Features Guest Column Published 26 February 2013

Organising the Impossible

Coordinating Sprint festival at CPT

Brian Logan

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” To get a flavour of CPT in the run-up to our annual Sprint festival, you have to understand this: we’re trying to do something impossible. You can’t organise a four-week festival, with multiple shows daily from forty different artists or companies, with just three part-time staff – who also have a building to maintain and 48 other weeks of the year to worry about. That’s fundamentally unachievable: loads of essential stuff is going to get done sketchily or not at all. Accept that, and you stay sane – and maybe relish the reckless process. Deny it – believe, in other words, that Sprint can run as pristinely as London Fashion Week – and March is going to be a long, long month.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The overwhelming size of Sprint is a recent development, initiated by myself and my co-director (and partner) Jenny, because Rabelaisian excess seemed like one way to conjure that elusive quality of festive-ness. On most days in Sprint, we’ve got two or more shows in the theatre, one in some other nook or cranny of our building, and another still in some pub or shop, office or burger van nearby. It’s important to us that Sprint doesn’t feel like just some shows at CPT; it needs to feel – this is the whole point of a festival – like the world’s turned upside down.

But that’s a programming philosophy which, at CPT, causes as many problems as it solves. Will our wee team of freelance technicians, used to doing occasional shifts, be available to work every day for a month? Can CPT’s tiny staff carve out the time to issue forty pre-contract forms, then forty contracts; then arrange forty get-ins; then later, calculate forty financial settlements with the artists who’ve taken part? It’s a stretch. Never mind that a jampacked festival like ours means countless calls and emails daily from artists each with their own idiosyncratic requests, queries, or bright ideas that need dealt with – as cheerfully as you can while watching that deadline for your brochure whoosh past, or fretting that, if you can’t get the council on the phone immediately, that events license simply won’t be secured in time.

That’s this week, in a nutshell, at CPT. In collaboration with our designer Greg, we’ve created a brochure compact enough to be affordable, yet big enough to (just!) cram in Sprint’s forty-plus events. Our in-house producer Freya, heroically project-managing Sprint, has been desperately trying to rustle up an extra £50 (pathetic, isn’t it?) so we can afford to hire a piano rather than a keyboard for a band who’re playing on Sprint’s middle weekend. (Now we’ve got to find four men who can lift the bloody thing down from the van…) Meanwhile, I’ve been agonising over what discount to offer holders of the local “Wedge Card” scheme – a free drink, or concession-priced tickets? (From which of our budgets – bar or box-office – can we least afford to lose income?) And we’ve been trying to patch unexpected holes in our front-of-house rota, after two well-loved box-office staffers resigned last weekend less than a fortnight before Sprint begins.

It’s a whirlwind of activity, which has made it possible – likely, even – that Sprint will go ahead more or less as planned from next Wednesday. And yet, into the chasm between what’s realistic and what we’re trying to do, items from my to-do list tumble daily. That Sprint marketing campaign we were going to target at contemporary theatre courses across London? We didn’t do it. That curtain we wanted to raise across our bar area, to soundproof the theatre from drinkers’ chatter? It’s not going to happen in time. The myriad tasks pending to ensure that stuff keeps happening at CPT after March 24th? Don’t ask: now’s not the time to worry about that. Now’s the time to rejoice that, against the odds, we’ve got Made In China and Coney, Dirty Market and Chris Goode, Milk Presents and Kazuko Hohki and Laura Mugridge and Theatre State all coming to Sprint to try out new things over the next 24 days. We hope you’ll come too; that’ll make all this daft overreaching worthwhile.

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Brian Logan is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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