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Tom Clutterbuck: Managing the Edinburgh Fringe workload can be a struggle for freelancers

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As a freelancer, it is very difficult to know when you’re taking on too much work. When you are your own boss, nobody is looking over your shoulder at your schedule, making sure the workload is manageable.

This must happen in normal jobs, but it has been a while since I’ve had one. It doesn’t help that there’s nobody you can discuss things with once that workload looks like it might get out of hand. And at the Edinburgh Fringe it can get out of hand quickly.

For this year’s fringe, I have been involved with seven different shows. Admittedly, I’m only physically teching four a day for most of the month, then taking on a fifth for the final eight days.

The others involve the design and direction of shows I won’t be able to attend daily. However, even though those productions always knew I wouldn’t be free at the time the performances happen, that doesn’t stop them putting extra demands on whatever time I have left over.

While we originally agreed that the vast majority of work would have to be completed before the start of the fringe, it never quite works like that.

Even with the shows that have been in development the longest, and those that had staged seemingly definitive versions much earlier in the year, changes are always made.

The workload expands to fit the time you have available to do it, which means that the final few weeks of July involved me being pulled in numerous different directions, frantically carrying out work that would have been easily manageable had final drafts of scripts arrived even a week or two earlier.

Of course, once we arrived in Edinburgh, it became even more challenging, as the tightly scheduled tech times rarely run to plan.

It has always been pretty hectic, but this year we hit a disproportionate amount of hitches, largely to do with venue installation issues and kit we had hired not arriving or being rigged.

As such, three of my shows required extra tech time, which had to be added in late at night and early in the morning, leaving me deliriously sleep-deprived for the entire first week.

At this point I was starting to blame myself. Why did I take on so many shows? Wasn’t it inevitable that this would happen?

However, there was no way of knowing the exact workload in advance. When it comes to creative projects, people can claim to fit the work into a strict amount of time. But really they want as much of your time as they can grab, and when there’s a fixed fee rather than an hourly rate it’s very hard to place limits.

Next year, I think I’ll try to take on less of a workload. But then the fringe does seem to have a similar effect to that often said of childbirth: somehow, no matter how painful it can be, you always seem to forget and sign up all over again.

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