A Sit-Down with Ben Anderson
By Natasha Warby, Theatre Sub-editor
St Andrews, despite being such a small town, has a long and fruitful relationship with theatre. The University’s very own drama group, Mermaids, has been keeping the student population entertained for years. Recently, I was able to sit down with Ben Anderson, a St Andrews alumnus and last year’s Mermaids President, and have a little chat about all things theatrical.
ST.ART: What is your favourite Mermaids related memory from your time at St Andrews?
BA: I acted in Tennessee Williams’ Now The Cats With Jewelled Claws as a part of the Freshers’ Plays in my first year. My character left the stage only to be involved in a horrible motorcycle accident and stumble back on. I came off to be covered in the fake blood, only to be greeted by the producer with a bottle of ketchup in hand, who immediately started spraying it all over me. Perhaps it’s not my favourite memory but it has stuck with me (almost as badly as the smell did).
Perhaps a more pleasant (and less fragrant) memory is of the first show I took to the Fringe, with Mermaids assisting us although our company found the money ourselves. We made a profit so we received a cheque from Mermaids for a whole nineteen pounds! It was an excellent way to finish what had been an incredible experience.
ST.ART: How has Mermaids changed over your four years at the university? For example, having The Byre reopened.
BA: Well, we had the Byre when I started. Then, of course, we lost it and now we have it again. It seems like students are going to be able to get a better deal of the usage of it- particularly On The Rocks. We’ve also been running the Barron for all our time here, and I think people over the last few years have seen it moving from a solely theatrical space to becoming a real community space for all number of projects and performances. Finally, I think the final (and perhaps largest) change has been the development of student writing. When I arrived, there was one student writer (Tim Foley). Then suddenly, there was a whole host of them and different projects have been springing up all over St Andrews and at the Edinburgh Fringe. I think we’ve finally reached the point where student writing is an accepted part of the calendar, rather than a novelty, with attendances to rival the plays by any number of big names.
ST.ART: So what was it like when you started at the university?
BA: The sheer number of people who want to put on shows now is absolutely staggering. Proposals used to be done on a rolling basis and filled up slowly, now the whole semester is filled up from months in advance. They were simpler times.
ST.ART: And what made you want to get involved?
BA: When I went to the Mermaids Freshers’ workshop, I actually thought that I was walking into the room to try debating. Evidently I enjoyed things enough to not feel too bad about my mistake! The theatre community in St Andrews is small, but dedicated. It’s competitive, but it’s also supportive and I have met my best friends there.
ST.ART: Finally, what drama related things do you see in your future?
BA: I’m currently working with a charity in Oxfordshire to provide youth arts workshops, which I am making as dramatic as possible. Hopefully someone will let me dabble with a bit more directing in the near future too.