!'

Glasgow 14 focuses on four male characters who experience an unexpected trauma, and how this impacts on their lives. Writer Sally Lewis swears by running. 'I find it a great way to de-stress. And I surround myself with friends and family and supporters of the show, and make sure I take myself off to watch some of the other great shows.'

Welcome To Self Co is an absurdist play from Theatrewhack, focusing on the vagaries of mental health. Hope Kennedy-Smith, writer & producer, is hoping that the jet-lag has of their trip from New Zealand to the Fringe wears off quickly: 'Given that our whole team suffers from mental health issues, we try and support and be kind to each other as much as possible. I certainly need good sleep (and exercise) to keep me functioning. I'm sure we'll get overwhelmed at times but I'm certain the buzz of the festival will keep us uplifted.'