As part of our reports from all things Welsh at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Grace Patrick blogs about her experiences working the box office in one of the theatre venues, the front line of one of the world’s busiest festivals.
By some miracle, we’re halfway through the Fringe. Everyone’s exhausted, Scotland is eternally damp, but we’re far from finished yet. Your friendly neighbourhood box office teams, myself included, are there through it all, ready to pick up the pieces of whatever completely unpredictable events the world of the Fringe decides to gift us with today.
The venue I work at isn’t huge at all, meaning we get to know our companies quickly and easily. Around half of our job is just making their lives as easy as possible; keeping the foyer areas quiet while their shows are running, taking care of their box office finances, and putting their flyers in places they’ll be seen. Edinburgh is notorious for becoming absolutely inundated with flyers during August, and helping companies locate their many boxes of promotional material is a never ending task. The Fringe is beyond stressful for companies, and while we can’t prevent that, we can sometimes make it a little bit easier. The upside of this is that we’re sometimes brought boxes of chocolate, or cups of tea, (or a free blackboard, on one occasion), in return for doing what we can.
The other half of our job is more or less just giving people directions. The population of Edinburgh triples during August, and a side effect of this is that most people don’t entirely know where they’re going. Generally, people assume that because I have a lanyard and a computer, I know where things are. This is not true. By this point, myself and every other team member from outside Edinburgh have figured out directions to the most commonly asked for places, but it’s still a bit of a guessing game. Fake it ’til you make it and all that. That said, customers can sometimes be great. It’s common to have big groups walk in and tell us that they’ve just arrived in the city, could we please explain everything to them? A couple of days ago, we also had a lady appear who’s going round all the box offices she can find with a bag of boiled sweets to give out “because you all work so hard”. It’s these people who make it a genuinely fun and interesting job.
One of the big reasons why people work for the Edinburgh Fringe is that it’s possible to see a lot of theatre in a very short space of time, including complimentary tickets for productions at your own venues. On one hand, this is an amazing way to be able to support companies that you’ve got to know and see the more creative side of their operation. On the other hand, this gives you a way to see things you’d normally avoid like the plague, with nothing really lost when/if you hate it. Thanks to the complimentary ticket scheme, a lot of us tend to end up seeing shows before and after our shifts, and then pushing the better things we see onto every and anyone who’ll listen. Much of the Fringe operates through word-of-mouth recommendations and we are definitely part of that network of voices.
In short, the Fringe is stressful. Customers sometimes do things that just make no sense, and supporting companies is more or less a full time job, and yesterday we had an ambulance called to our venue because someone fainted. But while it’s happening, it’s a little surreal and a little manic, but above all else it’s just fun. Being able to take time out of normal life to just go to a pretty little city and immerse myself in theatre is an enormous privilege, and one that I hope I’ll carry on making the most of.