As part of my recent Festival Highlights Challenge, I had the pleasure of meeting – and, for 24 hours, effectively stalking – Sarah Quinney at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sarah is a Technical Stage Manager for Festival Highlights, one of the Fringe’s most prolific and consistent theatre producers. Every day from 30 July to 25 August this summer, she’s accomplishing the remarkable feat of running four shows in four different venues.
If you thought your day – at the festival or anywhere – was hectic, have a gander at Sarah’s daily schedule in her blog below. Notwithstanding the workload, Sarah’s still having fun at the start of Week Two. Stamina or what?!
So, yes… four shows a day, in four separate venues, all starting within a six-hour timeframe. This TSM (Technical Stage Manager) is on a mission… #HardestworkingSMontheFringe
Firstly, I will explain TSM. I trained in lighting, and was a professional lighting technician for a number of years, working for companies like Northern Stage and the RSC. It’s been the last few years where I have been a regular TSM. TSM means I do more than stage manage a show. And with this, there is no disrespect to stage managers! It just means that I also do lighting and sound, in addition to the usual stage management duties.
I have also lived in Edinburgh, and my brother and my two gorgeous nieces live here, so I know the place, and greatly enjoy helping out people to their destinations.
This Fringe, for me, starts at 11.30am (practically dawn by Fringe standards) when I get to Espionage on Victoria Street for The Silence of Snow with Mark Farrelly. This is a fun gig technically, as I am in a nightclub DJ booth, with curtains all around me, so I can’t see what Mark is up to. All the cues are either verbal or shadow. It’s a great show, and I enjoy meeting the audience before and after the performance. The show is dedicated to a friend of Mark’s and he’s giving all proceeds to the mental health charity Mind.
I then have to rush off along George IV Bridge, collect some cables, and head to the Gilded Balloon’s Nightclub venue for Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult, starring Lizzie Roper. I have a brilliant intern/ASM that makes this busy life so easy! Isabel sets up the stage whilst I make the sound and lighting work in our favour.
During Julie, Isabel dashes upstairs to the Gilded Balloon’s Dining Room and prepares everything that she can for my next show, Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, before dashing back down to remove the set on Julie Burchill. If there is a delay in finishing Julie, it’s a frantic dash up two flights of stairs to see if the set is in place, and then prepare the lighting and sound.
Technically, Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope is quite a straightforward show, and as the second of Mark Farrelly’s shows, it goes very easily. Mark is a fabulous actor, very friendly and so easy to work with. We always get a great response, and afterwards I have some time to breathe.
Then, I hotfoot it over to George Street and the Assembly Rooms, where I write my show reports for the previous three shows and send these off to the production office. If I’m lucky I get time to eat, but it doesn’t always work that way.
And, finally at 6.10pm, it’s my final show of the day, Siddhartha, the Musical.
I love Siddhartha. The Italian company are all so warm and friendly, but the SL (Stage Left) wing needs to be on the DVD extras. I have so little wing space, and 22 semi-naked Italians passing by on a regular basis makes it interesting, to say the least! Because there is limited space for set and costume, my crew must somehow manage to lift some of the scenic items up three metres into the storage area. This saves time during the turnaround and gives us valuable space.
The sound team have 25 minutes to mic up the 12 principal singers, while my ASM has just 15 minutes to set props.
The actor who plays Govinda (Miky Nari), Siddhartha’s best friend, is in my stage wing towards the end of the show. The wing is running so well by then that we have time for a little waltz along with the music.
What is great about the Siddhartha company is that, no matter how busy the wing is, there is always time for a singalong, a little dance, or just a hug. The company really are fabulous. It’s a lovely moment at the end of the show when so many of the technical people manage a brief moment dancing along to the curtain call. The dancers onstage can see us and it makes them laugh !
I am often tucked into a piece of truss, keeping out of the way of quick changes. Everything happens so quickly, but with a lot of love. There is frequent nakedness with the costume changes, so you can’t be prudish. For a company of 22, there is no drama, no conflict. If you are in the way, you are moved with a hug.
I come away from my day feeling glad to have achieved it, but ready to retreat to my digs for some peace and quiet. Where I’m staying this year, I have a fabulous view of Arthur’s Seat, so I like to sit and watch the sun go down.
If there is a freelance stage manager doing more shows in more venues at this year’s Fringe, I would like to meet them, buy them a drink, and ask them how they are achieving it!
– Sarah Quinney for Festival Highlights