The Breaking Point

On March 17th, 2011, I resigned from my position as social convener on the Mermaids’ committee. I no longer wanted my name associated with the committee or the decisions it was making, allegedly on behalf of the students who elected them. The abuse and manipulation of power, and the hypocrisy of some committee members in failing to aid and assist productions was becoming all too clear.

The breaking point came when certain committee members actively encouraged their colleagues to deny funding, and thus opportunity, to a St Andrews student.

My aim in highlighting the mistakes of the current committee, to illustrate the dangers that arise when any committee believes it is immune to censure. My experience will be of interest even to students who are not involved with or have an interest in the Mermaids committee, as the issues raised in this argument are applicable to any elected committee.

For readers who are unfamiliar with this committee, The St Andrews Theatre Fund, affectionately known as Mermaids, was established to provide loans to student productions based only on financial merit; this means that we do not make artistic or personal decisions when reviewing a production proposal.

Proposals are passed when production budgets illustrate signs of responsible spending and are preferably breaking even, though a small loss is usually acceptable. This system of funding productions based on strictly financial merit exists to ensure that Mermaids will always have the means to provide funding for any student that wants to put on a show.

However, two productions this year—both produced by two senior committee members—were strangely exempted from this rule. King Lear and Peter Pan—premiering at the On The Rocks Festival—have been given grants instead of loans. Budgeted at 70%, King Lear is losing £565 of Mermaids’ money, not a small loss, but is not nearly as shocking as the £2,216 Peter Pan is set to lose. Even if 100% of the tickets were sold for each production, it would be impossible for either to break even, with Peter Pan still losing £1,731 of Mermaids’ funds.

Although opposition was raised when these budgets were proposed—recognising that these grants were unfair to all other productions, which budgeted responsibly in order to receive their loans—the committee was assured by a few senior members that there had been a vote which confirmed that there had been a previous vote to provide grants to these shows. One of my biggest regrets whilst serving on the committee was that I took their word for this and assumed I was not present for this vote.

After thoroughly researching the Mermaids minutes, I can report that there was no recorded vote or conversation found which can be used to justify those grants.

Although these grants were unjustified and favoured committee member productions, they were not the reason for my resignation. They are important because the two committee members who received these grants—and benefited more than any other student from Mermaids funding—were in the group of members who denied funding to aspiring students.

On March 13th, the 2010-2011 committee rejected a production for the first time. The applicant was proposing a self-written piece to go the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a week this August. After reviewing the application, the two motions put forward were to reject the proposal or give the applicant seven days to re-submit a more detailed proposal. The vote was tied, 5/5, with two members absent. The deciding vote went to the current president, who voted to reject the show.

Rejecting the show meant the loss of opportunity for a writer, director and producer, and actors, to experience performing at an international arts festival. Normal Mermaids procedure gives applicants the option to come back with a more detailed proposal, but this one was rejected out-of-hand, although no specific reason was given.

The very meeting to discuss proposals for Fringe shows began under suspicious circumstances. It took place in secret at the president’s flat, without the presence of a sabbatical officer (required to approve investments over £1000). The committee faked the presence of sabbatical Phil Pass and falsely accounted for his attendance in the Mermaids’ minutes. According to the by-laws of the Students’ Association, this alone both invalidates the meeting and brings into question the ethical conduct of the committee.

But there are other reasons why the decision should be questioned.

First, members argued that the proposal did not provide sufficient information about the piece itself, set plans and production ideas. Yet the committee has never rejected a show due to lack of information; indeed, the information given for ‘production ideas’ in the proposal was equivalent in substance to Peter Pan’s original proposal, and actually gave more information than King Lear, which left its proposal space blank.

It was also argued that the show could not be passed because it was not fully written; yet one of the first shows passed by the committee (unanimously), with an investment of almost £1000, was a self-written musical for which the music was yet to be written. Furthermore, members argued that the applicant was not committed as they were aware of other possible commitments he/she had this upcoming summer. This argument was speculative, non-factual, and personal; it completely strayed from making decisions based on financial merit – no other applicant was held to the same ‘personal’ standard.

To make matters worse, despite the number of questions asked and speculative remarks made about the Fringe application, the applicant was not asked a single question about the proposal. Generally, every production is given the opportunity to explain his or her proposal, especially if that proposal is for the Edinburgh Fringe.

Furthermore, the producer of two other Fringe applications—who was also a senior member of the committee—was allowed to explain and remark on their proposals when they were being reviewed, an advantage not available to the less connected applicant, whose show was summarily rejected.

However, my biggest problem with the committee’s vote to reject the show was that in doing so, they broke the sixth article of the Mermaids constitution, which states that “Mermaids shall, whenever possible, encourage the transfer of St Andrews productions to other venues outwith St Andrews.” In my capacity this year as social convener, it was my job to make a profit from the Christmas Ball to send productions to the Fringe. The ball in fact made a record profit; and thus it was easily within the Mermaids’ means to send this rejected show to the Fringe.

Although I was deeply frustrated and confused to learn of the committee’s decision to reject this proposal, I was not yet at the point of resignation. A senior committee member and I called for an emergency meeting to re-open the vote and explain to the committee the ways in which we had violated the constitution, broken previous precedents we set for all other shows, and most importantly how we had failed in our duty as elected committee members to “promote student drama”: the first aim stated in our constitution.

Only two members, including myself, agreed to re-open the vote. One member abstained. The rest of the committee voted to keep the show rejected.

My greatest concern is that this attitude will be carried into next year’s committee, and with it the foul precedent; that it is permissible to reject a show without legitimate cause and take unfair and unaccountable advantage of one’s position for personal gain.

Fortunately, there is still a chance to correct these mistakes and ensure fair and equal treatment next year. The Mermaids’ AGM is this Thursday April 14th, 8pm in Venue 2.

Please, run. Get involved.

Remember that Mermaids exists to help, aid and support productions; it should not be constructing weak arguments to reject them; furthermore, Mermaids, just like all other sub-committees, should be held accountable by those who elect them.

 

Kate Andrews

Note: Kate Andrews was absent from the ‘in camera’ meeting on March 13th. However, all of her information regarding the meeting has been confirmed by multiple members of the committee and is evidenced in writing.


17 Comments

  1. After reading the comments, I want to offer a few points of clarity in regards to some opposition that has been raised:
    The author of comment 10 addresses the “continuous claims by the author regarding record profits from the Christmas Ball.” I only mention the Christmas Ball in my article once, and it was simply to illustrate to readers that I know, for fact, that there are literally thousands of pounds of profit sitting in the Mermaids’ bank account right now that could have been used to send the rejected show to the fringe (proving their decision was unconstitutional); it has been brought up by other commenters as a (weak) defense against the article, and frankly, I think they are all-together missing the point- It’s not about how much money we have; it’s about whether we have allocated that money fairly and held everyone to the same standard. It should also be noted that the profit from the Christmas Ball has always, first and foremost, been used to fund Fringe shows–not to give grants to committee member’s shows.
    The same commenter asks: “I would like to question why the author seems so appalled about the financial losses from Peter Pan and King Lear when surely such ‘record profits’ would account for these?” I am appalled because no other show was given the opportunity to have a grant. Is this commenter really suggesting that because Mermaids is in good financial standing, it can afford to practice favortism and inequality? If Mermaids is going to start giving grants, they need to be well-publicized and available to everyone. There was not a single e-mail, announcement, or minute taken that suggested to the wider student body that they could receive a grant, even though the committee members did. This is because Mermaids doesn’t offer grants–but, strangely, they did this time.
    Alanya N.- To respond to, why now?–I take responsibility and hold myself accountable for the decisions that were made regarding Pan and Lear budgets (although I did speak out against them, along with a few others). However, I did not feel this mistake made by the committee–though terrible–warranted my resignation, and I thought it unwise to ‘reveal’ this to the wider community while still being on the committee. By the time I decided to resign (for reasons discussed in the article, which I won’t get into here) it was a week before spring break. This Monday was actually my first opportunity to publish the article.
    If the “ethos of productions” has been affected, then I agree with you, that is a real shame; but if you are looking to place blame for the destruction of production ethos, I would look to at the unfair decisions that the committee has been making for months regarding productions; not the article which exposes it.
    Joe P.- as amusing and witty as your comment was, I do not believe that speaking out against injustice and inequality is something to be embarrassed about. Fair enough if you choose not to care-despite being a member of the committee-, but it is unfair to assume that no one else will; the reactions in this comment-chain alone prove such a statement invalid. But I do feel one of your sentiments drives the point of my article home: “A vote was taken. Done. I’m bored now.” This, in its essence, sums up the lack of accountability the current committee is willing to take, and what I hope drastically changes next year.

  2. I am seriously now concidering putting on a production of both the article and comments on this clearly volital subject. It will probably be a musical, auditions at the central… bring tap shoes! (also it would be great if all future comments could be phrased in rhymning couplets).

  3. Gosh, we do take ourselves rather seriously don’t we? Much as I’m flattered by the thought that the mermaids committee ensured the downfall of democracy, it’s a student drama comittee. A vote was taken. Done. I’m bored now.

    Everyone knows everyone else in St Andrews, its why we all end up marrying eachother. No-one has some evil hidden agenda, we’re all here to enjoy ourselves and do theatre etc. Stop bickering all of you, its getting tedious, I very much doubt the wider student body could care a bit, we’re just embarrasing ourselves.
    p.s. It’s nice weather, anyone for a picnic?
    Xx

  4. I’m happy to make clear that it was my proposal that was turned down. However I felt it would be inappropriate to pursue this particular case considering my new position as DoR Elect. Therefore neither myself nor Kate will make any personal gain from this so to accuse her of writing this article out of personal spite is just malicious. Who cares that she wrote the article now and not earlier? The important thing is she has brought this issue into the public sphere. And it is an important issue. While I do not wish to pursue my proposal, I worry that the same thing may happen again in the future but to a fresher, a new director or someone more easily intimidated. Mermaids has spent two years attempting to overcome its former cliquey image and behaviour like this completely negates that hard work. The Mermaids constitution, good practice and Union checks and balances have been designed to ensure that Mermaids always remains fair and accountable. When the committee ignores these things they make a waste of the hard work of their predecessors and prevent Mermaids fulfilling its primary, it’s only function; to help students who want to put up plays to do so. That said, the Mermaids committee are good people. They just made a big mistake this time. The issue now is not about laying blame. It is a question of whether the new Mermaids executive and AGM will seek to make petty arguments and cover up wrongdoing, or show true leadership and courage by accepting that mistakes were made and taking measures to ensure they are never made again. I have every confidence it will be the latter.

  5. This article raises some very serious allegations and it is fitting and right that the issue is debated and discussed. I would, however, encourage people to put their names to responses. While everyone has the right to omit their names, to accuse somebody of ‘bullying’ and not put your name to it strikes me as just that.

    I also find commenting on the author’s personal life cowardly. Student societies are incestuous by nature- it’s a very small town. Frankly, in many situations, having a personal connection to a committee member can be just as much to your detriment as benefit when getting involved in student politics,as it brings into question the credibility of your opinions. In my opinion, this is a real shame. I still believe that a great deal of the student population have the integrity to sit on a committee and cast a fair and earnest vote, despite their personal connections. You all have the right to go and request a copy of the Mermaids minutes book, and I can assure you, in my time as secretary there were plenty of occasions when friends, flatmates and couples sat on the same committee and took different parts and opinions when casting votes.

    The most pressing question this article has evoked for me is that of accountability. Yes, Andrews has raised this issue, but why now? Why have the people we have elected remained silent for so long? It should not take a personal sting on Andrews’ part, whether it is a valid grievance or not, to bring this kind of negligence into focus. By my submission, she should have written this article weeks ago. Nepotism and conceit are bringing a vibrant and prolific sub-committee into disrepute and destroying the ethos of productions in the town. At the end of the day, putting on a play is meant to be where the drama stops. My manifesto is this: being on the committee should be like jury service, if you want to objectively assist in an integral part of performing arts in St Andrews, I encourage you to run for the committee, but petty politics and personal scores are not something to settle at the expense of the very people who have elected you.

    Alanya Noquet

  6. I would like to respond to comment 9 relating to the benefits of the ‘committee members shows’. I feel there has been a gross misconception here as presented in the article and that is that these two shows benefitted over and above others on the sole purpose that they are produced by members of the committee.

    This is an unjust allocation. Within a town of this size, there is inevitably going to be crossover within productions and committees. However, on each decision made relating to Peter Pan or King Lear, the relevant members of the committees were not deliberately not present that the stages of discussion or voting for their respective piece.

    It is unfair and incorrect on the part of the author and those commenting to imply that the situation with these productions equates to the situation with the rejected Fringe proposal. These are two very separate issues and I feel that more information needs to be received before judgement is passed on either.

  7. At no point does Andrews suggest that “King Lear” and “Peter Pan” should not have gone up. She cites their enormous losses and amateurish financial management as a contrast to the show which their producers voted, as members of the Mermaids Committee, to reject out of hand, despite the fact that said show would have made a profit. Mermaids exists to give ALL students the best chance of putting on shows. When committee members are allowed to make huge losses but non committee members find their shows rejected out of hand without being given the chance to fix small issues with their proposals then Mermaids is not fulfilling it’s remit. In the past the Productions Co Ordinator has sat down with people who’s proposals need improvement to give them a second chance – because Mermaids exists to help. The “bigger picture” here is that Mermaids is unaccountable, makes decisions in secret and has made those decisions to the benefit of senior committee members and the detriment of others for no good financial reason.

    Also, Christmas Ball ticket sales increased below the level of inflation and this Christmas Ball gave more for the ticket price. So no, that’s not the case.

  8. I would like to raise one small matter relating to continuous claims by the author regarding record profits from the Christmas Ball. As someone (like many other students) who has attended the Christmas Ball for a number of years, I would like to ask if the simple reason for such high profits was a result of an increased ticket price? I ask this because, although the event itself was highly enjoyable, there seemed no evidence of where the extra money raised from increased ticket prices was spent. Further if profits from the Christmas Ball were so high then I would like to question why the author seems so appalled about the financial losses from Peter Pan and King Lear when surely such ‘record profits’ would account for these?

    Further I feel that the author seems overly fixated on the direct financial ramifications of these productions. Although it is within the Mermaids remit to concentrate on the financial element of theatre, it seems that productions on the scale of Peter Pan and King Lear would also benefit the St Andrews theatre community in other ways.

    I think in this instance, the author has fixated on the elements of a situation which suit their argument and is failing to see the longer term, bigger picture of the matter.

  9. Andrews’ doesn’t seem to claim that the proposal should have been passed automatically. She says the two options were ”to reject the proposal or give the applicant seven days to re-submit a more detailed proposal.” It seems what she is really questioning is why members of the committee, who are receieving so much money from Mermaids, were so reluctant to give give the applicant a small window of time to approve his/her proposal and recieve funding as well.

    I also think, while it’s great that Mermaids has passed so many shows this year, the fact that this is the first one they rejected-without asking any questions-makes it even more questionable.

    I’m truly shocked and concerned if the committee has given others shows a chance to re-submit their proposals, but not this one; also, I’m shocked if committee members were able to answer questions, but not the student.

    When Andrews’ ”admits Mermaids is in a fine situation financially”, she suggests that is only because they make good financial decisions so ”Mermaids will always have the means to provide funding for any student that wants to put on a show.” And that doesn’t seem to take away from her argument that the two committee member shows still benefited more than any other student production, which have all had to budget to avoid loss.

  10. While I agree that to speak out when you find injustice is commendable and courageous, I find this article slightly misleading.

    To use the money Peter Pan and King Lear are losing as an example of poor Mermaids decision-making is unfair considering – as Kate herself admits – Mermaids is in a fine situation financially and has not denied funding to any production all year, bar the show for the Fringe in question. Student Activity should not be a money making enterprise – look at the tens of thousands the Societies Committee gives out every year with nothing expected in return.

    Furthermore, if, as this article suggests, money was not given to the play because it did not give enough information, then that is fair enough. While Mermaids may have money to give, it still has to make sure projects are viable. While Kate says that less information was given about King Lear on its proposal, that is probably because the subject matter of King Lear is self-evident.

  11. Splitting hairs about Kate’s role in the Christmas Ball is really nothing to do with the issue here. The point was that she is an exceptionally competant person and well above petty personal interest. Something to which I’m sure the previous ball convenor will happily attest. These ridiculous quibbles do nothing to detract from the courage and cogence of Kate’s article and are completely irrelevant.

  12. “Kate Andrews was a Social Convenor who raised more money than any other in history.”

    This is hugely offensive to past social convenors and anyone who helped with the ball. Kate did not do this single handedly, and I know that the previous convenor helped her a great amount and hope, though it is unlikely to happen, that she does not see that response.

    Whether the article is based on facts or not, I don’t know since this is something only the committee members will know, but in terms of the Christmas Ball for this year and the past few years, and in the way of attacking a person who has worked incredibly hard for the last year, it is a shock that people are joining in on what I can only see as a bullying campaign.

    • It’s tough to make a ‘bullying argument’ when not a single name or piece of personal information has been put in this article. This article is perfectly legitimate, and eye-opening. Kate Andrews has criticized the committee, but in all fairness, she has not always excluded herself from this criticism.

      “One of my biggest regrets whilst serving on the committee was that I took their word for this and assumed I was not present for this vote.”

      Her opinion seems rooted in facts. You don’t have to like the article, but as we are not bullies, lets not start calling it names it doesn’t deserve.

    • “This is hugely offensive to past social convenors and anyone who helped with the ball.”

      I don’t see how this is offensive, or bullying. This statement is just a statement of fact which goes to Andrews’ credit. It isn’t disparaging in any way to previous social conveners (who, I’m sure, also had help). I find it a bit disturbing to see someone take the attitude that praising someone for an accomplishment counts as an attack on others who didn’t achieve the same.

      I understand she had help, but I don’t think anyone expects her to have raised her money single handedly. Does her record fund raising not count because she worked with other people?

  13. “A St Andrews Student who also happens to be Kate Andrews’ boyfriend”
    This is an article based on facts. The fact that Kate has a relationship with the student in question is irrelevant to this case, which is about the Mermaids Committee making decisions in an unaccountable and secret way. Kate Andrews was a Social Convenor who raised more money than any other in history. She is a successful producer and director. The suggestion that she would be in any way influenced by a personal relationship is insulting and immature. If Union officers were prevented from making decisions because they might have a personal interest then, in a small town like St Andrews, no decision would ever be made. If more people stood up and argued against abuses of power like this, even on a small scale, rather than petulantly condemning those who have the courage to do so, abuses like this would happen less often. Mermaids has over 1000 active members and administers over £30 000 per year. This article is about malpractice in distributing those funds. There is nothing petty about that.

  14. “The breaking point came when certain committee members actively encouraged their colleagues to deny funding, and thus opportunity, to a St Andrews student.”

    A St. Andrews Student who also happens to be Kate Andrews’ boyfriend. Petty politics in a petty student society.

    • I left personal information out of this article to the best of my ability. First and foremost, I believe the facts speak for themselves. Secondly, I made that choice to respect Mermaids committee members who do not deserve to have their names and personal information detailed online. Thirdly, if I were to go into any detail about my ‘personal connections’ in the situation, I would be obligated to go into detail about the personal connections that most other committee members have to the applicant–some of which are much stronger and, to put it lightly, more questionable, than my own.

      Kate Andrews