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Events, resources and tips for performers to ensure a mentally well Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Ensuring performers at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival have a ‘mentally well’ fringe is a top priority for its organisers as this year’s month-long arts event gets underway.

The annual festival, which is often seen as an exciting yet also at times stressful and pressured environment for creatives, will have fully trained mental health first aiders on its Participants Services team in Fringe Central at all times.

As part of its Fringe Central programme around health and wellbeing, events include:

A Mentally Well Fringe – August 10th (15:30-17:30), 17th (13:30-15:30) and 24th (11:30-13:30) August on the Fringe Central concourse (free) https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mentally-well-fringe

Led by NHS Lothian, the sessions will offer participants the opportunity to sample some experiences commonly used in psychological therapy practice, which are known to help mental well-being. It will also serve to provide respite.

Mental health is a fringe issue – August 14th August, 14:40, Fringe Central – Lecture Theatre (free) https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mental-health-is-a-fringe-issue

Led by the Mental Health Foundation, which supports artistic work exploring mental health through its annual Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (SMHAF) and other programmes, this workshop examines the challenges presented for performers and audiences. The lecture is delivered by Andrew Eaton-Lewis, arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation, and Emma Jayne Park, associate artist for SMHAF. It will be followed by an informal meet-up on Fringe Central.

Sanctuary – August 8th, 16th and 24th from 11:00-17:00, Fringe Central, Venue 2, Workshop Room (free) https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/sanctuary

Equity is working with the Fringe Society to run its Sanctuary on five days across the festival this year, part of its ArtsMinds initiative which is a collaboration between Equity, the Stage, Spotlight and the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine. They will create a completely calm, quiet space where fringe performers and practitioners can simply get away from the hubbub and pressures. The Sanctuary will also be providing free neck and shoulder massages from therapists on each of the days on a first-come-first-served basis.

Conquering performance anxiety (workshop) – August 20th from 11:00-13:00, Fringe Central, Venue 2, Rehearsal Room (free) https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/conquering-performance-anxiety

Also known as stage fright, Equity presents a workshop with Dr Pippa Wheble GP to deliver a session on techniques and strategies for dealing with performance anxiety. Places are free but limited and must be booked in advance online or in person at the Fringe Central reception desk.

Further resources and 24 hour support throughout the fringe:

Equity has a support desk running Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 12:00 and 16:00 every week of the fringe at the Festival Theatre (13-29 Nicolson St, Edinburgh EH8 9FT) for members who want advice.

The theatre helpline http://theatrehelpline.org is a 24 hour confidential service that provides advice and support for any theatre professional, including health issues and mental health, as well as bullying and harassment and more.

Equity’s ArtsMinds resource is available all year round www.artsminds.co.uk and contains a lot of information, resources and sources of support that are relevant to the performing arts industry. They also have an harassment and bullying helpline 020 7670 0268 and email harassment@equity.org.uk.

The Fringe Society’s signposts to further support for emergency assistance https://www.edfringe.com/take-part/your-rights include the Mental Health Assessment Service and Edinburgh Crisis Centre. This also includes NHS 24 hour services, Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, Child Health, non-police emergencies and local dental services.

Peer-to-peer support

David Byrne, Artistic and Executive director at New Diorama has drawn on previous experience to pull together this guide made popular among Twitter users:

Actor Nicole Coughlan of Derry Girls keeps it short and sweet, as she ‘learned from last year by not eating enough vegetables’:

Adam Rowe, who returns to the fringe for the third time this year with his show Undeniable, has some great advice for fellow performers, based on previous experience: “First of all, remember to eat well and drink lots of water. Go shopping and stock the cupboards as if you’re at home and try to get your lifestyle as close as possible to what you’re used to.”

He adds: “Don’t judge your time here based on how well other people are doing. If someone else is having what is perceived to be a more successful time than you, it’s absolutely irrelevant. Just focus on your own thing.”

Revealing he plans to take more time for himself this year in a recent chat with Entertainment Focus, he extends this to performers and participants: “Take some time for yourself. Don’t feel you have to talk to every person you’ve ever met just because you bump into them, you need some downtime to re-focus and relax. Have fun. It’s an incredible festival. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It’s all going to be fine.”

On the topic of how to take negative reviews, I asked writer Camilla Whitehill, whose play Freeman is at the fringe this year with Strictly Arts,  for her thoughts:  She said: “It’s so important to remember that basically nobody else is reading your reviews. It’s just you. Nobody else knows about your 2 star, and moreover, nobody cares. They’re just focused on themselves. So chill out. Lots of reviewers in Edinburgh are basically children, students from posh unis who are just giving their opinion. Which is fine. But it’s just one teenager’s opinion. Believe in your work.”

Katie McLeod, who has worked as a mindfulness coach before writing and starring in her debut Edinburgh show Losing My Mindfulness this year, says her approach will be all about routine: “I’m going to try and keep quite a strict routine as a performer, relating to when I do warm-ups and then doing the show, and just be honest when I meet people when they ask me how it’s going, and not have to keep up a pretence or an illusion, as sometimes you feel better just by saying it.”

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