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Amnesty International again puts the spotlight on human rights themed works

By | Published on Saturday 8 August 2015

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There is no shortage of awards to be won at the Edinburgh Festival each year, each focused on a different kind of show or performer, though particularly interesting is that run by Amnesty International, and I’m not just saying that because it’s the one my show is eligible for.

The human rights charity had always had a sizable presence at the Festival, in a campaigning role, but it decided to launch its own Freedom Of Expression Award nearly fifteen years ago, in response, says Amnesty Scotland Programme Director Naomi McAuliffe, “to the evolution of the Fringe programme so that it featured many powerful performances with a strong human rights theme. We felt that these productions should be honoured for the important work they do, and the messages they carry beyond the performance space”.

Explaining the ongoing aim of the award, McAuliffe tells ThreeWeeks “we aim to recognise an Edinburgh Fringe production that not only presents a strong and relevant human rights message, but also is of an exceptionally high artistic value. Shows are selected by a panel of Amnesty experts and judges, and productions are also encouraged to nominate themselves”.

Over the years the list of eligible shows has only got longer, so that now, McAuliffe adds, “we regularly have a hotly-contested long list of more than 90 shows which are eventually whittled down to an amazing short list of six productions that are so good it is a real challenge to choose a winner”.

“Last year, Mark Thomas’ Cuckooed took the top honour in another wonderful year for human rights-themed theatre”, she says, “as it asked frighteningly pertinent questions about the nature of surveillance and the limits it places on our freedom of expression at a time when our right to privacy is being steadily eroded. The judges felt the powerful way Mark Thomas presented those ideas on stage also demonstrated the huge personal and emotional cost of these infringements on our freedom”.

Having put together this year’s long list already, it was interesting to know whether McAuliffe had spotted any themes in the programme from a human rights perspective.“Surveillance and privacy issues are featured again” she notes, “understandably, given every day seems to bring a news story on how we are being spied on by our on government”.

“There are some productions focused on transgender and identity issues, which is significant. Important rights issues around poverty and economics can also be found in the line-up. We are also impressed by the number of productions tackling race issues. Violence against women is a returning theme and will continue to be – this year we have also a few productions highlighting children’s rights”.

Joyce McMillan from The Scotsman, Neil Cooper from The Herald, Catherine Love, who writes for The Guardian and The Stage, and independent researcher Stephanie Knight join with McAuliffe to pick the overall winner, while a team of volunteer reviewers help ensure every eligible show is seen.

What are the judges looking for? “Good theatre with a strong and compelling human rights message. Production values must also be high. The rights element should be thought through and feel authentic. Sometimes, human rights becomes a focus by surprise while the piece is being devised and that can also feel real to the audience. The aesthetic has to be of a high standard and the productions have to engage the audience. If a show helps us to reflect ourselves in today’s world then it has succeeded. The reaction to a play with a strong rights message is instinctive”.

LINKS: amnesty.org.uk



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