The Venue Books

By Giles Moss on July 22nd

We’ve got a 'few' documents in our collection. Just a few. Actually, a huge amount. From build guides to best practices, risk assessments to dimmer channel and DMX address plans. CAD drawings of venues showing seating, staging, extension leads and cable runs, emergency lighting fixtures. Photos of how particularly tricky bits of the rig were done. We keep this all in Google Drive which is great for collaborating over it and keeping it safe, but not ideal for people to follow as they’re up ladders plugging things together.

To bridge the electronic-to-physical gap, we create a Venue Book for every theatre. This is a physical, comb-bound booklet that our venue team uses as its single point of reference for a venue. The first few pages detail the venue particulars: Which room its built in, the contacts we have with the host, the chain of command within our company, stuff like that. It goes on to include plans, guides, some health & safety reference material and the company briefing notes our technicians will explain to every visiting company.

Having a single point of reference is essential for a few reasons: We make minor changes and improvements to our venues and processes every year, so we have a version control challenge whereby we need to ensure old plans or out of date processes aren’t used in error. Having a single venue book, with the year clearly printed upon it, makes this easy. When we tip the storage cupboards out at the start of the Festival, anything labelled as “2018” heads straight for the recycling bin.

Another important function of the book is that the crew has a known point to find all the plans, all the build guides, and references to where further information (there are some bits we don’t print, instead the crews can access it online on demand) can be found.

Plans or Build guides?

When building a venue, we offer our teams two primary ways in which they can determine what they need to do. Well, three if you include how we endeavour to ensure there’s an experienced crewmember on each build who has seen the venue go together at least once before. From a paper-based reference stance we have a CAD plan of the venue, which gives the wide view of how things fit together, and we also have a step-by-step list of all the things needed to bolt our venues together in the way we’d like which is known as our build checklist. The checklist includes detail right down to what 4-ways need to be labelled as, which outlets of which distro they’re connected to, where the evacuation plan needs to be posted, where the gel frames need to live.. It’s very detailed and doubles up as the checklist our Senior Production Team uses to determine if a venue is ‘finished, and indeed whether it has been correctly built.

Putting it together

With the build guides nipped and tucked, plans updated, lists of staff refreshed for the new season, I hit up my trusty laser printer and run off thousands of sheets of printing. The unmistakable smell of ozone permeates the house as the pile of paperwork grows and grows. The printer starts to have to take little breaks to cool off.. The toner cartridge starts running out.. There’s a paper jam in the duplexer.. It’s the same every year but after a bit of persuasion we get through it. Then it’s a small matter of reorganising all the sheets from the print order into the 19 packs for our venues and finally comb binding the lot with a shiny cover. The result looks pretty professional - some would say a bit corporate - but it serves its purpose well.