Staffing, Recruitment & Training
By Giles Moss on July 31st
It’s no secret that companies are made by their staff. Without the right workforce, any company will ultimately founder. theSpaceUK is no different and the unique environment of the Fringe offers its own challenges on top of just having a good team.
We have a core of senior staff who’ve been building and running our venues for years and years and years, but our ranks are swelled tenfold for the 4 weeks of the Fringe. Every year we need to recruit scores of new people, welcome them to a strange (to some) city, train them up, show them the ropes of our venues and let them loose to run our 19 theatres for us. Then, just as we’re all getting to know one another, it’s the end of the Festival and everyone disbands.
Starting afresh with a predominantly new crew every year has some benefits. People who didn’t enjoy the Fringe experience needn’t struggle on as they might in a full-time position. And on the rare occasion we recruit someone who turns out not to be a good fit for our teams we needn’t invite them back. But the downside is that we need a herculean recruitment effort every year.
Our recruitment is split down the middle into venue technicians and box and press office operations. It’s led by people who have come up the ranks of theSpaceUK, who started out working our venues or box offices and now give their efforts to getting us our crew. Having done the front line jobs themselves, they are perfectly placed to know what’s involved and are able to identify suitable candidates at interview with astonishing accuracy.
Working at the Fringe can be a fantastic, rewarding, exciting experience. The vast majority of people we employ have a wonderful time during their month in Edinburgh and recommend it to anyone – indeed loads of our new recruits every year come via personal recommendations. Working at a Fringe venue is a unique mix of a festival atmosphere, technical theatre, and hanging out with like-minded people. Simply being in the middle of the huge explosion of creative endeavour we see from our performing companies is infectious and is why we keep coming back. The skills used and developed by our team come in useful in their future employment, friends are made for life, we’ve even had some weddings between people who met because of us.
We’ve got so much to offer, we wanted a shop window to show everyone so new this year was a glossy brochure introducing prospective crew to our roles, with photos showing the sorts of things they’ll be getting up to.
Kat on the box office, and Matt and Adam on the venue technician side have been interviewing candidates since April. Their questions are carefully designed to find out how the candidate will work in the close-knit teams in our venues, how they’ll be when faced with companies, what their technical ability is.. the list is as short as we can make it but still interviews last 15 to 20 minutes.
On the venue technician side, it may come as a surprise but we don’t set out to recruit people with hugely impressive portfolios of work. Instead we look for a firm underlying technical competency but more importantly we need good team players who can communicate effectively in pressured situations. Technical skill with our equipment can be taught; nothing we run is very complicated and we have a whole day of the get-in put aside to training. Similarly, on the box office, we need people who are reasonable with numbers but fundamentally it’s a public-facing role so we look for candidates who would excel at that. Our Press Officers need to be genuinely interested in meeting and helping our hundreds of companies with demanding press enquiries.
So, after months of interviewing, Adam, Matt and Kat have assembled our teams. Some staff are returners, some we promote to our supervisor and manager roles, others are completely fresh-faced.
We need our venue technicians to build our venues so they start almost a week earlier than the box office team but before they so much as lift a flight case we take them through a few hours of basic training. We discuss ladder and electrical safety, manual handling, appropriate PPE, and the basics of how we want our kit to be rigged. A little training and attention to detail here pays dividends: we can’t afford to waste the time required to re-do things and we’re very keen that no-one hurts themselves.
In this industry we find that a lot of “how things should be done” rules are personal preference baked into procedure and it’s fascinating to see crew from different parts come with new – and sometimes better – ideas for things than we had ourselves. The work of our crew is carefully supervised and the resulting venues thoroughly inspected by the senior team to make sure the crew has taken on board our guidance and our venues have been built in the manner we require.
Why do we spend so much attention on getting our venues built to a strict design? We need to know how they’re connected. If there is a complicated technical problem that can’t be solved by the venue team, it gets escalated to our duty managers and if necessary, the Senior Production Team. If we need to parachute into a venue to fix something, knowing how the venue is wired saves us valuable time. Secondly, our designs are carefully planned and take into consideration things that would otherwise cause problems in themselves – things such as splitting rig power across ring mains to keep the current draw below the breaker limit, or siting the sound kit somewhere away from a noisy triac dimmer. And thirdly, our designs are proven to work and we don’t have time to redesign things for the heck of it: There’s no point needing to think about how the power distribution to the emergency lights should be constructed if we figured it out five years ago – just follow the plan and build it the same!
Once our venues are built we give the crew a rest – they deserve it – and then put a day aside to training. “Training Tuesday” starts off with a gathering of our combined venue technician and box office team. It’s the first time we’ve seen everyone together and it can be quite a shock, even to us, to see quite how many people it takes to run this thing.
We kick the morning off with a bit of a history lesson on us, and the Fringe. Karl does this expertly - he's a great orator and has been working with us from the very start. His opening speech brings in the history of the Fringe, Edinburgh as a city, what our crew will expect from their month with us:
We explain how our venues work. We do a few icebreaker activities. Then the team splits up: The box office assistants learn about how we sell tickets and manage show takings. The venue technicians get brief on how we operate our venues. That’s a whole morning of work. The afternoon is spent in the crews’ own venues, learning the specifics of the spaces they have to manage. Different venues have different requirements, be that the model of lighting desk, presence (or not) of LED lighting, the evacuation procedure, the particular rules we need to adhere to due to our host venue… we call this the venue specific training. We also work with trainers from our lighting desk companies to give in-depth training on how to drive the technology.
By the end of Training Tuesday our crew is ready to face our companies who start to arrive the next day. Their training doesn’t stop there of course, the classroom style delivery is no match for mucking in and giving things a go so our venue management team continue to share advice and offer guidance all Fringe long.
We genuinely want our crew to have a good time while they’re with us and this extends to their personal wellbeing. Our Venue Management team is on the lookout for tell-tale signs that crew might not be happy. We also aim to give all our technicians what we call an Olly Talk, a quick chat around the middle of the Fringe just to find out how they’re finding it. The outcomes of these talks feeds directly into how we set things up next year, perhaps we needed to focus more training effort on a particular topic, or needed to give better advice on some aspect during the recruitment process.
Over to You..
We think our approach to recruitment and training offers a great balance between work and fun. There’s a lot of work to do to keep venues running, that’s for sure, but there is a lot of fun to be had while doing so. Our high numbers of returning crew are testament to this, and we couldn’t run our venues so well without them.
Here's to you - our 2019 team!