To present such a talk upon the ins and outs of theatre at its bare business-driven bones is both innovative and opportune during the fracas of the Fringe, when an attentive audience is sure to be had. The key to theatre management, we are told repeatedly, is to be unfalteringly practical. It is perhaps perfectly appropriate, then, that this talk functioned entirely efficiently yet with little presentational flourish.
Our panel – consisting of the Edinburgh Playhouse’s General Manager; Deputy Manager; Development Manager; Front-of-House Manager; and Media Manager – were open and unpretentious in discussing their myriad roles, warts and all. Frank admission on all aspects of their jobs were welcome and warming (particularly memorable was development manager Emma Bentley’s assurance that upon accepting your first job in some far-flung theatre of the backwaters, “you will be miserable for the first three months”). Our managerial master of ceremonies, GM Gary Roden was wide-eyed and enthusiastic, keeping his audience charmed and chuckling with the sheer energy apparent in his efforts.
Unfortunately, format sometimes suggested there’s a reason our speakers work behind the bright lights rather than before. The talk’s structure was a little frustrating, as the first half an hour saw us work circularly through the long line of personnel, each listing one by one the remit of their role; the way they got their jobs; seven things they did last week and so on. This was not the most engaging of ways to present information and frequently frustrated discussion by its tendency toward repetition. The Q&A style second half-hour exacerbated these developmental issues by allowing streams of business buzzwords and pseudo-speak to sally forth. Answers to such questions as ‘how does one get promoted from usher to manager’ devolved into demi-lectures upon synergy, positivity, passion, dedication etc., etc., etc. ad infinitum. Somewhat sloppy structure led to the session overrunning significantly, not least due to the questioning efforts of over-keen Americans and ageing actors ready to have one last stab at a monologue and a name-drop.
Fundamentally, practically, this was an informative talk that delivers what it promise, yet demonstrates that perhaps sometimes even that which happens behind-the-scenes requires a bit of rehearsal.