For 28 years, Edinburgh’s Leith Theatre was left derelict and decaying. Now, it’s being brought back to life by a grassroots art festival making its mark on the city.

Hidden Door is a multi-arts event which aims to re-purpose the city’s disused buildings. And in 2017, their sights are set on Leith.

“For years the theatre was just sitting there, empty,” says the festival’s creative director, David Martin.

“It was gathering dust.”

A new lease of life – 85 years on

Art deco gem, Leith Theatre, was originally opened in 1932.

Reportedly, it was built as a ‘gift to the people of Leith’ from the people of Edinburgh. It was closed in 1988, despite having hosted world-class music and theatre stars.

A Kickstarter campaign to restore the building aimed to raise £10,000, and was backed by high profile Trainspotting legends, Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle.

Leith Theatre has been derelict for over two decades. It’s set to be the home of Hidden Door in 2017 (Photo: Chris Scott)

Following the success of the fundraising efforts, the festival upped its target to £15,000. When fundraising stopped on 5 May, the Kickstarter had raised more than £21,000 in total.

The money will be used to restore the building to its former glory, so that it may be given as a gift once more. This time, to the creative community of Edinburgh.

“Edinburgh is, for one month of the year, the most exciting place to be,” says Martin, reflecting on the impressive scale of the Edinburgh Festival in August.

“But for the other 11 months of the year, it really isn’t. There are so many spaces that get brought to life in August for the Festival that seem to lie dormant or don’t get used for the rest of the year.”

The city is its own best resource for the arts

Hidden Door’s ethos is to ensure that these spaces are used more frequently, and more effectively.

“If there’s a will for it to happen, the city in itself can be a really fantastic resource for the arts,” says Martin.

“If there’s a will for it to happen, the city in itself can be a really fantastic resource for the arts.” David Martin, Hidden Door creative director.

“The arts are often struggling for resources, but the feeling is that the resources are actually there, we just need people power to turn it round.

“The Fringe has inspired this festival, but it’s a little bit different. There’s the sense with the Fringe that it’s other people coming into the city and doing it, but in Edinburgh, there’s a huge amount of talent within the city already.

“Edinburgh is beginning to have a burgeoning creative scene of its own. But it needs a platform for that, so that’s what we’re doing here.”

Four years, three venues

This is the fourth year that the festival has run. For the last two years, Hidden Door set up camp in King’s Stables Road. Its inaugural year was set against the backdrop of Waverley Station, in some then-disused arches.

Both spaces have since been earmarked for commercial developments. A new hotel will soon be built on King’s Stables Road, while the Waverley Arches are now home to a series of independent retail and restaurant spaces.

King’s Stables Road – transformed from a dusty courtyard into an artistic hub (Photo: Chris Scott)

But Martin is keen to stress that this is not a by-product of the festival.

“There’s a little bit of a misconception about Hidden Door,” he explains

“People think that once we do something in a space, then it gets turned into something fancy and leads to gentrification. But that’s not what’s happening at all.

“The space was earmarked for those developments a long time ago. What Hidden Door does, is it comes in and uses that space in the pause during the planning application process. It’s a line of opportunity.”

Booking big acts and facing big obstacles

The opportunity this year feels enormous.

The Hidden Door 2017 programme includes music from Scottish Album of the Year Award winners Anna Meredith and Kathryn Joseph, as well as Idlewild, Manuela, Siobhan Wilson and more.

There’s an extensive theatre selection from the likes of Annie Lord and Grid Iron. Plus, the spoken word line-up is strong, with big local names like Flint & Pitch, Inky Fingers and the award-winning Loud Poets.

But putting together such an impressive programme is hard work, and requires a team of over 60 volunteers. And then there are the inevitable obstacles that come with any big event.

Scottish Album of the Year winner Anna Meredith is playing at this year’s festival (Photo: Kate Bones)

“What we’re trying to do is make something happen in a space where that sort of thing hasn’t happened before – and that comes with problems,” explains Martin.

“Last year there was no running water, no electricity and a potential rat infestation. This year we have had to deal with pigeons. We’ve also had to deal with structural issues in the building, and other problems you wouldn’t expect.”

“We find people are really happy to spend £20 on the bar, but they require a bit more convincing to spend £15 quid on some music.” David Martin, Hidden Door creative director

One key concern was the lack of live music culture in the city, and the prevalence of music in the festival programme.

“Edinburgh isn’t known as a great place for live music, and that’s a challenge” he says.

“We find people are really happy to spend £20 on the bar, but they require a bit more convincing to spend £15 quid on some music.”

But despite the obstacles in their way, Hidden Door believe that Edinburgh is a city of culture, and they want to keep finding it in the unlikeliest of places.

“There’s no doubt that the arts are struggling for resources,” Martin says.

“But in this city, the resources are there. You just have to find them.”

Hidden Door runs from 26 May to 4 June 2017 –

This article was originally posted at Reposted with permission. To read the original review, click here.

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This post was written by Rebecca Monks.

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