Castlebrae High set to shine as Edinburgh Festival venue

Mikey J Asante shows Nicola Sturgeon how to make the bb hand shape for dance company Boy Blue Entertainment during her visit. Picture: PA
Mikey J Asante shows Nicola Sturgeon how to make the bb hand shape for dance company Boy Blue Entertainment during her visit. Picture: PA
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It was saved from closure just four years ago – but is now set for a starring role in the Edinburgh International Festival.

The gym hall at Castlebrae Community High in Craigmillar has been completely transformed for its two-night spell in the limelight.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the pupils who have been involved have really benefited

Nicola Sturgeon

Hip hop dance stars Blue Boy Entertainment have sold out two performances in the pop-up auditorium, which will be the culmination of a three-year project with the festival.

Twelve students will be helping festival staff to run the venue, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited to oversee rehearsals for the show Project R.E.B.E.L.

The school was almost closed down by the city council due to poor exam results, truancy and exclusion rates before a last-minute reprieve after a campaign by parents. The festival partnership has seen students given one-to-one mentoring, attend opera, dance and drama workshops, and take on work experience placements.

Headteacher Norma Prentice said: “The venue is absolutely amazing. It has been totally transformational, especially considering it’s been created in an old gym and has only taken a week to do. The two shows are going to take everyone’s breath way.

“The students who are going to be on duty will be showing people to their seats, working in the cafe and also helping out on the technical side of things.

“The festival has been with us all the way over the last three years. The project has made the whole community look 
outwards and given the pupils a lot more confidence to go into the city centre, which they literally weren’t doing before.

“The festival is part of the school family now, so we’re going to sit down with them and talk about how to keep working with them so that the special relationship we now have doesn’t go flat.”

Ms Sturgeon said: “The Edinburgh International Festival is a big, successful, global event, but its roots are in the city and it’s really important that it makes closer connections with communities in the city. It’s also about opening up the event to future generations.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that the pupils who have been involved with the festival have really benefited from it. It’s really open to eyes and minds of young people to all the career opportunities that are there in arts and culture.

“It’s not just about people who sing, dance and act – it’s also about the technical skills that go into a major festival. However, it’s also true to say the festival has benefited from hearing the views and the ideas of the younger generation.”

Castlebrae, which will host performances of the dance show tonight and tomorrow, is the first new out-of-town venue to be introduced to the festival programme since new director Fergus Linehan took over the running of the event in 2015.

Mr Linehan said: “It’s been great to see the positive impact this kind of residency has had on the lives of Castlebrae’s pupils, their teachers and the broader community of Craigmillar.”