Edinburgh Fringe People

The Production Manager: Giles Moss from theSpaceUK

Published on Monday 25 June 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This time, we jump into the production side of the Festival with Giles Moss, one of three production managers at theSpaceUK.

theSpaceUK run many venues at the Fringe in different buildings all around central Edinburgh. Like many Fringe venue operations, most of the performance spaces run by theSpaceUK pop-up just for the festival month. Meanwhile, once up and running, numerous companies will perform in each space each day in August.

We spoke to Giles about the process of designing and constructing a Fringe venue, and also got lots of logistical tips for companies performing at the Festival for the first time.

TW: What does being Production Manager for theSpaceUK involve?
GM: theSpaceUK has three production managers. I look after the venue design, working with the hire companies and host buildings to ensure that what comes of the lorry can fit together into a venue and pass muster with the inspecting authorities.

I also do most of the design work for our banners and graphics, oversee our team of pre-production managers, design our IT networks, make the phones work, arrange the ticket stock, lanyards and ID cards, and try not to forget all the little tips we noted for ourselves the previous Fringe to make life easier.

I work closely with Ian, who develops our box office, ticketing and website systems as well as being our head noise boy, and Gareth, who ensures everything gets taken down at the end and returned to the correct supplier or carefully put away for the next year. Between the three of us we’ve got 60 years experience at the Fringe.

TW: You construct a lot of pop-up venues across a number of buildings. What are the biggest challenges of getting so many temporary venues all open at once?
GM: We build our eight venues in five days with about 35 crew, so it’s intense! The biggest challenge is orchestrating all of them: all the hired kit and all the sundries like gaffer tape and cable ties to make sure everyone is optimally utilised during the build. We don’t want people unable to rig the PA because they’ve finished the truss but the sound hire hasn’t yet arrived, for example.

Every venue is planned out right down to where the cable runs are, where the drapes overlap, which extension cable feeds which lighting fixture, and so on, so the secondary challenge is getting our fresh crew across the detail quickly enough to ensure the final venue is always built in line with the plans. That’s absolutely necessary because our risk assessments are predicated on venues being assembled in a particular way, and also when the senior techs have to come in to fault find they already know how the venue is wired up.

TW: For performers coming to the Fringe for the first time, what should they be thinking about when picking a venue to hire from a logistical perspective?
GM: The saying goes “location location location” and it’s hard to argue with that, but from my point of view performers should always consider whether the venue is a good fit for the show. With so many venues across Edinburgh there is plenty of choice. Don’t try to squeeze a rock musical into a small studio theatre, but at the same time a new writing piece running for only a week is unlikely to need a 160-seat amphitheatre.

TW: A key feature of the Fringe is that shows share spaces with lots of other shows. How does this impact on those shows from a production perspective?
GM: We run eight to ten shows a day in every venue, back-to-back. You’ll have perhaps five to ten minutes in the theatre before curtain up and that means everyone in the company has to muck in.

We see companies with military-grade get-in drills where everyone from performer to crew to grandmother knows what part of the set or which prop they have to move from point A to point B to get the show up on time – while all around you our team is refocussing your lighting and your front-of-house is admitting your audience.

You perform the show and then have another few minutes to return everything, neatly and tidily, to the same storage boxes so it’s all ready for you to do it again tomorrow. It’s a rollercoaster.

TW: Have you any tips for how first time Fringe performers can better prepare performing in shared pop up spaces?
GM: Expect to meet more like-minded people than you could ever imagine, all in the same boat with the same problems. Each venue develops its own little ecosystem of companies, crew and relationships, with many friendships forged that long outlive the Fringe. Come prepared to make the most of every second you have to spare, while – and this is where I sound like your Dad – remember to sleep sometimes and do try to eat some veggies; the bout of ‘Fringe flu’ that kicks in after a week is well worth avoiding if you can!

TW: Given the constraints, presumably simple set and tech design is always going to be most effective?
GM: You got it in one. We see a lot of companies coming with grand ideas that are unfortunately too complicated or impractical for a Fringe environment. The clever ideas generally involve using things in multiple ways, for example a table that’s also a boat that also becomes a box to hold your props and costumes while stored.

TW: Obviously the city of Edinburgh scrutinises all these pop-up venues from a health and safety perspective. What are the key rules Fringe shows need to know about?
GM: There are what can feel like a lot of restrictions placed upon temporary theatres, but in practice most shows have very little trouble adhering to the rules. If you avoid fire, smoke and flammable set pieces you’re mostly there!

As venue operators we have various policies and rules over and above those that the Council imposes. These are generally only necessary because of the previously discussed quick turnaround nature of the Fringe. We can’t, for example, have shows spraying water around the stage because the show on ten minutes later won’t want to be forced into a boat. Everything shows need to know is detailed in the production information they receive from us.

TW: Whatever venue a first time Fringe performer is performing at, what questions do you recommend they ask their venue before arriving?
GM: My best advice would be to carefully read the emails from the venue’s team. Everything you need to know to stage your show successfully is detailed in the emails, publications and website links our team sends to every company. There is a lot to take in, that’s for sure, so we send a number of emails during the run up to direct your attention towards the things you should be considering next.

TW: Do most performers arrive in Edinburgh with set built, props bought, tech designed, or can you improvise a little and cheaply acquire things once in town?
GM: The majority of companies are very well prepared and arrive with everything ready to run. There often isn’t much time between when they arrive in Edinburgh and when their technical rehearsal is so it’s better not to need to dash to Ikea or try to find a suitable prop on Gumtree.

The tech rehearsals are tight – what isn’t at the Fringe! – so knowing exactly what you need the lighting rig to do is also a must. Our team will ask you right at the start how you want things focused and there is rarely time for much artist input by this point.

TW: What are the best bits and the worst bits of being a Production Manager at the Fringe?
GM: The best bit: seeing eighteen venues go from empty rooms to fully working theatres full of excited companies in seven days. I then take a step back, happy in the knowledge we’ve created the platform for over 4000 performers to have their personal Fringe adventure, and that a good many of them will be about to embark on a couple of weeks they’ll remember forever.

The worst bit: being away from my own family while I oversee our Edinburgh one – my kids aren’t old enough yet to come up to the Fringe.

TW: What tips would you have for anyone wanting to work in a production role at a Fringe venue?
GM: It’s a cliché, but you’ve got to jump in at the bottom. Everyone in theSpaceUK’s production roles first came to us as venue techs or box office crew, found they liked the craziness of it, had the right mix of technical and personal skills, and came back for a second year. And then a third. And a fourth… All venues are looking for crew to join them so find a venue that offers a package that you like the sound of and sign up.

TW: What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Festival?
GM: Jumping right back into the madness of the Fringe and getting some venues built with the troupe of friends that make up theSpaceUK’s family. Oh, also the beer in Edinburgh is simply divine.

LINKS: thespaceuk.com