“Things go wrong, things blow up, things decide not to work – a lot of unexpected problems”

Photo: Chris Young

Dan Palmer, fourth-year History stu­dent, is currently in charge of Ents, a term which he uses with much restraint since, as he puts it, he is “not sure that anyone knows what Ents actually is.”

Our interview endeavours to see through the man in charge of the in­visible clockwork behind the eclectic variety of events staged at the Union on an almost daily basis; his hand has overseen every technical aspect in the Union, from sweaty, gyrating, drunken Bops to the dramatic extravaganzas of Mermaids’ Shakespeare productions. Seated in the main Union Bar, he seems at home in his natural environment of student-run entertainment.

We start with the topic of his fa­vourite event to organise so far. “The Bop with the Balloons during Freshers week was probably the best one for me. We had 2,500 balloons to blow up, and within a minute it was all over, but it formed the culmination of Freshers’ Week”; the technicalities of rigging the netting do not seem to have perturbed him, and the repeat of this spectacle during last week’s Disney Bop is testa­ment to his enthusiasm for producing surprise and delight in his audience.

Indeed, surprise seems to form a major part of his work, whether for better or worse. The closure of the Byre Theatre was perhaps the greatest shock, requiring, as he modestly states, a fair bit of “reshuffling”; he explains that he had just finished scheduling all the Byre shows for the On the Rocks festival, and as such had to re-struc­ture all the shows to be held in Venue 1 of the Union – “I was glad there were contingency plans so nothing had to be cancelled.”

This type of skin-of-the-teeth im­provisation characterises much of what he and his team do. I ask him about the microphone problem at Tinchy Stry­der’s concert: “Technically, it wasn’t our fault, but we managed to fix it anyway. Tinchy gave one of our helpers a hug, which she went on about for weeks af­terwards. That was a challenging one, but it cobbled together in the end.” Sound is a common problem, he points out, but it is hard to predict which ex­act part of the intricate Ents machine will fold at any one time – “things go wrong, things blow up, things decide not to work…A lot of unexpected prob­lems.”

We move to the differences between big-name acts and student DJs – were the former more demanding than the latter? “Yes and no”, he answers, “Peo­ple like Tinchy are demanding: he even wanted a poster of Kim Kardashian in his dressing room (we don’t have a dressing room). Student DJs like to think they’re important as well, though – they can also be surprisingly difficult. ”

He explains how the quaint seaside town of St Andrews still attracts the big name acts, citing the cunning organisa­tion skills of Jules Findlay, Director of Events and Services: “He’s got a very good relationship with agents, so we just do as Jules says. He’s also got a good knack of collaborating with other universities: he’s got Goldfish coming up, who are also touring Edinburgh and Dundee, so it’s a good cost-cutting measure to set up dialogue with other places nearby.”

Moving from the topic of his collab­oration with others involved in Union matters, I ask him what his personal inspiration was for taking up the role. He mentions his history as a contribu­tor to Barron Theatre affairs, as well as technical manager of Mermaids, whose productions he still regards as “his per­sonal passion.” His appointment as Head of Ents was no gradual progres­sion, however: he regards it more as a flash of inspiration, triggered by the resignation of the previous Head of Ents – “I thought I’d give it a go.” First day on the job? “It took me a while to fall in love with it, but since Freshers’ week I’ve never looked back.”

His roots as Mermaids Technical Officer start to show when I ask which side of events he prefers – Shakespeare or the Bops? “I remain deliberately fairly ignorant of the nuts and bolts of the Bop…I much prefer a stage show: I championed Jules to ask for Wit Tank in Fresher’s as part of the stage shows, since it’s more my forte. It’s difficult to be an expert in both specialisms – I have an excellent events officer, James, who can take care of the Bop side, so I’m more free to concentrate on my own favourites.”

As to the future of the Ents crew, he alludes to the “incredibly full diary” of events which Jules Findlay has booked, as well as perhaps the most pressing issue of the Union Redevelopment. “There are going to be challenges be­cause of the new equipment; the night­club will become more self-sufficient, more along the lines of The Lizard or The Vic than the current flexibility of Venue 1. It’s going to be interesting, not least because of the retractable wall – we will have to work out how it can balance both the big-name events with the smaller performance space of the nightclubs.”

Another of his goals is to increase the amount of student volunteering for new themes and ideas: Jules, he says, is often the driving force behind thinking of themes, as well as himself – togeth­er they constantly strive for “proper themes, not just a half-arsed effort. The Moulin Rouge night was one example: we had a pole-dancer amongst other things – it was really something differ­ent.” He says that student volunteering is “one of the biggest challenges” and that they are always on the look-out for people keen to contribute to the efforts of himself and his team. As for Dan him­self, his role as Head of Ents seems to remain varied, challenging and incred­ibly rewarding – the task of “expecting the unexpected” whilst continuing to deliver extraordinary student nights he appears to take enormous pride in, and justifiably so. For more information about volunteering, or Ents in general, please visit their website.


  1. As someone who has been involved in working alongside Ents on planning RAG Week for the past four years, I want to make sure this is clear – ‘Ents Crew’ stand for ‘Entertainment Crew’. The core crew typically consists of around 15 – 20 students who rig for EVERYTHING – theatre, Bops, live music, a fashion show, comedy, external DJs, and everything else Venue 1 (and often Venue 2) throws at them. They are extremely dedicated, especially in periods like Refreshers Week + RAG Week in which they worked 15 nights in a row. The are an entirely volunteer crew – none of them get paid to do the hard work they do. Working with Ents is really rewarding because they clearly have such a great knowledge of the venue, both in its flexibility and limitations. I would encourage anyone with an interest in planning or executing events ‘behind the scenes’ to get involved.

    Thank you to Daniel, Fiona, Luke, Campbell, Angus, Sam, Paul, CJ, John, Alistair (and everyone else I forgot – sorry!!) for everything you did for RAG and you do for the Union. x


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.