Mermaids at the Fringe: Questioning Committee Logic

After making critical remarks about Mermaids Fringe decisions in his review of Angels in America--one of two big-budget shows being sent to the festival by Mermaids this year--Lachlan Robertson follows up his critique with some questions about the Mermaids committee Fringe selection process. Original article: my recent review of Angels in America, I have been asked to write a follow up article relating to the points I made in regards to Mermaids and the Fringe. For many people involved in St Andrews theatre, and particularly those wishing to pursue a career in the dramatic arts, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is seen as a tantalizing opportunity to showcase one’s talents with the possibility of international exposure. The festival offers valuable real world experience to those wishing to escape the comfort of our small university town. Mermaids, the University’s main theatre funding group (a subcommittee of the Union), provides the means for students to attend the festival and show the world what St Andrews is capable of. However, the decisions to send two large budget productions over the possibility of sending an array of smaller budget performances, has met with no small amount of disapproval.A central point to the issues in Mermaids’ decision lies in the fact that neither Angels in America or The Tempest had been staged before the decision of sending them to the Fringe was made. This is not a criticism of either shows, but rather the selection process of the Mermaids committee. Despite the past achievements of both Adelaide Waldrop and Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie, selecting their shows on anticipation of success rather than their in-town performance discredits the validity of other highly praised shows, especially ones whose only negative point is a younger production team. Under what criteria did these two productions outweigh all other applicants? How was this possibly measured? If decisive weight is given to “veteran” directors, what chance does that leave to a first year’s debut production?Both Angels in America and The Tempest are large budget shows requiring significant investments from Mermaids. Let’s consider two small-scale productions that could have been funded by Mermaids: The Collector, directed by Katherine Weight and produced by Mathilde Johnsen and Blind Mirth. These productions each represent the artistic power of St Andrews theatre. The Collector received four stars from The Stand, and praised by both Owl Eyes and The Tribe. With its small production team and cast, it would have been a safe investment for Mermaids both financially and critically. Blind Mirth, our town’s own improv comedy team, has already garnered acclaim at the Fringe. Without need for rights, and an excess of stage properties or costumes, this would seem like another opportunity that Mermaids would not pass up. These two productions, and potentially some of the others that applied, could have been staged for the price of one of the chosen shows, and definitely less than the combination, and offered a greater understanding to the world at large about what theatre is like in our small town. Big budget shows do get staged here, but it is in the Barron that the black heart of Mermaids truly beats.Both Waldrop and Cannon-Brownlie are fourth year students; if one fails (or both!) at the Fringe who are we to turn to other than Mermaids? While sending fourth year students to helm the St Andrews’ presence at the Fringe may seem safe under the grounds of the Mermaids reputation being in the hands of experienced directors, it must be acknowledged that these directors will have graduated and since they are not returning to St Andrews they have no reputation to maintain here. If these productions suffer from bad reviews or poor box-office performance, who is accountable for the loss of Mermaids funds?Mermaids’ methodology has awoken some controversy. Perhaps under its new committee this will change. Regardless of the potential success Angels in America or The Tempest may achieve in Edinburgh, and hopefully they do well, Mermaids has taken a significant leap of faith at the expense of smaller, safer investments. Let’s just hope they don’t end up looking like a fish out of water. Lachlan Robertson Image from