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Sick of the Fringe comes to Adelaide

Adelaide Fringe

An innovative program that seeks to raise awareness of complex and often taboo medical issues will make its international debut at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe.

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First started in the UK in 2015, The Sick of the Fringe project will run a pilot program during this month’s festival.

Funded by Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity, the program is aimed at highlighting and supporting shows that spark conversations about medical issues such as mental health, disability and wellbeing.

It will also build collaborations between some of the South Australia’s leading medical researchers and those involved in the arts scene.

Already, several medical research groups and organisations including RiAusSAHMRICell Therapy Manufacturing and the University of South Australia have expressed interest in the program.

Adelaide Fringe director Heather Croall said the decision to bring The Sick of the Fringe to SA was recognition of a growing number of acts that focused on medical issues.

“A great example, which was an award winner in the Fringe last year, was Fake it Til You Make It”, she said,

“That is exactly the kind of show we’re talking about – it’s a personal biographic story talking about mental illness, talking about the personal experiences of depression.

“It’s real lateral thinking the way that artists can take research which might seem quite dry but then create incredibly engaging stories.

“We’ve seen more and more shows coming to the Fringe where artists might take their own personal stories and explore them.”


For its first festival outside of the UK, The Sick of the Fringe will take a hands-off approach, running initial workshops to lay the groundwork for further collaboration in 2018.

While in Adelaide, The Sick of the Fringe’s producers will look at the shows on offer and aim to highlight ones that explore complex medical issues and bring together artists who focus on those themes.

“There’s a show in this year’s Fringe called We Live by the Sea, which explores autism and friendships with an autistic character,” Croall said.

“Another one this year is called Scorch [a story of first love through the eyes of a gender-curious teen] and that would be a great example of the sort of shows we’re talking about – something that’s dealing with the really personal issues.

“Those are the kind of things we imagine Sick of the Fringe and the Wellcome Trust will be able to see.”

Amy McAllister in Scorch. Photo: Ciaran Bagnall

Amy McAllister in Scorch. Photo: Ciaran Bagnall

While one aim of the The Sick of the Fringe is to highlight existing shows, producer Brian Lobel will also look to build networks between local medical researchers and artists in Adelaide for future partnerships.

In the UK, The Sick of the Fringe has found success in connecting the fields of art and science, something Lobel aims to develop in Adelaide.

“An example I’m working on right now – Brightlight is the largest group involved in the study of young adult cancer and the results have just come out from a five-year study. We are taking the results of that survey and turning it into art,” Lobel said.

“But it’s also not being afraid to invite, say, a mental health professional into a work-in-progress and actually hear feedback that this language is really good, or this is something we found really problematic.

“So we’re going to visit universities and hospitals in Adelaide and talk to some science media that’s there, because we want to try and figure out who are going to be the real partners.

“I want to find people for whose work this resonates with and who are ready and interested in partnering with us.”

As part of the pilot program in Adelaide, Lobel also hopes to change the way local festival writers think about shows that explore complex issues.

During his time in Adelaide, he will run several workshops teaching a style of writing he has developed called “diagnoses”, which focuses more on the themes of a piece instead of its overall quality.

“This year the goal is for me to gather groups of writers who are interested to come and see shows with me and then we talk about what it would look like as a diagnosis.

“Then the goal is we actually have examples for next year for writers who might want to get involved with it all.

“We’re really excited – Adelaide Fringe holds a huge number of possibilities for us working from scratch with people we’ve never met before.”

The 2017 Adelaide Fringe opens on Friday and continues until March 19.

This article was first published on The Lead.

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