The health and safety consultant will be honoured for her four decades in the industry at the Festival Congress Awards on 1 November
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IQ editor Gordon Masson meets with Paula Poštolková, manager of Pohoda festival’s main stage, to talk about her path to the top in the Slovak production business
By IQ on 16 Apr 2020
IQ: You never planned to be in this job – didn’t you study for a career in the movies?
PP: Yes, I went to the Slovak National Film Academy and did my final year at Aalto University in Helsinki. I graduated with a master of the arts in film producing.
So how did you end up in music?
During a student film festival, I organised parties with DJs and bands in local clubs. Then I got a call from my cousin’s boyfriend, who was looking for a stage-managing partner. I didn’t have a clue what the job was, but I said ‘yes’ and two weeks later I was working on the second stage at Pohoda. It was 2011 and I was 21.
Peter Hrabě, who gave me the chance, taught me all about riders, risers and stages, and I looked after Lamb and Imogen Heap, who had a huge set up the night before her performance, which meant I missed the Portishead show on the main stage.
Peter must be an excellent teacher, because you were instantly promoted, right?
My colleagues from the main stage moved to higher positions in the festival structure and [festival boss] Michal [Kaščák] told us the news – it was pretty stressful, to be honest.
“My first year there were lightning storms and we had to evacuate the audience”
What was the learning curve like that first year on the main stage?
It wasn’t easy because there were lightning storms and we had to evacuate the audience. But there were unforgettable moments: the storm meant we had to jump on stage to stop Aloe Blacc the very second he started singing ‘I need a Dollar’, Emilíana Torrini played table football for hours, until the storm passed, and I had the honour of meeting Lou Reed.
Wow! What other acts have impressed during your eight years in charge of the main stage?
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Björk, Róisín Murphy, PJ Harvey, Atoms for Peace, Charlotte Gainsbourg… And from a production point of view, the highlight was definitely the Chemical Brothers’ show last year.
Atoms for Peace was also a big challenge. They had a special green rider, focused on the ecological impact of their production. In 2013, we were just starting with eco-policies at Pohoda, but Atoms for Peace insisted nothing backstage could be made from plastic. They even brought their own kitchen and this lady was cooking for them and doing laundry in the dressing rooms.
What do you do for work before the rest of the year?
I’m head of programming at cultural venue Nová Cvernovka and I work for some other events and festivals as stage manager or production manager.
“When people spend a few minutes on site, they quickly learn Pohoda is one of the best-organised events”
Is there anything visiting acts or crews do that annoys you?
Most crews and artists I meet are very professional and we have a good collaboration. But sometimes I meet with prejudice and low expectations, because it’s ‘eastern Europe’ and I feel a lack of trust. However, when people spend a few minutes on site, they quickly learn Pohoda is one of the best-organised events, with a super friendly atmosphere.
Pohoda’s main stage operates around the clock. How do you cope with the workload?
It’s all down to teamwork, starting with people from HQ who prepare and advance everything properly, and ending with my crew on the main stage – stagehands, security staff, crowd assistance, sound techs, catering… we are like a family.
You also need to survive long working hours, because the main stage runs almost 24 hours a day due to the big overnight and morning set-ups for headliners, and because of Pohoda’s traditional ‘Welcoming of the Sun’ gig at 5am each morning. Luckily, we now work as a team of three stage managers instead of two, so at least one can get some sleep while the others take over.
How do you relax?
Since I started working in live music, I really haven’t had much time to relax, and when I do, I travel to other festivals around Europe.
But this year, I made a change to save myself from burn-out and went to Cuba, where I spent nearly three weeks without internet or phone reception. I’m already planning a repeat trip next year.
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