Bigger than Glastonbury, Business School – Sophie O’Mahony

Sophie O’Mahony writes about her experiences at ‘Bigger than Glastonbury’, an ILW talk organised by the Business School.

The title ‘Bigger Than Glastonbury’ is neither misleading nor an exaggeration, when one takes into consideration the fact that the music festival sells 170,000 tickets for the entire event, while Teviot – just one venue in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – sells exactly the same amount in a period of four weeks. What’s even more impressive is that the University of Edinburgh Festival Office is run by only three full-time staff, headed by the charismatic Lorna Brain who appears unfazed by the numerous festivals that she handles throughout the year.

“We’re like festival midwives,” she says of her and her colleagues, referencing their work in guiding festival tenants through the birth of their project. Indeed, the births can be likened to the complicated procedure of delivering octuplets when it becomes clear as the lecture progresses just how many clients, venues and very small (but very important) details that Lorna has to deal with. For example, she has a strong and historical relationship with plumbers – “The things I know about drainage” – but thankfully refused to give us any details.

The lecture was an informative and descriptive insight into how the University manages and sustains the success of Edinburgh events, which include the Jazz and Blues Festival and Hogmanay as well as the notorious Fringe. The students in attendance were all from the Business School, but even as a Divinity student I was enthralled by the detail that Lorna went into, accompanied by humorous anecdotes that serve to further describe exactly what the Festival Office puts up with. By the time that the Assembly Theatre could set up camp in George Square in summer 2012, they were already on version 25 of the plan which defined licensed drinking areas and performance locations. Lorna found herself sitting around a table with members from the Emergency Services, asking: “What could possibly go wrong here?” before remembering how a lorry had sunk into the foundations of Bristo Square two years previously.

“I came along to find out how the festivals are put together, how they’re run – what makes them big occasions,” said Paul McKellar, a 2nd year Accounting and Finance student; indeed, he probably got more information than he was expecting. In aiming to enhance the University’s profile and encourage good relations with Scottish, UK and international cultural centres, the Festival Office has opened up buildings to the likes of the BBC, to the point where Edinburgh can be recognised in TV shows such as Pram Face and feature films like Burke and Hare. It is due to Lorna and her team’s sustained business model that repeated business is ensured, as well as the avoidance of high-profile failures. Paul came away from the lecture thoroughly impressed by what he heard, having previously underestimated the planning and organisation that went into these events. “At the very least, I have a better idea of what to go see during the Fringe.”

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