In at the deep end but not out of their depth

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Mermaid Presidents past and present: Cameron Kirby (left) and David Patterson (right). Photo: Sammi Mckee.
Mermaid Presidents past and present: Cameron Kirby (left) and David Patterson (right). Photo: Sammi Mckee.

It’s the end of another theatrical year. There have been highlights, such as this year’s fantastic On The Rocks Festival, but also problems with a president change half way through the year, the closure of the Byre, and most recently the controversy surrounding Fringe funding. In previous years Mermaids have taken up to seven shows to the Fringe festival (2009) but this year sees a dramatic decrease with just two shows granted funding; The Tempest and Angels in America.

Certain members of the theatrical society, who preferred to remain anonymous, have said these decisions were clearly made by an inexperienced committee, even calling the decisions ‘foolish’, ‘a waste of money’ and have insinuated that decisions might have been made due to personal bias rather than on either financial or artistic grounds. St Andrews Revue member Joe Fleming told The Saint in an interview last week that he found their rejection ‘frustrating and perplexing’.

Following such comments we felt it was important to catch up with our current and future Mermaids presidents, Cameron Kirby and David Patterson, for their review of the year and hopes for the future.

First we spoke to this year’s Mermaids President, Cameron Kirby…

The Saint: Are you pleased with what you’ve achieved as Mermaids President? What’s your greatest achievement do you think?

CK: Yes, I’m quite proud of the job I’ve done. I’d say my biggest achievement was simply taking over the job mid-semester at such a busy time, it really was a jump in at the deep end.

TS: Would you have done anything differently?

CK: Yeah, definitely. The Fringe decision could have been handled better, I think it’s fair to say that we didn’t communicate this particularly well. Setting and publicizing the budget well in advance of the decision would have helped a lot, as a lot of people of people weren’t aware of how much funding we had available for the Fringe. Thankfully David, my successor, has already started trying to improve this for next year.

TS: Were you sad you couldn’t send more shows to the festival?

CK: Yeah it was a shame, especially considering the huge number of applicants this year – 7 shows applied- but the committee as a whole felt we had to balance investing in the Fringe with investing in the Barron and our resources.

TS: How are Mermaids set financially for the coming year?

CK: We’re in a reasonably good position for next year. We are investing a lot of money in the Barron, the Fringe and resources at the moment but we’ve kept aside enough to comfortably fund as many shows as we can fit into next semester.

TS: And what can we expect from the new committee?

CK: Well I’m on the new committee so I’m slightly biased, but I think Mermaids is in good hands. We’ve quite a few returning members from this year’s committee, which is useful, and a good range of experience in all aspects of theatre.

TS: Sum up your experience as Mermaids President in three words

CK: Fun, Educational, Coffee.

The incoming Mermaids’ President, David Patterson, gave us his thoughts on the year ahead…

TS: How do think the last year has been for Mermaids theatre?

David Patterson: The last year has been an eventful one to say the least, and a hard one for the committee.We had a leadership change mid-way through which caused some logistical difficulties, then the University timetable change that meant we were unable to meet in December or January. However, the committee stuck together and we were able to put on over thirty shows and run a fantastic Ball despite the challenges.

TS: Are you excited about your new committee? Tell us a bit about them.

DP: Excited doesn’t cover it. We have a superb group of people and I’m confident we can guide Mermaids through the year and together will be able to achieve a lot. There are a few old hands back on board: Lizzie Stone is returning from France as Vice-President and bringing a wealth of experience with her. Sadie Hochfield is taking up the new role of Press and PR, she’ll be driving audience numbers up and increasing our exposure. I can’t discuss the Committee without mentioning Natalie English, she’s only in 1st year but she’s been living and breathing Mermaids since the day she arrived; next year she’ll be organising Christmas Ball.

TS: What do you have planned for next year? What are your goals as MerPres?

DP: There’s a lot I want to do. I want to better integrate Mermaids into the student and local community. There’s a great deal more to Mermaids than simply theatre. We’re a Performing Arts fund, there’s nothing stopping you from putting your ideas into practice. More concrete things include creating a new ‘Mermaids at the Fringe’ brand. Something that will act as a publicity hub for all our shows, and an archive of previous productions so that we can ramp up our wider presence.

TS: Are you pleased with this year’s fringe selections?

DP: Absolutely. We’re sending two huge shows to the Fringe this year: Angels in America (if you missed it, you missed out) and The Tempest. Big casts. Big crews. We’ll be throwing wide the doors to get people with a vast array of skills and talents out in Edinburgh representing St Andrews and Mermaids. It always hard establishing the criteria for sending Fringe shows and this is something I’m going to work at doing much earlier this year, so that the application process is more transparent and clear.

TS: Were you comfortable with the choices made and the rejections?

DP: Honestly, it was hard this year. We encountered problems with time constraints, budgeting and balancing the need to invest funds into the Barron theatre – our only guaranteed space next year. I’m determined to support the unsuccessful shows as much as possible. Although we can’t fund them, there’s plenty we can do. We can provide support, space and resources and insurance to allay as much of the stress as possible and of course, publicity at the Fringe itself. We can’t fund everything, but we can make sure the process we use sends the right combination of talent and material from St Andrews to the Fringe.

TS: Are shows likely to make a profit and how are Mermaids finances at present? Should we be expecting bigger and better from you next year?

DP: Generally, Fringe shows don’t make a profit. Breaking even is what we aim for. Of course last year, we had some shows sell out entirely and make some impressive gains. Shows in St Andrews have done well this year, but I want to see audience numbers increase further so that we can invest more in theatre in St Andrews.

TS: In three words, sum up what you anticipate from St Andrews theatre next year?

DP: Creative, reinvigorated arts

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