Close Quarters: How Student Creatives Have Overcome the Lack of Venue Space in St Andrews

Natasha reflects on the use of alternative venue spaces in St Andrews by student theatre and music groups.

Creatives in St Andrews have three streets worth of space to play with, and this is undeniably a ‘rose and thorn’ situation that resonates with all students. Puncturing free from the traditional Student Union Jazz Thursdays and Byre Theatre slots are two groups using the wacky situation of space in St Andrews to their advantage. People You Know, a small theatre company with a well-developed aesthetic, are bursting off of stages and into our pubs and flats with ever sustained energy. Representing student music making, The Bell Street Collective have been hosting Saturday Sessions this semester at an illegally wild rate… the Police were particularly eager to join the Hope Street event! They have moved from Castle Sands to South Street as Scottish winter looms, and even the rooftops of St Andrews have been explored by this lot. What both groups share in their creative use of space is an added intimacy with us – their audience and fellow students – pushing theatre and music further into the centre of student minds and evening plans.

The intimacy of venue works straight into the ink-stained palms of People You Know (if anyone managed to get the black entry stamp off in the first wash, I am in awe). In both instances, the dimensions of the space used contribute heavily to the audience experience. Rat Race in Aikman’s cellar made us feel claustrophobic, confused, and confronted with a reality that is often swept under rugs. A Girl Gets Naked in This, set in a bedroom out near University Hall, created a sanctimonious space to explore the female experience in all its intersectionality as well as share and care for each other. Along with the venue use there is also an eclectic use of props; an exposed urinal, pint after pint and spatters of crisp crumbs synthesised Aikman’s Cellar and Rat Race into a daring double act.

 

Source: People You Know Productions

Specifically, within Rat Race, the space and lack thereof built heavily into the experiential atmosphere. Pints were placed on our tables, eye contact with the actors was inevitable and left me shifting in my seat as the storyline unfolded into a dark display of competitive masculinity. We were all implicit in the sole female character, Beth played by Lexie Dykes, being displaced from seats, ignored, and consistently left unheard. The comedic use of intimacy came from Matthew McCafferty playing Mickey who, in a memorable moment, is shocked by his friend standing quite so close behind him whilst using the urinal. It is hard to ignore the development of this company, as with every play they deep dive into a new theme, venue, and space in time, immersing us all as people in the know.

 

Source: Emma Dalton for People You Know Productions

Moving into the bubble of music, The Bell Street Collective have also dealt with some inventive venues in their time. After a hot start in Saint Sizzle last semester and a summer pit stop at the Edinburgh Fringe, the Collective were led straight to Castle Sands for a chilled, opening session for this academic year. An interview with the band shed light on the reasons behind their creative search for new places to play. When boiled down it seems that there really is no great live music venue regularly available in town, especially within a realistic budget. Hit with the barrier of up to four figure charges just to book a venue, as a student band they had to think outside of the traditional box. In leaving this box, they have set a precedent for themselves as fun-loving, forward-thinking musicians who aren’t afraid to bring their kit, electric and/or acoustic, down to the coast or into the corners of our student town where it is needed most.

 

Source: Bell Street Collective

Due to this diversity of place, it feels like everyone has a connection to this band. The intimacy of the venue experience with them is paramount, building up a strong audience performer interaction. Lead singer Kat stands “eye to eye” with the audience and feels that this loss of a barrier adds to the excitement and experience of performance for both band members and session goers. This effect, I have seen first-hand at their most recent Saturday Sessions on South Street, in which we were packed like keen beans into the living kitchen area of a rather nice student flat. An eclectic bundle of crates, rugs, and an upside-down table acted as the well-crafted stage. The line between stage and standing floor was very easily blurred, which added a touch of anxiety for their kit however overall, created a unique and inviting atmosphere. Wherever this band pop up next, whether it be the pier, Market Street, or the 18th Hole of The Old Course, they are sure to stir up a sound you can’t help but crave.

Looking to the future with all of this, it seems that St Andrews has become a sounding board for non-traditional events and space usage, with restriction only enticing us further into the already close quarters with each other. The transposition from stage to sand and Byre to bedroom has shifted student led creative ventures into a more independent and self-directed realm. Hats off to all of the creatives behind these groups, our tiny town is lucky to have so many bold and talented creative thinkers… FIXR alarms at the ready!

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