Freshers’ Week revisited: behind the scenes

Jack Carr is the current DoRep, seen here second from the right. Photo: Lightbox Creative

For most people, Freshers’ Week is a rollercoaster. Characterised by highs and lows, it is the time to reacquaint oneself with friends, Dervish, queuing, Wagon Wheel, Pablos and many more aspects of St Andrews’ life that may have been missed over the summer. First years and returning students alike anticipate the release of the annual line-up, a directory of nights big and small that set the stage for the academic year.

For Director of Events and Services (DoES) Taryn O’Connor, Freshers’ Week is a jigsaw puzzle. Each event must be planned in accordance to the others, every act chosen based on how it compliments its contemporaries. Even the yearly staples – The Bubble, Clan Warfare, The Bop – require updates, a degree of freshness to avoid stagnation in the eyes of older students. Ms O’Connor summarises the experience with her tongue firmly in cheek: “Freshers’ Week is exactly like running on a treadmill. You keep moving and you think you’re making progress, but in reality you’re in the same place and you’re just very tired.”

Photo: Lightbox Creative
Photo: Lightbox Creative

Stereotyped as the week to drink, sleep and repeat, Freshers’ Week in reality has the explicit goal of introducing first years to St Andrews and to each other. As DoES, Ms O’Connor had the responsibility of conducting this introduction. “You have events that everyone likes and some that only a few people like, but if that’s the one event that made someone come out, then it may be the one night that helps them find groups and societies to get involved with. As long as someone can come to just one event, you’re providing something for everybody. That’s what I tried to accomplish.”

Before the start of summer, Ms O’Connor experienced a lucky break with the booking of headliner Rave of Thrones, DJ Kristian Nairn’s sensational world tour. With the first piece of the puzzle in place, Ms O’Connor was then able to draft the rest of the week.

Going from there, you need to think: “If I’ve got a rave club night, what do I need to balance that?”

This thought process led to the booking of I AM Beyonce, a tribute act to contrast with Nairn’s more traditional house music. I AM Beyonce had the additional bonus of suiting the culture of St Andrews. For whatever reason, our student body adores all things cheesy (see: Karaoke Fridays, Vengaboys, this past Refreshers’s ABBA tribute night). Students from all years unsurprisingly embraced the Beyonce-themed night, a choice recommended to Ms O’Connor following the act’s appearance at the Cambridge May Ball.

Having booked two nights, she was now left with three slots to fill. Traditionally Saturday and Sunday host The Bubble and Clan Warfare, while Wednesday and Friday are perpetually home to Sinners and The Bop. Once again, Ms O’Connor returned to the jigsaw puzzle, where she discovered a hip hop-shaped hole. Not only did DJ Yella satisfy this requirement, but he added an international name to what is often a British-centric programme. Union J and Jedward of Freshers’ 2015 were both welcomed by UK students, however their appearance did not incite as much excitement from our international majority. Ms O’Connor hoped that the appearance of an American name would provide some degree of familiarity to those students hailing from across the pond.

The final pieces of the puzzle came together with ease. Club MTV approached The Union, Ms O’Connor contacted Jenova Collective, and a cappella neatly fit into the Sunday slot. By August’s end, Freshers’ Week was fully assembled. “I got lucky,” Ms O’Connor said. “It was a nice balance for me of something international, something local and recognisable, something cheesy and fun, something with live music, and something with DJs.“

She admits that while booking the acts was the lion’s share of the process, the execution of the week itself remained a massive undertaking. Every Sabb could be found at The Union, working around the clock to organise the Freshers’ Fayre and to conduct press briefings and to distribute flyers. Freshers’ united the entire sabbatical team under one goal: to make the best impression possible on the Class of 2020 and to remind everyone else of how good our Union can be. This required balloons, UV lights and the finest selection of student DJs that St Andrews has to offer.

I asked myself, “Would I go to this if I were a student?’ At the end of the day it’s about trusting yourself.”

Even as she planned Freshers’, Ms O’Connor looked to the future. In keeping with her campaign promises, she visited the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to scout potential acts for Refreshers’ Week, building on the idea that Fringe performers are experienced in working “ with non-traditional venues. She assures us that we can expect to see events held at various University owned spaces throughout the year, rather than strictly Club 601, another promise from her campaign. Voters can be satisfied that their candidate has not forgotten her original statements and that she does indeed intend to live up to what she promised us.

The first tangible sign of this change can be found in Beacon Bar’s newest fixture, the weekly OMFG. Since its launch in 2015, Beacon Bar has become the place to seek refuge when the Main Bar becomes too sweaty. Ms O’Connor hopes to promote the bar’s new cocktail menu and to host events in the vein of Sandy’s, which reaches capacity during Friday’s Karaoke Night. She describes OMFG as incorporating a wide variety of events (beginning with a game of Assassins in Week 3), all intended to highlight the under-utilised top floor of The Union.

In reflection, Ms O’Connor offers another perspective on The Union’s biggest week: “Freshers’ Week is a result of everyone who told us ‘no,’ and what happens after that.” Freshers’ 2016 certainly played it safe, but you would be hard-pressed to find an individual who did not attend a single event. Ms O’Connor’s measured, logical approach ensured a balanced, well-executed week that truly did provide something for everyone. As we Bop every week and Sin every month, we can enjoy our evenings content in the knowledge that our Union is in competent hands.


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