Creating a Fringe hub

You may have been hearing whispers about ITI’s appearance at Edinburgh Fringe this year… and about the great new shows added to our line up… or perhaps about the fundraising we’re doing again this year for BBC Children in Need… Well, the team here are also really excited that we have our very own Fringe hub this year, for the first time ever!

That means that as well as issuing tickets for our own shows, tickets for all other shows across the Fringe can be printed from our hub – which means that we can all share the wonderful space at Principal Edinburgh George Street throughout August.

This year, our UK Business Development Manager, Jared Harford, has taken the lead in our Edinburgh Fringe organisation, and especially on setting up the hub. ITI’s Caitlin Page led the questioning…

Caitlin: Hi Jared! Thank you so much for squeezing me in. Let’s start with the simple stuff: what’s your official role with ITI and what does that involve?

Jared: Well, as UK Business Development Manager I find myself doing a little bit of everything. But essentially it’s my job to find and explore exciting new avenues for ITI to expand into. As an international theatre company there is always a plethora of new and exciting projects coming up. I’m lucky that I am able to focus more on the UK side of things as this is where our main base is – but that alone brings chaos!

Nerine Skinner in The Wedding Reception

C: What about your focus on the Fringe this year:  have you ever been to the Fringe before, and what are you expecting it to be like this year?

J: I went to the Fringe for the first time last year (2017) and it was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before. At the beginning of the month I thought I was going in as a supporting role, but I ended up being thrown in the deep end and running it all month! It certainly was a massive learning curve. I’ve never slept more blissfully than after that run of the Fringe. This year I’m expecting it will be a lot different – whilst we are doubling our number of shows and tripling the ticket capacity, I now know what I’m in for, so I am prepared – as far as you can be!

C: I recall my last few years there – the Fringe is always bigger than you’re expecting. What’s it been like for you in setting up for this year, given that you’ve had such a huge hand in our set up there?

Oliver Harrison as Signor Baffo in Signor Baffo’s Restaurant

J: Exciting, exhaustive, extensive, stressful. A little of everything. Our preparations for Fringe started during the second week August last year! I started writing up our venue contract on the train back to London the day we bumped out. I was surprised by how many deadlines popped up straight away. I was signing off approvals for things in January and we were officially on sale and promoting before Christmas!

C: Everyone in the company is excited to be launching our own hub this year at The Principal Edinburgh George Street. What does it take to be an official Fringe hub?

J: In one sense not too much, but in another sense there is a huge deal to it. Discussions started with the Fringe back in 2017, initially for us simply to have a ticket printer. This quickly evolved into how we could link in with the Fringe and be an official box office collection point. It is an enormous task to set up, but now that it’s all sorted we’ll be able to do this every year far into the future!

C: What else did you need to do to set up the Fringe hub? Who did you need to talk to, what items did you need to organise?

Katie, Donna and Ayesha in Pamela’s Palace

J: First and foremost, we had to get the venue on board. We are lucky to be working with such a fantastic venue where everyone really supports us and all of our shows – especially because becoming a hub is a bit more intrusive on The Principal than our shows have been in the past.

We require increased storage, more physical presence in the venue, and allowing Fringe goers to come in and out, even those who aren’t there to see a show but just want to get a ticket collected or pick up a programme, or festival map, or magazine. We have been really lucky that they have agreed to all of this and we are very grateful as it really is the next big expansion of ITI at the Fringe. Once the venue was on board, then we had to finalise everything with the Fringe – I had to organise ticket printers (they aren’t cheap!), tickets for our customers PLUS enough to cover anyone who could come in off the street to pick up tickets for other shows. Credit card machines were in there too, as well as the Fringe software. Some of us even did a two-day training course on how to use it all!

We also had to do a whole heap to prepare the venue – acquire appropriate signage, fire safety checks, health and safety training, venue access training so we can cater for people with disabilities….

Philip Oakland in Faulty Towers The Dining Experience

And we needed to organise physical items – from desks, to shelving, to blackboards and A-frames, getting all the signage designed and printed, banners, flyers, programmes, advertising… This year, as a hub, we are also a distribution point for all official Fringe material – programmes, maps, magazines. The logistics of it have been incredible.

This certainly does bring a whole new element to the Fringe for us. We are no longer just organising the promotion of our own shows – we are also thinking about how we can let people know that there is this great place here to come relax, plan their day, and book their shows. And I am getting excited thinking about what this could evolve into for us in the future!

C: WOW! That task sounds huge! Well done! What about any issues or any restrictions that made that process difficult?

J: Luckily so far (touch wood), its been a fairly straightforward process. Yes, there have been a lot of difficulties in terms of the amount of work needing to be done, but restrictions wise, nothing yet!

C: Are there still things left to do for the set up of the Fringe?

J: We open for our first show at 11am, 2 August. I think we will still be setting up until 10:45 when we start letting people in. We have props to order, a box office to build, printers to install – we haven’t even trained all our staff in using them yet! These next two weeks will be a mad rush!

Burr & Co, The Principal’s coffee shop with a terrace on George Street

C: I can hear how excited you are about the new set up… so why do you think The Principal is the perfect place to have a hub?

J: They say in life it’s all about Location, Location, Location. What we have is the perfect pre-set hub. There’s space to relax, space to have a drink – its own little café and bar, perfect no matter if you prefer coffee and tea or something stronger. There is a place to eat, on-site security, perfect transport links being right near Edinburgh Waverly, the trams, a bus stop right outside, close by the Half Price Hut… and we’re also the first box office you come across on the street. And if at the end of the night you’re too tired to move on – just book a bed for the night!

C: Final question: what do you think the hub changes about the Fringe experience for our audiences?

J: I think the biggest change is that we are the ultimate one-stop-shop. Come in the morning for a show with the kids, have a coffee while you book some more tickets, pick them up from us, then join us for lunch for another show or have some dinner with another show! Even have a late night drink in our final show – or finish up in the bar.

I think our reach this year is bigger than ever before: even if you’ve never heard of our shows, if you happen to come in and pick up a ticket you’ll soon discover how much is going on.

C: Thanks so much for talking with me Jared! It’s been really eye opening talking about this process.

J: My pleasure.

As you can see there is a lot happening at our venue this year! If you want to pick up some tickets, or see our shows, or pop along just to see what all the fuss is about, head to The Principal Edinburgh George Street (v119). Or check out this link.

Jared with Sybil board

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