We feel under pressure as we meet Gintarė Karalytė for a People of Lisbon taping and photo shoot. It’s Day 1 of Web Summit – which is billed as “the world’s premier tech conference” – and it’s fair to say Gintarė, as one of Web Summit’s producers, is under even more pressure than us.
Web Summit this year claims to have 71,000 attendees and as result she has her work cut out. The reason we are under pressure is because Gintarė can only give us one hour of her time. (We usually have 3 or 4 for these types of things).
Gintarė greets us at the entrance to the media area outside the Altice Arena which houses the main stage of Web Summit. She sports a black leather jacket, black Prada shades, fashionable hat and a beaming smile. If she’s under pressure, she’s doing a much better job at hiding it than we are.
“It’s going really well” says Gintarė. “The sun is shining.”
Lucky for Gintarė, the sun IS shining. The days previous had featured some downpours which would have worried any event producer.
So, what exactly does Gintarė do?
“I’m a head of production. I help prepare the show. I make sure everything is ready for attendees to enjoy.”
Suddenly, Gintarė’s walkie talkie hollers. To mute it, Gintarė reaches down to her belt in a cool cop fashion and twists a couple of knobs. “Sorry about that,” she says. It will happen again and again in our short time together.
I suggest we walk and talk. We are already 10 minutes into our allotted time.
Web Summit – a kind of techie World Cup – is bustling. Everyone seems to be walking around on a mission. A mission to take over the world – whether that be in Crypto or in some new cloud based solutions. Those who haven’t got the memo seem to be in more of a daze – bewildered by the scale of the event.
“It’s Day 1 of Web Summit,” Gintarė explains, looking back at us as we try to keep up. “Last night we had an opening ceremony, a party, 8 events around the city. But today is the first full day.”
I ask Gintarė can we do a walk around the main stage arena. She obliges and we track her with the camera through security and into the giant venue that is usually used for concert extravaganzas. Rita, our trusty photographer, is wondering how she will get Gintarė to slow down so she can get some necessary snaps. (The snaps you see here).
The main stage of Web Summit is a sight to behold – big and bombastic, colorful and bright. And before any guest comes on stage there is a light show that makes you go oooooh and ahhhhhh.
As Gintarė takes pause to admire the setting, Rita sees an opportunity to take some pictures. But no sooner is she setting focus that Gintarė is distracted and looking down at her phone. At the back of the auditorium Gintarė’s face is illuminated by her phone screen. I notice Gintarė unending amount of messages and correspondence. She catches me looking. “I’m on top of things”, she says with another smile. We believe her.
At the opening ceremony the night prior there was a drama however. As the techie world congrugated in the giant arena for the opening ceremony, a giant speaker appeared to come unhinged from the ceiling and perilously dangled high above nervous spectators. There was some brief pandemonium and talk in the audience that the venue would need to be evacuated. “It was a bit more mad on Twitter than it was in reality. We were always in control. I’m really proud that the show went on.”
Back in the dazzling sunlight we are once again walking and talking in true West Wing fashion. Gintarė would make a great political campaign producer, you would imagine. She has the pulse of all that’s going on around her.
She puts back on her Prada shades.
“I’m from Lithuania. I came to Lisbon 3 and half years ago for the Web Summit and love” she says with a laugh and smile. Is she still in love? “I have new love. I love the Lisbon lifestyle. I love work. I love hanging out with my friends and I love to play paddle (tennis).”
Paddle tennis is a major hobby of Gintarė’s. She plays weekly with her Web Summit colleagues under the 25 de Abril bridge. “I get very competitive. But I want to get better. I’m taking lessons.” Gintarė has her own racket and has even competed in a couple of competitions. “It’s great for letting go of some steam after a hard week.”
Gintarė’s phone rings again. “Sorry I got to answer this.” A minute later the call is over. “There’s no drama right now. Right now, we are good.” After every call Gintarė is at pains to tell us that everything is under control. “Pressure is like the sea. A wave. It comes and goes,” she says mimicking the sea with her hand.
What’s the biggest challenge in pulling off such a huge event as Web Summit? “I just always wish we had more time to do it perfectly. There’s never enough time,” she says. “We have 250 people involved in making Web Summit happen, and about 6000 volunteers, contractors and suppliers helping us too. It’s a big organization.”
Gintarė admits she only slept 3 hours the night prior. “I went to bed at 2 and was up at 5. It’s ok though. We look after each-other. We have ginger shots and carrot juice… but there is too much candy… I have to admit.”
We enter Pavilion 1 of Web Summit – an absolutely enormous hanger space that houses endless stands and talk spaces. “There are 5 pavilions at this year’s Web Summit. There was supposed to be 4, but we built a 5th. You need a map to get around. You need a compass,” Gintarė tells us.
Gintarė marches forward through the pavilions as if now in a walking race. It’s a loud sensory overload. We are genuinely struggling to keep up. We begin to sense Gintarė mind is becoming occupied by things that are more pressing than this interview.
She begins telling us about ‘Night Summit,’ the evening time festivities and super parties that happen for Web Summit attendees. She seems to be most proud about her involvement in those events. “You have to come and see it tonight. We are at Pink Street. We are going to extend Pink Street by 170 meters.” You can see in her face that she is thrilled about the feat to extend Lisbon’s famous party street.
We are now standing in a kind of Willy Wonka pink tunnel. Gintarė is looking at her phone again. We ask for 3 tips to becoming a good producer. “Have good shoes, a good diet and a good sense of humor. Apparently, it’s one of the most stressful occupations in the world”, she says. “You need to be able to manage stress well.”
Gintarė spots me filming her as she’s talking on the phone. “It’s confidential.” Oh come on. “It’s confidential,” she says with a laugh trying to evade my camera.
As we march on, Gintarė turns to us… “Why are you more stressed than me?”
We are stressed because we know our time is almost at an end, we are unsure if we have enough material, and as we are walking fast we have been trying not to trip up. We don’t tell Gintarė any of this.
Inside yet another big auditorium where a talk is about to happen Gintarė breaks our hearts… “I’m sorry, somethings come up. I really have to go.” We just look at her with faces of resignation. And with that Gintarė disappears into the vastness of Web Summit, as we are left like two lost puppies.
It seems whatever drama Gintare confronted she managed to get under control. A producer produces. Always.