Welcome to Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre Peebles
Even by the Eastgate’s standards, it’s been a dramatic year. By January, the complex jigsaw of a variety of successful funding applications, plus the generosity of local individuals, companies and organisations made it possible to realise the first phase of an ambitious redevelopment plan for the building. This would transform the auditorium, extend and improve access to the café and foyer and replace collapsing elements of the infrastructure, from boilers to air handling units.
Month one and the planning was shaken when Richard Hogg, Technical Manager, general building repair guy and IT support for over 12 years joined Edinburgh University. With temporary technical support recruited, the theatre launched its first season of 60 shows plus the annual Peebles Outdoor Film Festival over the three months between January and March. Cliff Carrie joined the team as the new Technical Manager in April.
The regular schedule of live music and drama, films and screenings, talks and comedy featured a new selection of afternoon performances: classical chamber music on Sundays, drama for children and a series of one-act plays (plus lunch), building on the bite-sized entertainments from the year before. The theatre also hosted a short residency for aerial dance company All or Nothing.
Season two took the theatre from April through to the closure for redevelopment in mid-June. As designs, tenders and contracts were being negotiated, the Spring season of 40 shows was finalised. Rich with youthful ideas, energy and imagination, it included the magnificent Tortoise in a Nutshell and Jabuti Theatre exploring what it means to be a refugee girl.
Meanwhile, local companies Stride Young Dance Company and Nomad Beat combined forces for a stunning performance, Tweed Theatre’s youth company performed Blood Brothers and Peebles High School presented a series of original short plays devised and performed by their own students.
In June, the theatre doors closed, shutters and fences were erected and the Eastgate team relocated to the former Tourist Information Centre on the High Street for the summer. There, new partnerships were formed with Live Borders, Scottish Borders Council and the Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as many passing visitors looking for points of interest in Peebles and the Borders.
Though co-ordinated by the Eastgate, Creative Peebles Festival is not dependent on the theatre as a venue and so the 2019 festival spread its wings to venues from the Macfarlane Hall and Peebles Hydro to Traquair House and Cademuir Hill. A huge scratch choir learned and performed Mozart’s Requiem in a single day, while an intimate performance by Horse McDonald in the Laigh Hall of Neidpath Castle sold out.
The scheduled re-opening of the theatre on Sunday 8 September was a dream too far as the ambitious project hit a few unexpected problems but, four days later, the doors opened for Tweed Theatre’s production of Dirty Dusting. Despite continuing snagging issues, the theatre has remained operational since then.
Three of the Eastgate’s directors have played a key role in steering the project through to its conclusion: Ian Jenkins (chair of the Eastgate Board from spring until autumn 2019), Ron Inglis (who took over the chair in November) and Estella Abraham.
The four-month Autumn season was so extensive that the brochure listing had to be expanded. It featured a screening of Sir Billy Connolly’s final touring performance in Australia, Wilderland, the first festival of films celebrating the wonders of the natural world, and annual offerings from Tweed Theatre, Downright Homespun Radio Company, many local musicians, plus the inimitable Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham.
As all of this was going ahead, the drive to improve the Eastgate continued. Applications to extend the outreach programme realised a £5,000 investment from Awards for All, as well as support from Peeblesshire Community Trust, while a successful application to SBC Localities Bid fund secured almost £4,000 to install a state-of-the-art Dolby Fidelio hearing loop system – now being tested for both the auditorium and the Anne Younger Studio.
Most recently, an application to Screen Scotland has resulted in the award of £25,000 to replace the current film projection and sound system and transform the experience for audiences for the programme of Sunday cinema, plus screenings from the National Theatre, Royal Opera and Royal Ballet.
Stepping into 2020, the busiest arts venue in the Borders continues to aim high, providing audiences with the best possible experience from a programme that features the finest international artists, space for local artists and companies, plus opportunities for people to participate in a whole host of creative activities.