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Interview with Roy Luxford, Programme Director at Edinburgh International Festival

Posted: 28th August 2020

This year the Edinburgh International Festival, one of the five festivals that transform the city each August, could not take place as planned for the first time since it was established in 1947. Instead, the International Festival launched My Light Shines On, a digital programme of Scottish artists, an outdoor light installation across Edinburgh, and lunchtime chamber music soundscapes in Princes Street Gardens. As a result of the project, the International Festival created employment for over 500 people.

Here Roy Luxford, Programme Director at Edinburgh International Festival, discusses the innovative thinking and careful planning required to deliver a digital programme and outdoor event infrastructure in a matter of weeks, all under Covid-19 guidelines.

 

“In realising any of our ideas for August 2020, appropriate Covid-safe protocols were at the forefront of our planning from artistic, production, technical and audience perspectives. Our priorities were markedly different compared to a normal festival year, especially in regard to ensuring our Covid-safe working protocols were up to date with the latest guidelines. However, our regular priorities of creating the best working conditions for excellent artistic work to take place were unchanged, albeit in a very different general climate. 

Rather than cancelling completely, the International Festival found it was important to mark the festival season despite the unusual circumstances. Roy explains:

“Whilst the Festival that we had planned and prepared for 2020 was impossible, it was very important to the Festival to have an artistic expression in its usual August period. Most important was the need to offer an artistic expression in the city that is synonymous with Festivals, to illustrate that our light shone on, even if we could not physically gather together in our usual way to share and experience music, theatre, dance, opera and discussion. As far as possible, we wanted to engage artists to create new work, employ freelancers and to bring life to the city’s venues that had been closed for many months.”

To enable the events to go ahead, and to protect their staff, health and safety precautions were of paramount importance to Roy and the team.

“As an employer we ensure management of the health, safety and welfare of those who work for and with us. Covid-19 added an additional layer of complexity to this area.

 The risk of transmission of Covid-19 was thoroughly assessed across all our activities from meetings to performances and production.  These assessments were based on the best available guidance at the time, primarily from Scottish Government, UK Government and from various industry specific guidance, such as the ABTT and BFI.

We scrutinised whether a meeting needed to take place on site or could be done digitally. Where on site was required, we minimised the number of attendees and either met outdoors on in a large enough space to allow adequate social distancing. Where working together was unavoidable, we followed the guidance and put practical and physical measures in place. This included supplying every employee with a sealed bag containing hand sanitiser, face covering, hard hat and hi-vis vests, deploying large amounts of hand sanitiser and additional PPE across all sites, reducing high touch zones and creating bubble teams.”

One of the challenges facing the International Festival was ensuring that the outdoor elements of the programme did not attract crowds, as Roy describes:

 “This was a difficult challenge for the Festival, as the thing we normally want most dearly is for many people to experience the events that we create. This year called for a different approach for the two activities that were outdoors.

Firstly, we discussed our plans with the City of Edinburgh Council to ensure that we were working within the current guidance, and that the City was happy with our approach.  We then announced our plans with relatively short notice and without specific viewing times. This enabled us to promote the activity but minimised the possibilities for large numbers gathering.  Of course, whilst we had confidence in our intentions, we also had a mitigation plan in place in case larger numbers started to gather.

Despite the challenges involved, there were many positive takeaways for the International Festival team.

“A real highlight was being able to work with artists on the stage for the first time in Scotland since lockdown to record our series of performance films.  Also, the fact we were able to offer employment to so many artists and freelancers at a time when almost all were without work felt a very tangible and appropriate response. None of this would have happened without the support of our stakeholders. This was a new way of working with our corporate partners too and we are extremely grateful for their trust in our approach.”

Finally, Roy shares his advice for other organisations looking to organise outdoor infrastructure at the moment.

“Scheduling and timing have never been more critical. Everything takes so much more time than it did previously. Communication with staff and teams was vital in these circumstances, especially as many staff were working again for the first time in many months.

Be brave; whilst it was challenging, new protocols are becoming normalised and it is possible in these changed times to create excellent work and events.”

For further information about Edinburgh International Festival and My Light Shines On, visit eif.co.uk.

If you would like to discuss partnerships with Edinburgh International Festival, please contact Sadie McKinlay: sadie.mckinlay@eif.co.uk.

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