The Hidden Door festival will take over Edinburgh’s former Royal High School this summer


The debating room created in the former Royal High School for a future Scottish Parliament will be used this summer for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival.

The neglected monument will be reborn as a cultural venue in June when it is taken over for 10 days in June.

Spaces in and around the A-listed building will become home to music, theatre, dance, spoken word and visual arts after City Council agrees to allow it to be used for l award-winning event.

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Outdoor music and a pop-up beer garden overlooking the Old Town will also be created as part of the event, which will kick off a summer that will see Edinburgh’s festivals celebrate their 75th anniversary.

The former Royal High School in Calton Hill will be open to the public for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival this summer.

Specially commissioned Hidden Door performances will be performed ‘in the round’ in the debating chamber originally created in the Regent Road building in the 1970s when it was proposed as the seat of a future Scottish Parliament.

An ephemeral stage will be built in the heart of the main auditorium, which will be able to accommodate approximately 250 people, while the entire site will be able to accommodate up to 1,000 festival-goers. More than 200 volunteers are expected to help clean up the site and create the infrastructure for the festival.

Hidden Door – which reopened the Leith Theater in 2017 for the first time in almost 30 years and took over part of the old Granton Gasworks last year – will be staged at the old Royal High School before the start work on a long-awaited renovation of the building.

Councilors approved plans to set up a National Music Centre, as well as the home of St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, in October following a long battle with developers of a proposed luxury hotel on the future of the site.

The former Royal High School, which is to be used as the venue for the Hidden Door festival in June. Photo: Scott Louden

While Hidden Door’s lineup will be kept under wraps until next month, the schedule is expected to include bands that will use the new National Music Centre, including St Mary’s Music School.

The school was built on a site overlooking the old town on Regent Road between 1826 and 1829, to a design by architect Thomas Hamilton.

The festival, which will run from June 9 to 18, will be the most significant use of the building since the school moved from the site in 1968.

The Main Debating Room was used for an opera in 1998, by the Edinburgh Art Festival in 2014 and for a theater production in 2016.

The former Royal High School in Calton Hill will reopen to the public in June for the Hidden Door Festival. Photo: Scott Louden

However, Hidden Door has committed to creating work for four main spaces within the building, as well as encouraging the public to explore its “myriad passageways, corridors, nooks and crannies”.

Admission will be free at the festival site during the day, and all-ticket evening events are expected to run until 11 p.m. or midnight.

David Martin, Creative Director of Hidden Door, said: “Our very first event, in the Market Street Vaults, overlooked this building.

“Once we had established a good relationship with the council, they actually suggested we check it out.

The debating room created in the former Royal High School for a future Scottish Parliament will be used this summer for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door festival.

“We were thinking of using it when we went to the Leith Theater but have had it in mind ever since and were actually about to announce plans to use it in 2020 when the lockdown happened.

“The biggest difficulty we had with Granton Gasworks was not knowing exactly what the restrictions would be at the time.

“We believe the Covid landscape will be different this summer, but we still need to plan with that in mind.

“The former Royal High will be much more focused on indoor spaces, but outdoor spaces will also be important, including terraces overlooking the city.

“There will be several things happening over and over throughout the site – it will be a bit like a micro-Fringe.

“The hemicycle is the building’s most charismatic space. We like its round nature, but the space in the middle is a bit too small, so we’ll build a stage on it, almost like a boxing ring.”

The former Royal High School in Calton Hill will be open to the public for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Festival this summer. Photo: Scott Louden

Mr Martin said the festival invited “Scotland’s newest and boldest artists, dancers, theatre-makers, poets and musicians to take over such a prestigious building which has remained dark for so long and to flood it with creative energy”.

He added, “The reason we decided to do Hidden Door in early summer is because the festival is about new releases and up-and-coming artists.

“We are working with groups who will collaborate with artists, theater makers and dancers to create spectacular performances in the debate hall, which will be very different from the musical performances on the main stage.

“There will always be stuff happening in our various performance spaces, which is very much the way people experience Hidden Door. They like to come in and do their own thing.

“We’re really excited to create what we think is Edinburgh’s best bar. We’ll be bringing people through the old school gates onto a terrace overlooking the city, but we’ll also have bars throughout the building.

Kenneth Taylor, Principal of St Mary’s, said: “It’s great to be involved in this celebration of the breadth and diversity of living artistic and creative practice in Scotland, and a real opportunity for our young musicians to share their contribution to this dynamic and engaging. scene.

“The setting of the former Royal High School is a perfect canvas for the imagination – opening the doors to memories of its past and excitement for its future – especially as it will become the home of our pupils.”

Donald Wilson, City Council Culture Organizer, said: “Following the success of the Hidden Door Festival at Granton Gasworks last year, we are delighted to be supporting the festival again and that the site of the former Royal High School can be commissioned for this year’s festival.

“It will be a fascinating insight into this iconic building and its historic interiors. I can’t wait for the full program to be announced.

Hidden Door creative director David Martin. Photo: Scott Louden
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