Behind the scenes at PCP
The barefoot population and the self-motivated academics are some of the things that set New College apart from other schools. But there is one New College tradition that catches the eyes of outsiders everywhere three times, every year — the Palm Court Parties, or PCPs. Not only do PCPs involve almost the entire student body, but they also attract visitors from all corners, creating a party atmosphere unlike anything else.
This past February, the biggest PCP in New College history — Neverland PCP — was thrown, attracting most members of the student body, a few hundred of their friends and also over 1,000 alums and visitors.
Planning such an event for so many people requires large amounts of time and energy from full-time students who are also often carrying jobs and other obligations. The work that goes into PCPs is often largely forgotten in the revelry except by those who throw them. A night like PCP takes “days, weeks, months, decades [to plan],” first-year Jared O’Connor, a Neverland PCP sponsor, said with a laugh.
Second-years Bryce Bresnan, Hannah Brown and Krystaal McClain, along O’Connor, together sponsored and planned Neverland PCP while managing their classes and also working jobs.
“When we first decided to throw a PCP, we didn’t actually know that we would be in charge of the biggest PCP ever thrown,” Bresnan said. “We were told that we might have 3,000 people on campus and that was what we had to plan for.”
“Figuring out how to put a pirate ship in Palm Court, cleaning everything up at seven and dealing with people’s criticisms were definitely the most challenging aspects of throwing this PCP,” McClain agreed.
Each PCP is funded by the Student Allocations Committee (SAC). PCP sponsors can get between $1,600 and $1,800 to decorate the Black Box Theater, Palm Court, create a Chill-Out Room, offer food and hydration — along with DJs and whatever other decorations the sponsors desire.
“We had to come up with a theme, figure out how we wanted to decorate all the areas and over winter break we priced everything,” McClain said. “We came back, asked the SAC for money, went and bought everything, had to contact and set up the DJs, build, delegate with the student body, organize t-shirt sales, make sure that the alums would be content, that we wouldn’t make Physical Plant mad, reserve rooms, and always keep to code, maintain our own studies and jobs and get everything done.”
For Neverland PCP, the Alumni Association almost matched the donations of the SAC because PCP fell on the 50th anniversary weekend and would not just be accommodating students but thousands of alums and visitors as well. The extra money they had went almost solely to the acquisition of food, beverages and DJs.
“We had to go through the SAC, the Alumni Association, the administration, the 50th anniversary committee, student body, Physical Plant and [NCSA co-presidents] Mike [Long] and Oliver [Peckham] — we tapped into almost every resource we could,” O’Connor further clarified. “We had to.”
“We used the money the Alumni Association gave us for food — about $750 — and on DJs,” Bresnan, the sponsor in charge of this aspect, said. “We spent about $1,500 on DJs so that we could have them in the Black Box, the Nook and Palm Court for almost nine hours. What most people don’t realize is that although there was supposed to be twice the amount of people, we still had only four sponsors and the same amount of space that all PCPs before us have had,” Bresnan clarified. “It’s really hard because we are still full-time students. We wanted to build interactive things and to keep it atmospheric. We wanted an ambiance to PCP as opposed to just a few solid decorations.”
The Nook was painted as the Mermaid’s Lagoon and Palm Court was basked in blue light that made the pirate ship feel more realistic. The Black Box was covered in clouds and paintings to mimic the same skies through which Peter Pan flew. The sponsors created and put together the event with the help of a throng of committed volunteers.
“Everyone who helped made our lives so much easier,” McClain said of the volunteers. “Even by painting one cloud, or moving a couple pieces of wood, they helped relieve a lot of stress.”
“There is no way in hell that Krystaal, Hannah, Jared and I could have done a PCP this big without the volunteers,” Bresnan said. “There was a certain person who literally came to my room every night asking to build for a week straight. I didn’t always have time to do it but she consistently knocked on my door and that was exactly what I needed. In the last week when we were getting really stressed and burned out, people who could just lightly come up and say ‘Hey, let’s do something, let’s build, what can I do?’ gave us our energy back. To see that enthusiasm and desire to see this party happen made the things on our minds a lot easier to do.
“There were always people there building with us, it was very rare when one of the PCP sponsors would be doing something alone,” Bresnan continued. “There were a lot of cool people who were there with us almost every step of the way. It is hard though — we can’t rely on a huge mass of volunteers to help us. Everyone is leading their own lives and a lot of people don’t know how to get involved. Sometimes it was like we were battling New College to make everybody happy, but as it is a natural part of anything you do, you can’t make everybody happy. That was a hard thing to reconcile with the idealist mindset that I had developed. But as long as you keep throwing parties and doing what most want, at least you can make a lot of people happy.”
When asked how much time the sponsors spent on PCP in separate interviews, each said with a tired laugh “too much.”
“We ate, slept, and breathed Neverland for a while,” O’Connor laughed.
But something they all recognized as indispensable was the help they did receive. “If you have the courage to ask personally, then you will find that there is a surplus of people willing to help,” Bresnan said, in reference to the SAC, Alumni Association, Physical Plant and fellow students. “Physical Plant provided a service that we could not have accomplished on our own —they donated wood and manpower to help us set up Palm Court. I can’t stress how ingratiated we are to them for this.”
“The SAC was also crucial,” O’Connor added. “It feels scary asking them for money because you tend to think it is their money and they don’t want to share it, but that isn’t true. They are there to help us do what we want to—to make our community as fun as possible.”
When asked what advice they would give to PCP throwers, they all offered similar answers.
“Stay on top of it, have a good plan and do it with people you already know and trust,” O’Connor advised.
“Have your budget all set up, knowing exactly what you need to buy and how much money you have to ask for to do it,” McClain said.
“Pick a leader,” Bresnan added. “We were co-sponsors but definitively Krystaal was in charge. Someone needs to make decisions and delegation is very important, everyone needs to be in charge of something.”
All also emphasized the importance of asking for help. “PCP is everyone’s party,” Bresnan explained. “Students not only are going to PCP — they are a part of it. If all 800 students donated 10 minutes of their time can you imagine what the decorations would have looked like? The clouds would have been everywhere and the pirate ship could have been built in an hour. If you take some amount of responsibility over this thing that you’re a part of, not only will that make it exponentially better, but I bet you would get a lot more out of it too.
“Now that I think about it, the most amazing thing I got out of PCP is that I now know people who have things and can do things,” he said. “I know what people are willing to do for this party and each other, which means that what we create in the future will be remarkable.
“The feeling of pride at watching people have such a good time at the party you planned, your creation, is incredible,” Bryce concluded. “To see it all come together with everyone you have come to love is a feeling unparalleled with much else.”