To celebrate what would have been the opening night of the Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s 2020 season, Friday 22 May – and the 69th anniversary of the acclaimed Perthshire theatre opening up as a Tent Theatre, in 1951 – the venue are offering families a fun-filled, illustrated, online book to help them create their own amazing theatre tent in their home or garden, with everyday household items – all they’ll need as their imagination! Budding Theatre-makers can also take pictures of their home-made stage, send them to the theatre, or post them on the Theatre’s social media channels, and the three selected, will WIN A FAMILY TICKET TO THEIR CHOICE OF SHOW IN 2021
The idea is simply, as visitors sadly are unable to visit Pitlochry Festival Theatre right now – as the season would be opening with the top Broadway musical, Gypsy on its first night – why not build your own!
The original tent theatre was opened in 1951 by a man called John Stewart. Stewart came from Glasgow with a wonderful plan to open a unique theatre in Pitlochry. Unfortunately, coming straight after the Second World War his dream was short lived due to a severe shortage of building materials such as bricks and concrete. He knew he had to find another way to build his theatre and hit on the idea of putting a big tent in the garden of his house in Lower Oakfield in Pitlochry, similar to the wet weather tents in London’s Regent Park and Birmingham’s Arena. With the support of Tom Johnston, chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board, the Ministry of Works finally capitulated, and permission was given for a little steel and a little timber, so that the tent theatre could be completed. He bought a tent, a stage, seats, and a big safety curtain to hang between the stage and the audience. On the 19th May 1951 Pitlochry Festival Theatre was born with the opening production of the British première of Maxwell Anderson’s Mary of Scotland, with the celebrated British actor, Joss Ackland as Darnley.
Sixty-nine years later the team at Pitlochry Festival Theatre are looking for families to help them celebrate by designing their own theatre tent using items found at home or in the Garden. Brainchild of Pitlochry’s Artistic Director, Elizabeth Newman explained:
“We’re all finding it so sad that we can’t welcome our wonderful audiences to the Theatre this summer, and very many of our visitors are sending such lovely, but sad messages, saying how much they are missing coming to see us too. I wanted to find a way to make sure they could still visit us somehow… So I came up with the idea that they could build their own theatre at home.
“With some incredibly talented Pitlochry Festival Theatre artists – Barbara Hockaday, Adrian Rees and Trudy Rees-Marklew – we’ve created a fully illustrated guide of How to Build Your Own Theatre. Our Theatre originally started in a tent not a building, so we imagined it would be fun to build the original Festival Theatre. It also includes a story and songs for children and families of all ages to perform together, and how to make the props, costumes and set for the performance! We can’t wait to hear about how everyone’s got on.
Theatre Designer Adrian Rees said: “I had the most wonderful grandparents. My most vivid childhood memories are making dens, forts and theatres in their kitchen. This was after we had already made toffee and fudge. We used old blankets and towels draped over the kitchen chairs and table, held on with pegs. We used our toys to tell stories and act out plays. They have stuck in my head all my life. It’s from those memories, I have imagined ways to recreate the amazing Pitlochry Tent Theatre with things you might find around your house. The greatest fun, though, is where Theatre-makers come up with their own ideas too: use my ideas as a starting point and then go with it. There are no right and wrong ways. You can use anything you like as long as you have fun!”
“I must also say, make sure that it’s okay to use an item first. Ask before you use the best towels, or cushions! And remember, it is fun to get your family to help you. Playing together and making each other laugh are the best feelings in the world!”
This Project has been generously supported by the Holy Trinity Scottish Episcopal Church, (part of The Highland Perthshire Linked Charge) of the Diocese of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane. Pitlochry Episcopal Church Minister, Liz Baker, told us:
“We are thrilled to collaborate with Pitlochry festival theatre on their How to Build Your Own Theatre project. We are so excited that so many families and groups across Highland Perthshire will receive this great resource, and across Scotland too.
Like the theatre, our churches spend lots of time telling stories to help and support people make sense of the world around them. This feels like an important time to offer something like this to the public. It also felt important that, whilst people can’t go to the Theatre or church in person, they can use their imagination to have fun and explore ideas and stories at home. Our partnership with the theatre on community engagement activities is an important way for us to continue to help people during this difficult time. And we really look forward to doing more together.”