The Barron Theatre, nestled just off North Street, is St Andrews’s black-box venue and one of only three entirely student-run theatres in the UK. As well as being home to the Mermaids (The University of St Andrews Performing Arts Fund), whose team of volunteers manage and care for the theatre, it facilitates countless other societies and independent student ventures. In the winter, the Barron hosts the Freshers Drama Festival, in which the theatrically inclined get a chance to cut their teeth in the St Andrews drama scene. And in the spring, it is bustling with an array of craft and performance workshops, as part of the largest student-run arts festival in the UK, On The Rocks. Whether it is life drawing, improv comedy or a production of a Pinter play, the intimate 60-seater-venue is the hub of the St Andrews arts community.
Despite the above, the University has taken the decision to permanently close the beloved theatre and from September move all activity to the Byre Theatre’s Lawrence Levy Studio. There has yet to be an official statement from the University, but after news of the closure was leaked early last week, an Open Forum was held on Friday the 22nd of January with Dr Katie Stevenson (Vice Principal for Collections, Music and Digital Content) and Byre Theatre Co-Directors (Kally Llyod-Jones and Jess Richards) to allow students to air their concerns about the closure and relocation.
What transpired was almost two and a half hours of student voices of all kinds expressing the importance of the building to the autonomy of the arts. One first year, despite never having the chance to step foot in the building herself, due to the unusual nature of this past semester (thank you Covid-19), expressed how The Barron Theatre and the opportunities it offers to acquire transferable skills and experience in theatre production, was central to her decision to apply to The University of St Andrews. Alumni now working in professional theatre also gathered to ardently attest the integral role their time in the Barron played in gaining a foothold in such a notoriously difficult industry. They are also continuing to lend support to current students in their efforts to preserve these opportunities for generations of theatre hopefuls to come.
The Byre’s offer of the studio space five days a week and enthusiasm to share their expertise is an undeniably generous offer, however, the fact remains this current proposed ‘alternative’ to the Barron is a substantial downgrade in the space, time and autonomy that the students are used to and value so highly.
It is on these principles that the Save The Barron campaign has arisen. Their change.org petition boasts over 2,000 signatures at the time of writing, and they have announced plans to appeal to the University Court and Rector Leyla Hussein.
My biases on this matter are inescapable. The Barron Theatre has defined my university experience. In my first year, it was where, nervous and shivering (If you must fault it something, I will concede it is perpetually cold) I got to put on multiple shows with the people who would become and still are my closest friends. In my second year, it was why, as then Barron Manager, I incessantly bustled between Fife Park and North Street, waxed lyrical about fire exits and proudly flaunted my rather hefty set of keys. And now, in my third year, like everything else curtailed, closed and cancelled by Covid, The Barron has been forced to close its doors. Sadly, but quite possibly, for good.
If you wish to read more about The Barron Theatre, sign the petition or get involved with the Save The Barron Campaign, email [email protected] or check out the Save The Barron Facebook page.