Festival planning requires Herculean effort

Weather can bring big complications to organizers

For festival goers, the experience seems effortless, as if conjured from thin air to delight us. But talk to a festival planner weeks away from their event, and you’ll get an idea of the amount of work that goes into that seamless experience. 

In mid-July, I talked to Christy Morin, executive director of Arts on the Avenue, which produces the Kaleido and Deep Freeze festivals. It took three emails and two phone calls to schedule a time to talk, and at the last minute, was postponed by a couple of hours due to an emergency meeting.

The weather last year had festival organizers thinking on their feet. | Epic Photography

“Our planning has already started for 2020,” she says, when we finally connected.

Even though we were almost two months away from the 2019 festival, the Kaleido team was in the thick of things. Starting more than a year in advance allows them to choose a theme and start booking headliners, who themselves are often trying to juggle tours and other performances.

“And the community—people will come to us and make suggestions, and we put them in our bucket for a future festival. We try to do the ‘yes, and’ thing and find ways to make things work.”

Last year’s Kaleido Festival was hit by an early snowfall. | Epic Photography

In spite of planning, something as simple as the weather can throw everything back to square one. 

“Well, last year’s weather was a make-work project!” says Christy, reminding us that the 2018 Kaleido was hit by an early (and heavy) snowfall.

Sauvé MacBean is the production coordinator whose job it is to keep the show running. She remembers the Saturday morning when the snowstorm hit the festival site. “We got to work in the morning, and it was decided that we were moving ahead with it. We had under an hour to reprogram nine stages and move them indoors.”

MacBean and festival programmer Allie Morin had to scramble to reconfigure the entire festival.

“Sauvé and I were in the performers’ lounge, looking at the schedule—this can move here, that can go there—and the pieces came together.” 

Thanks to their planning and quick thinking, the festival continued in the Alberta Avenue Community Hall and in spaces of local businesses.

Some musical acts were held indoors instead of the planned outdoor spaces. | Epic Photography

Christy gives credit to her agile and resourceful team. “Everything is discipline and timing. The team is very detail-oriented, right down to the minute. It takes real communications to get everything to feel like it’s just happening.”

Outdoor events always have a weather contingency, and Kaleido is no different. It’s just that their planning was concerned mainly with wind and rain. But snow? That was something they didn’t expect. But Kaleido has the benefit of being the sister festival to Deep Freeze, which has seen more than its share of snowy days. This is a team for all seasons. As long as it’s still safe, the festival finds a way to magically appear in all conditions.

“We needed to surrender to it and do what we can to rebuild. Every performer, every artist, the people coming to the festival—they were very understanding. That’s the Edmonton spirit,” says Christy. 


Featured Image: The morning of last year’s brought snow and last minute planning to reprogram where some entertainment would be held indoors instead of outdoors. | Epic Photography

Mari Sasano

Mari is a writer and civil servant.

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