If one walks along any of St Andrews’ streets very early in the morning or very late at night, the peaceful quiet that hits one can be described as nothing less than inspiring. There is a reason why so much creativity has come from this place. It is a haven for thought, inspiration and cultivation of the imagination. Eight years ago, the On the Rocks Festival was launched and now, the creativity is flowing again, the sun is coming up and the ideas of St Andrews students are coming alive and taking centre stage.
This year’s Festival Director is Caroline Christie of Mermaids and Just So fame. Several days prior to the programme launch, she joined me for what turned out to be her first ever interview with the press. Caroline has an extensive background in theatre especially in St Andrews. Telling me about her first experience in St Andrews she said, “During Freshers’ Week of my first year I went to the Mermaids give-it-a-go day and I met the person who was directing the musical that year which was Hair and since Hair is my favourite musical I did something that I wouldn’t normally do and I went up and talked to her and I asked if I could stage manage it.”
Hair was staged in the Byre Theatre that year, a very nice start to theatre in St Andrews for anyone, a fact I can speak to personally. Caroline went on to say, “Most of the people involved were fourth years who had been doing theatre for as long as they could remember so they all took me under their wing.”
The director of Hair went on to direct Angels in America with Caroline as producer. The show was taken to the Edinburgh Fringe that summer and received 5 stars. From there, Caroline has done many musicals, most recently having designed the set and done lighting for The Drowsy Chaperone. Two years ago, she produced Cabaret and after taking a show to the Fringe that summer realised that she wanted to direct and so did last year, in The Normal Heart. She tends to do one show a semester preferring to devote all her time to one show rather than splitting between many. That is a prominent characteristic of Caroline. She dedicates her time to causes close to her heart and somehow manages to fit in time to work for her Social Anthropology degree as well.
Being on Mermaids committee from October of her first year as Set and Props Officer put her right at the centre of the drama scene in St Andrews. Her training as a set builder at her theatre specialist school has enabled her to build some of the most impressive sets including most recently a plane for Drowsy. She was on the committee for two years, though her greatest love has always been for the shows themselves.
Moving from Mermaids to On the Rocks was certainly a jump up in terms of scale but Caroline appears to have handled it with ease, taking on the role of Head of Venues and Tech last year:
“It is a fun job, most of the work comes in the second semester because most of the work comes during the week of the festival. Your job is to help all the events sort their tech.”
Caroline compiled a list of 45 venues (who knew that St Andrews had so many?) with information of the capabilities of each. She described the technical benefits of the festival as:
“We do get a lot of events who are organised by people who know what they are doing but we also get a lot of events run by people who have never tried anything before and the reason they want to do it during On the Rocks is that they have the support of a team who can help them organise it.”
Genuine praise of the committee of the festival comes from Caroline. “I found the team atmosphere of On the Rocks much more conducive to the way I work.
The way I like to work on things is with a group of people rather than an individual set job and a remit that only you have. In On the Rocks, everything overlaps and you get to work together which is really nice.”
Turning to this year’s festival, there are over 45 events over a mere ten days, guaranteeing the wonderful inescapable nature of the festival. Nineteen different venues are being used this year, which Caroline describes as making the festival “huge.” One of the ones she looks forward to the most is the performance of Animal Farm, which will be held in the steak barn at Balgove Larder. This performance includes dinner. For a mere £15 one can enjoy dinner and the show.
We then turned to the most generic question ever asked, that of challenges involved in the role. Caroline’s are particularly interesting to the press.
“My challenge is that I have always been a back-stage person, which is great, it’s who I am and what I love but I’ve never had to do the press side of things or publicity. We have a great press team, a great designer. I’m so happy with them but I rely on them a lot as social media and press are not things that I’m good with. Learning to do those as well has been part of it.”
She went on to say, “It’s been fun to learn a new side of things,” and stresses that “press and publicity are so important. You can’t get people to come and see your shows if you don’t have any of that, so learning this was one of my biggest challenges.”
Caroline talks about the success of adding an early-bird category for event applications this year. Many of the larger events applied in November which allowed the committee to begin some publicity and write up contracts for these events before Christmas. Smaller events tended to apply later as they had more time to organise themselves. Overall, this new method is considered a success.
One of the biggest retuning events this year is Rescore which is on to its fourth year. Once again in the Barron Theatre, it promises to be an evening of great fun as a live band plays a specially composed score as a classic movie is screened. Caroline does not know which film they are doing this year but looks forward to it as well as several other events:
“The music cafes are run by On the Rocks and Music is Love and they are very popular. We have four throughout the festival which run from ten to midnight in the Old Union Café and we have made a slight change to it. This year we are going to offer wine. We are hoping this will fit along with the atmosphere. You can watch the performances and have a creative session as well.
“We are doing an Art On the Rocks which incorporates an ArtSoc event. There will be art on display in four locations around town for the whole week. All of the art work will be curated over Spring Break.”
One of my hopes was confirmed when Caroline said that the Ceilidh in the Castle will be back this year as well as the popular Strictly Come Dancing and Blind Mirth Comedy Show. Jamnesty is also making an appearance. Run by Amnesty International, this event promises to be a great success.
On the Rocks has eight patrons, most of which have been allied to the festival for at least five years:
“We got the patrons through Development and them having ties to the university. Most of them are involved as they acted when they were younger or were involved in arts festivals.”
Caroline envisages a bright future for the festival: “Now that we are a sub-committee of the union, I know that we will not disappear for the time being which was always a fear. Up to now we have always been at the discretion of the union because we are given a grant. Now that we are a sub-committee we are guaranteed the funding every year.
“I can see it growing; I can see partnerships with larger organisations. This year we have had a lot of interest from artists wanting to take part in Art on the Rocks. We have had a lot of staff interest in events, and by having an earlier application deadline, it gives them more time to organise these. I can see it expanding based on participation.”
The Saint would like to thank Caroline Christie for the time she gave for this interview and to wish her and the On the Rocks team good luck for this year’s festival. The general word is that On the Rocks is back, it is bigger and better than ever and it is here to stay!