Why mindshare’s Reviewing Your Fringe Show in 2021

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By Anna Jeavons

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Creative dialogue around mental health is a growing space, and an important one. 50% of Australians are likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime, leaving 50% of us who will know someone who has or is living with a mental health issue. Unfortunately, negative attitudes toward people with mental illness are still common. Stigma has many harmful effects—from bullying, hesitation in seeking treatment and low self esteem, to fewer opportunities for work, education, housing, and social activities.

The creative arts and entertainment industry are a key platform for raising mental health awareness and addressing stigma. Sharing and listening to the stories of those with lived experience of mental illness—in whatever artistic form they take—is one of the best ways we can move forward. Social justice is inextricably linked with art and culture. 

Simultaneously, we at mindshare are conscious of the danger in creators producing work that explores mental health themes without individuals with lived experience having opportunities to respond, or any form of formal critique. Here, the reviewing process is not just about bettering the discipline, but also monitoring potential for harm to marginalised people. 

Every year, mindshare puts a critical lens on Adelaide Fringe productions with mental health themes. In 2020, we reviewed comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret, dance, film, spoken word, music, visual art, and mixed media installations. There was “Numinous Asylum”, “That Boy Needs Therapy”, “The Depression Cure Show” and many more. Adelaide Fringe was packed with shows with mental health content, and many artists actively marketed them as such.

Our reviews ask an important question: do these shows positively or negatively progress mental health discussions? By doing so, we hope to mitigate some of the risks of individuals navigating this growing theme in our cultural narrative. 

Reviewing also empowers and challenges writers and performers: not just to be socially conscious, but to be authentic, to be bold, and to dig deeper. We want to see stories sinking their teeth into this subject—really making an impact, and inspiring change. 

It is also, perhaps most notably, important to celebrate and support creative works in this space that are truly constructive, innovative, and insightful. This is why, in 2021, mindshare is excited to present an Adelaide Fringe “Mental Health Awareness Award”, with a prize of $1000  for the selected production.

In order to determine the winner, our reviewers will look at the overall quality of the piece, as well as how it addresses mental health. 

Perhaps the show explores mental health themes—but is this done in a productive way? Does it allow the audience to see mental illness as multifaceted and manageable with proper support? Does it portray those living with mental illness as strong, resilient, and possessing diverse skills and knowledge? Does it portray us as self-determined and experts in our own mental health?

Conversely, does the production advance stereotypes, re-stigmatise, or spread misinformation? Does it portray people living with mental illness as weak, violent, selfish, incompetent, or unworthy?

The reviews will also look at whether or not individuals with lived experience were involved in the creative process, and how shows are promoting wellbeing in general.  

Our reviews will be free to view on the mindshare blog here from mid February, with new content coming out each week as we head along to performances. Check out our compiled list of shows with mental health themes here

For more information on our reviewing program or the 2021 “Mental Health Awareness Award”, contact mindshare’s Online Editor Anna Jeavons at anna.jeavons@mhcsa.org.au

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