Behind the scenes at the Edinburgh International Festival

International Festival and Events Management graduates Jessica Ambrose (MSc) and Katie Daniel (BA Hons) have been spending their August finding out what goes on behind the scenes at Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) after they landed roles as Events Assistants. We caught up with both to find out how they have been getting on and how their course, which recently scored 100% for student satisfaction in the undergraduate programme in the National Student Survey, has helped them along the way.

Congratulations on graduating this year and securing a role at Edinburgh International Festival! What have you learnt so far?

Jessica: Being prepared is key, you can have enough time to get things done before the festival starts but once everything kicks off you can be running all over the place and you might find there aren’t enough hours in the day. You also need to be ready to adapt to any changes that might arise on the day and be able to think on your feet.

Katie: It’s great being in the environment of such a prestigious festival, learning how a large company like this operates and seeing how all the departments relate to one another. It really puts the function of a large international festival into perspective.

What does your role as an Events Assistant entail and how did you get it?

Jessica: The role is in the Sponsorship and Development Team, the team that takes care of the individuals that support the festival as well as the corporate sponsors. As Event Assistants we are on the ground during events for the donors and sponsors. These could be interval lounges, where the supporters get to meet each other and festival staff at performances, or other events such as dinners and backstage tours. In the run up to the festival we were sending out invites, compiling guest lists and on hand to support the rest of the development team.

Katie: EIF and Edinburgh Napier work together and so the role was advertised to Events students and graduates via our programme leader, David Jarman’s weekly email bulletins. I applied for the job, had an interview and ended up working for the best Festival in the world!

What’s your favourite thing about the Festival and Edinburgh at this time of year?

Jessica: Anything can happen in festival season, you can be walking around the city and next to you is a man dressed as a pirate on a skateboard or sat enjoying your lunch and Christopher Biggins walks by (both of those actually happened to me yesterday!). There is a great buzz around the city and there is so much to see and discover.

Katie: As an events graduate I am obviously in my element when August comes around – it’s fascinating to see the scale of events that come together and the strategies the city employs to handle the influx of visitors we get. I feel like the city really comes alive during the Festival – the population and the energy doubles, it’s electric! Another bonus is that all my performing arts friends from around the UK come up to my city and I get to show them my home in its most energetic phase.

Top Festival pick? 

Jessica: I love the contemporary music programme at the International Festival. I’m really excited to see Jarvis Cocker presents Jarv Is at Leith Theatre, I’ve been a lifelong Pulp fan so that will be one of my highlights. Another performance that I’m looking forward to is Amadou and Miriam and the Blind Boys of Alabama, two sets of musical legends playing at the Usher Hall. The theatre and ballet that I have seen so far has all been incredible but the Crucible by Scottish Ballet has been a real highlight, The La Philharmonic Opening Event was also incredible.

Katie: I have been blown away by so many EIF productions this year so I have to give you a couple…Theatre: La Reprise, Dance: Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible, Opera: Breaking the Waves, Music: Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s West Side Story. I didn’t used to pay too much attention to EIF when the Fringe was around, it seemed a little out of reach but this year has completely changed my view. EIF really does present something for everyone and – even better – they have discounted tickets for Under 26s and Students!

Top piece of advice for a festival goer?

Jessica: Plan, plan, plan! You might have picked some great shows to see but with the venues being all over the city it’s a good idea to make sure you have enough time to get from A to B. With the International Festival there are a lot of established artists performing so tickets can sell out quite quickly, it’s a good idea to book those tickets first and base everything else around that. I also really enjoy having a day with no shows booked so I can speak to people on the street, pick up flyers and see something unexpected… Mum and Dad did that a couple of years ago and ended up seeing Animal Farm performed in Romanian which neither of them could speak!

Katie: Fail to plan and you’ll plan to fail! My number one friend in August is my elaborate spreadsheet schedule – it keeps me right and means I’ll always make sure to see everything that I really want to.

What skills have you used from your course on the job?

Jessica: Time management is a really important one but a lot of the things I learnt through the different modules applies to this role. Sponsorship and funding are the main things but we’ve also had to go on site visits and consider the health and safety aspects, crowd safety and emergency procedures. There are also elements of marketing such as branding that have been relevant.

Katie: I don’t know if it is a direct transferal of skills exactly but rather my overall knowledge of Festivals and Events informs my insights and helps everything click into place when I see it in practice.

What advice would you give someone thinking about studying events?

Jessica: Take all the opportunities that you can while you are studying, during the 18 months I was a student at Edinburgh Napier there were so many volunteering and job advertisements came through. I said yes to everything that I could, it enabled me to gain so much experience at many different festivals and events. It’s also a great way to network in the city and within the industry.

Katie: Get involved as much as you can outside of your modules – volunteer for festivals, join a society that runs loads of events. Find as many practical uses to apply your skills that are also fun so it doesn’t just feel like more uni work – that way you learn loads whilst having a great time!

Best thing about studying at Edinburgh Napier?

Jessica: I think the lecturers and professors at Edinburgh Napier came from many different backgrounds in events so it was great to get input from a range of perspectives. My eyes were opened to the different roles and opportunities within the industry, I’d not really considered the opportunities in Sponsorship and Development before and now here I am! There were also some great guest lectures and some from previous Edinburgh Napier students which were really interesting. The main thing for me though is the job and volunteering opportunities that we were made aware of within Edinburgh and Scotland.

Katie: Without a doubt my favourite part of university was being involved in Team Napier’s sports and societies. It is the best community of engaged students that you can find at Edinburgh Napier and it is what made Edinburgh Napier feel like my home for the past 4 years. I am especially grateful to have been involved with Napier Dance, which allowed me to keep up my favourite hobby at uni, stay fit and make loads of lifelong friends. I got involved in the committee over the years as Competition Coordinator, Vice President and then President which also gave me a lot of experience managing a team, time management, recruitment, dealing with sponsorship contracts, budgeting, and producing and marketing several events across the year. The more you get involved at uni, the less regrets you’ll have when it ends. I don’t think I could possibly have done any more with the last 4 years.

And lastly…what’s next for you?

Jessica: I’m moving back to England and returning to my job in the travel industry while looking for more festival roles. I’m hoping to find a job at a music or arts festival and I would love to return to Edinburgh but I’ll definitely need to catch up on my sleep from this festival month first!

Katie: Oooh the question every recent graduate dreads a little! I plan to start my career in arts marketing, hopefully here in Scotland. So after the Festival ends, it’s back to filling out job applications – but I am certain that my experience here at EIF will help.

This post forms part of our series A Taste for Tourism in Edinburgh.