The Final Stretch
By Giles Moss on July 23rd
It’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN!
The 1st of July doesn’t hold particular importance to most people. It’s not the start of summer. It isn’t the day any large nation found independence. It isn’t when the schools break up for the holiday. But, for a small group of us scattered across the country, the advent of July means one huge thing: The Fringe is this month. Not only is it “this month”, but due to how the dates of the Fringe fall in 2019, it’s only three weeks before the first of our senior team start arriving in Edinburgh. Suddenly it’s very real - first thing on the list is to ensure we’ve got access to our company flat so we’ve got somewhere to sleep when we get there!
The production side gets quite insane as we jump from task to task getting things lined up ready for getting to site, here's just some of the things we've been tackling:
There are always a few last minute things to sort out with the hire companies. We check the trucking arrangements match what we’ve got written down - we wouldn’t want to miss a detail and have our crews waiting around for a truck that isn’t going to turn up. We finalise kit lists for all the spaces; in our newest spaces we’re still refining the designs so the kit list changes almost up to the point the trucks are loaded.
One of our team even goes as far as to spend an evening locked up at one of our suppliers, cutting and pre-painting stage boards for us!
A late-night discussion also reminded us we are regularly short of ladders during the build, and run the risk of having our team under-utilised as they can’t reach the things they need to rig. So we decided to hire some additional sets of stepladders on top of those we hire form our kit suppliers. Even little things like this take a surprisingly large amount of time to identify, agree a solution, and put a plan into action.
Any new signage needs to be finalised and ordered from the printers. This year our host venue at the Royal College of Surgeons has made some changes to the outdoor setup so we have new signage designed to help guide our audiences through. Other signs were noted to have gotten worn out last Fringe so we need to replace. Even more signs are needed for inside our venues, just paper signage with arrows and theatre names, that sort of thing - we get these printed fresh each year to keep everything looking as neat as we can.
We have collected posters from our companies and assemble these onto large poster hoardings which we get printed onto correx boards. This replaces the old way of stapling posters up outside - which always got wrecked in the Edinburgh weather - so will look hugely neater. The posters, hundreds and hundreds of them, all need to be placed into the board layouts which in turn need rendering to PDF and sending to the printers. The largest of these is a 4-page 550MB PDF, which impressed even me.
The print deadline for our company brochure, containing the details of all our shows, is also fast approaching. We have been gathering and updating information on our shows for the past couple of months (indeed it’s the same data that feeds the shows listings on our website), and this gets formatted by a couple of Perl scripts into the special formats needed for the brochure: We offer the same information twice. There is a full list of shows, organised per-venue, which includes show descriptions, genre and so on. We also include a timeline of all shows across all our venues, which lets customers see what’s starting at a given time should they be looking for where to go next.
The data for these lists is exported as text files and sent to our designer for formatting into the brochure.
Staff ID Cards
All our staff wear photo ID, so this needs to be printed! Everyone working for us is asked to submit a photo for their pass during the recruitment process and the photos are imported to our staff management system, StaffSpace system. StaffSpace generates the graphics for each ID card, it’s like a mail merge but with photos. The resulting graphics are printed off on our Zebra ID card printer. It takes two passes, as the rear of the card is packed full of useful phone numbers and email addresses that our staff may need to refer to during the Festival, and as each card takes quite a lot of seconds to print, this ends up being a lengthy process. The cards then get put into holders (another half hour while I’m watching TV), have lanyards attached and bundled up into groups of tech staff, box office, senior team etc.
Once we get to the last few days before we get to Edinburgh, we can start purchasing things for delivery directly to our on-site operations. Boxes of hard hats, hi-vis, a pallet of black paint for the stages, velcro to tie chairs together, reams of A4 paper and Blu-Tack for the Box Offices.. Over the years we’ve honed a list of things to buy so it’s a matter of turning the handle on another year of the same. Some of the team drive up to Edinburgh so in the past we have experimented with having things delivered to them instead of to site but this got to the point we almost couldn’t fit it in a car, so we figured it was better to get it sent to Edinburgh directly. There will be quite the stream of delivery drivers descending on a dusty church hall on day 1!
The IT Team Awakes
Like a sleeping behemoth, in July our IT team wakes from its slumber in a deep dark cave (actually I'll have you know it's a very nice flat - IT Team) somewhere around East London, and gets to work planning the various PC changes we’ve identified for the year. We’ve got a number of new PCs to buy to support our expansion, worn out kit to replace, a new operating system image to hone and a giant list of improvements to make based on our notes from last Fringe. Midnight oil is burned in great quantitity in this endeavour.
Our Hosts get in on the fun
On site, our host venues are gearing up to cater for us in various ways.
They are working to our connectivity requirements: Ethernet ports are being patched, fibre-optic cables are being run. For a head start during the build, some IT kit has been pre-configured on the bench and couriered up to Edinburgh already because it’ll save us a bit of installation later.
We are involved in ongoing discussions with all our hosts. Some need permission forms submitting. Others are interested in our schedules so they know when to expect runs on the bars. Some venues have developed parts of the buildings but need to install the odd 13A socket so we can run a box office. There’s little standard in these conversations, everything’s completely focused on the year in hand - and we have a lot of discussions to work through!
The Final Few
Our Box Office manager and the team recruiting the venue technicians are scurrying around filling the last few positions on our teams. With a team the size of ours, we always have a few last-minute changes as people drop out on us, so we end up with a few positions opening up even at this late stage. It goes to show it’s never too late to apply to us if you were vaguely thinking about it - you never know what might come up. Seriously - join us!
Oh, and I spent a few evenings putting our venue books together, printing out venue plans and bundling them up into A3 folders to hand out to each build crew.
Not Long Now
And so the time inexorably ticks onwards. Across the country, our team is packing their branded t-shirts into rucksacks and suitcases, printing train tickets, checking in online to flights. If we were in a film, at this point we’d see a map of the country with little avatars all descending on a single point - Edinburgh.
The next phase - production - is about to begin.