Technical Rehearsal Planning
By Giles Moss on May 13th
The pre-production phase, which runs from April to July, comes crashing down to earth as soon as our companies arrive in our venues for the first time. To smooth the landing, every company is allocated a technical rehearsal in their theatre. This is the time when they’ll see the space for the first time, meet our crew, see where they’ll store their set and props and if everything’s gone to plan, see that their blocking has resulted in a show that’ll actually fit on the stage. It’s a small window of (relative) calm before the company is swept up in the craziness of the Festival. So there’s a lot to fit in!
We give each company a rehearsal around one-and-a-half times their booked slot length, adding on 10 minutes extra for our venue team to delivery a safety and introductory briefing. We follow the slot length quite closely in this calculation which can result in some strange durations; for example a slot of 1 hour results in a rehearsal duration of 1h40.
Ideally, each company arrives at their theatres a little in advance of their rehearsal start time. They can meet the Venue Manager and discuss unloading set and props before the clock starts ticking - we have so many shows to fit in on tech days, a late arrival means less time in the venue.
Because the tech rehearsal is such an essential part of each company’s arrival in Edinburgh, we try as much as possible to schedule it at a time when they can make it. Our primary desire is to schedule the techs the day before the first performance. Companies prefer this, it’s close enough to mean they don’t need to arrange additional accommodation yet there’s a night to sleep on things and prepare for the show to open. That said, at the start of the Fringe there are too many shows to tech on a single day so some will be given a tech two days before and on some very busy days during the Festival we can also find it necessary to schedule techs the same day as the first performance, typically the morning for an afternoon or evening debut. On our tightest days we sometimes have to drop the time we allocate down from our standard one-and-a-half times the booked slot, but these are all in decreasing likelihood (or is that rising desperation?!) as we try to cram it all in.
Before we start to assign techs we ask all companies if they have any travel or other limitations that would affect their ability to attend a tech. Perhaps a company is travelling to Edinburgh in the morning of the day before their first performance, so they’re not likely to be able to make a tech starting at 8 AM. We invite everyone to let us know of such arrangements and we take this into consideration. Furthermore, we take into account where a company is based; one flying in from Toronto is likely to have a much less flexible diary than one based in Edinburgh, for example. We also think about who the cast is and what sort of company it is: A school group with a cast of children tends to have an understandable aversion to a tech starting at 11 PM. And on the complexity side, a show with a single monologue will probably be technically simpler than a musical so may not need their full allocation of time. If that wasn’t enough, the week 0 techs have an extra dimension of variability in that not all companies perform previews.
Once we’ve collected all the performance schedules and notes together we attack the tech allocation process one theatre at a time. Typically we start with time we need the venue to close, say 1 AM, then we work backwards using a calendar, a spreadsheet and a pencil, blocking out time according to how long each slot is and leaving a small gap between each to give our teams a chance to reset the theatre between groups. This all results in what can look like a fairly random time if taken out of this context: Companies may wonder why their tech has been assigned at 2:55 and not 3 PM - it’s because we are allocating down to the 5-minute to squeeze every last drop out of the day.
In venues with multiple theatres we further adjust all the rehearsal times to avoid having two rehearsals starting at exactly the same time. Often it’s our Venue Manager who gives the safety briefing to the companies and, great though they are, we haven’t found a way for them to be in two rehearsals at the same time. It’s a huge jigsaw to arrange up to four theatres of rehearsals in this manner, with pieces all subject to their own sizes and rules, but it’s surprisingly satisfying when we get it all to tessellate tightly.
Once we’ve completed the allocations we publicise the date and time to all our companies via email. The majority of companies are delighted with the times we allocate but there are invariably a small number who report that they are unable to make their carefully crafted time (well, we tried!), so we juggle things around and do what we can to make it fit regardless. In extreme cases of having-no-other-option, we’ll have to ask companies to swap. There are only so many hours in a day and in rare cases we do find it impossible to fit in a tech, meaning the company has to go into their first performance without one - to avoid this bad situation, make sure you tell us any travel constraints and think practically when booking travel: if you arrive in Edinburgh at 9 PM the night before your show at 10 AM, it really doesn’t give us much to play with.
At the end of the day it is genuinely a case of trying to please everyone, and we do go to a lot of effort to make this happen. Hopefully therefore the tech rehearsal we allocate you fits in with what you expect, and is at a time you’re available. We look forward to meeting you there!