John's Jottings

114. Superfluous Operators? - December 2015

Posted on December 2, 2015 at 12:50 AM

While at the Wraybury show, we overheard an animated conversation between two visitors. One was an exhibition organiser, the other was the manager of a layout he’d invited to his show. The former was questioning the size of the operating team for the latter’s layout. “It’s far more than is necessary” he complained. “We can’t afford free-loaders.”


He acknowledged that the layout information leaflet did give the team size, and the floor plan showed how they were disposed around the layout, and their roles. But he was not convinced just how many people needed to be involved in the various aspects of the presentation.


“Cut the number down,” he insisted. “We can supply chaps to help you out over lunchtime. The people I have in mind pick up layout operations quite quickly.”


“You realise that they’ll need to attend training sessions at our clubroom,” the layout manager pointed out. “It took several hours for even the best of our members to become sufficiently fluent to perform in public.” But the show organiser saw thing differently. He wasn’t into ‘quality of performance’, just keeping something running.


Now we’ve seen the layout in question and it is unusual in several respects, not least the provision of team members dedicated to greeting visitors, explaining what was happening, showing them details they might otherwise miss, and answering their questions. This leaves the operators backstage to concentrate on running trains to a demanding and intricate schedule. The chaps out front engaging with the audience wae an integral part of the original concept of the layout, and without them the layout looses one of its essential features.


“If we don’t have a full team” the layout manager explained, “it would be like staging Romeo without Juliet; The Lonely Gentleman of Verona, Goldilocks and the Two Bears, Snowhite and the Four Dwarves, Three Brides for Five Brothers, or Ali Baba and the Zero Thieves. All are entirely logical, but each is lacking essential components that provide a reason for performing them in the first place.


Had the organiser seen the layout for himself? He hadn’t. Had he watched the video? Oh no. Why was the layout invited? He’d just heard good reports of it and how popular it had been with visitors. So popular, in fact, that the informants had not realised that the ‘explainers’ weren’t just chatting with the public to stop themselves getting bored while waiting their turn to drive.

The show organiser could not believe dedicated PR people were all that important. But it was an aspect of the layout that visitors really seemed to appreciate. Even if they had approached the layout with no great enthusiasm, they left with a far better understanding of what the scene portrayed, the working of industrial sidings, and ways of depicting aspects of both on their own models. Many went away smiling, delighted with the attention they had received, the information so freely given, and the inspiration available.


“Isn’t this the difference between an exhibition and a show?” the chairman asked. “The former is like an old-fashioned museum, where visitors had to make sense of the displays all on their own, with a little help from printed labels. On the other hand, shows are where exhibitors help others to improve their modelling. This involves both talking and listening.


“Some layouts permit it, and have operators sufficiently skilled, that driving and talking can take place simultaneously. However,” he went on, “for many exhibits, concentrating on driving precludes interacting with the audience, and visa versa. Don’t you think a dedicated person out front is a great advantage?” And we had to agree, he’d got a point there.


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