Last August my show, Behind Our Skin, was selected for the Amnesty International Freedom Of Expression Awards. It was my first time encountering this award, but I was fascinated by the great work they do in bringing forward plays with a political theme. Behind Our Skin is about 2 immigrant women living in the UK and France, so I guess that this is why we caught their eye.
#JeSuis, which won the award this year, was a powerful dance performance about the political situation and freedom of speech violations in Turkey.
I love the fact that theatre can be simply pure entertainment and/or carry a strong political or emotional message. I have asked Juliet Swann, assistant to the Amnesty International Scotland Team, to share more about the Award, its selection process, and #JeSuis. Here is Juliet:
What is Amnesty International Freedom Of Expression Awards? When was it created and why?
This is Amnesty International’s 14th year of running the Freedom of Expression Award at Edinburgh Festival. We have a long-standing relationship with the Festivals, from comedy events in aid of Amnesty International to the Imprisoned Writers events at the Book Festival.
We run the Freedom of Expression Award because more than any other art form, excellent theatre makes lasting emotional as well as an intellectual impact on the audience.
It is also a reminder that this important freedom is not one which can be celebrated equally around the globe where regimes will imprison, torture and kill their citizens for simply and peacefully expressing their political or religious views.
How are the shows selected for the Award?
Currently, the long list is selected based on pre-festival awareness of shows, their description in the fringe programme and our professional critics’ knowledge and experience. Some shows are self-selecting. We are reviewing the nomination / long-listing process and aim to bring in a more definitive set of criteria in future years. Once the longlist is chosen, all the shows are reviewed by volunteer critics who pass on their thoughts to our judging panel who then visit the recommended shows.
The productions share the ability to inspire, inform, engage and sometimes terrify us by their powerful depictions of human rights abuses.
What did you particularly enjoy about #JeSuis, which won the award in 2017?
#JeSuis is a powerful wake-up call to everyone on the climate of violence and oppression that people in Turkey are currently enduring. To see attacks on freedom of expression portrayed through the medium of dance was incredibly powerful and accessible even for those who have no experience of dance performances. A production addressing freedom of expression in Turkey is particularly resonant for us as an organisation as our colleagues from Amnesty International Turkey were languishing in jail at the time and although freed on bail still risk reimprisonment.