Pitlochry Festival Theatre (PFT) entered an exciting new stage in its 63 year history with the launch on 10 May of its 'Vision 2021'.
Since its birth in a tent in 1951, PFT has evolved continuously to suit the changing needs of its patrons and the times. Following an independent Feasibility Study (commissioned by Creative Scotland, Perth & Kinross Council and Scottish Enterprise) of PFT`s plans to expand upon and further develop John Stewart’s legacy, PFT is now launching the outline of its new vision for Scotland`s renowned Theatre in the Hills.
Through the Vision 2021 project, PFT intends to deliver five key ambitions:

  • PFT View from North EastWebTo create a national centre of theatrical excellence in Perthshire, offering experiences, services and facilities of the highest quality to audiences and visitors from across Scotland, the UK and overseas
  • To transform PFT into Scotland`s premier building-based producing theatre, with an improved and enlarged technical and capital infrastructure and a central role in the national performing arts sector through partnerships with other theatres, producers and venues
  • To make PFT a key player in Scotland`s touring infrastructure, by creating dedicated PFT touring productions to service both the Scottish and UK markets and by programming into the new PFT the best touring work (theatre, opera and dance) from across the UK and elsewhere
  • To deliver a new national centre of high quality Production Services at PFT, focused upon design, set building, scenic art, wardrobe, lighting and sound and digital technologies, with these services being made available to companies across Scotland and further afield; and
  • To become a national provider of Training and Skills Development in technical theatre and related disciplines, offering vocational training (in partnership with the formal education sector) that will equip young people with the transferable skills necessary to fill the skills gap in Scotland`s creative industries and improve the overall skills capacity of the Scottish economy

Three Phases: Growth, Build and The New PFT
PFT View from Car ParkWebThe 2013 independent Feasibility Study (carried out by specialist consultants BOP and The Whetstone Group) identified that in order to prosper, PFT could not stand still but had to grow in its artistic ambitions, in its physical scale, in the volume of productions it created and the overall size of audience it attracted.
Vision 2021, which combines PFT`s ambitions with the recommendations of the Feasibility Study and the views of key stakeholders, has now entered a public consultation phase, PFT having already engaged with community and business groups and residents from across Highland Perthshire prior to today`s public launch. PFT has also been monitoring similar renewal and redevelopment projects elsewhere in the UK, in order to learn from their experiences of large-scale redevelopment - most notably Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Rep.
The theatre has identified three phases for the delivery of IT £25m Vision 2021.
Phase 1 comprises a five year growth programme within the existing facilities, commencing with the Homecoming themed 2014 Summer Season, which opens on 23rd May. Aiming to deliver a 20% uplift in theatre attendances by 2018/19, this programme will include the launch of a Spring production in 2016 and the development of a touring model that will allow PFT to take its productions to other Scottish and UK venues.
A capital fundraising campaign will commence in 2016, once the current, visionary concept for the PFT site, developed by Scotland`s leading theatre architects, Nicoll Russell Studios, has been converted into the detailed architectural plans required for successful bids to national agencies, trusts and foundations and PFT`s supporters. At this point, it is estimated that the large-scale physical transformation of PFT under current consideration will cost circa £25 million.
Phase 2, in 2019, will commence with a programme of major capital works in and around the existing theatre building, which it is estimated will last between 18 and 24 months. Whilst the final elements of the build programme will not be confirmed until next year, the concept plan currently includes:

  • The complete refurbishment of the main auditorium and stage, with a reduction in auditorium capacity to c. 500 to improve legroom, comfort and sightlines
  • The addition of a full height fly tower above the stage (PFT currently only has a one third height fly tower), enabling mid and large-scale touring both out of and into PFT
  • The building of a smaller second auditorium, with a flexible configuration and a capacity of c. 300
  • Greatly enlarged and enhanced Front of House facilities, including new foyer spaces, restaurants, bars, cafés and shops
  • A new river frontage with terraces and hard landscaping, public entrances offering direct access from the riverside and a new, enlarged car park
  • The expansion and conversion of PFT`s existing Education, Rehearsal and Workshop complex at the adjacent Fonab Castle site into a new, national Production Services Hub and Training Centre

During this transformative build phase, the theatre site will be largely inaccessible. However, PFT`s intends to maintain its artistic output during this period, in order to both sustain its audiences and maintain its significant role within the local and national economy (the Feasibility Study confirmed PFT`s annual contribution to the Scottish economy at £13-20 million). To achieve this, PFT will be going back to its roots and will present two Summer Seasons in a modern tent theatre elsewhere in Pitlochry. In addition, PFT will mount Autumn and Spring touring productions that will visit venues across Scotland and will continue to deliver its hugely successful Winter musical production, but in residence at a Central Belt venue.
Phase 3 will commence in the summer of 2021, when the new Pitlochry Festival Theatre opens its doors 70 years after PFT`s very first Summer Season in a tent.

The scale of the proposed development requires consideration to be given to the likely impact on the local and national infrastructure, including transport links (A9 dualling and national rail services and schedules) and hotel, retail and hospitality provision in Highland Perthshire for both visitors and new employees of the expanded theatre complex. Currently, approximately 30,000 visitors to PFT stay over in the area each year; this figure is likely to rise to 70,000 visitors annually by 2021.
A development of this scale will also have an impact on local services, including housing, health care and education, and PFT will be engaging with government at both local and national levels to address these needs.
PFT`s is already one of Scotland`s leading cultural tourism destinations, with an annual economic impact far greater than any comparable UK theatre producer and, within Scotland, second only to the Edinburgh Festival. With some 140,000 theatre attendances predicted for the new PFT from 2021 onwards, delivery of Phase 3 as currently envisaged would substantially increase PFT`s already significant national economic impact, perhaps to a figure in excess of £35 million per annum.

Artistic Development
PFT is making public Vision 2021 in tandem with its 2014 Summer Season, Home Again. This engaging and entertaining celebration of Scottish theatrical voices as part of Homecoming 2014 provides an excellent platform for the launch of this long-term vision for PFT`s future, given that the six plays that make up the Summer Season all reflect upon aspects of Scotland`s culture and identity.
The teatre already creates more in-house productions than any other building-based producer in Scotland. It has also become, in the space of just 5 years, Scotland`s leading producer of musical theatre, in terms of scale, output and quality. Vision 2021 will position PFT as Scotland`s premier building-based producing and receiving house, expanding on its unique and highly successful repertoire model and utilising a second auditorium to broaden its overall creative range and deliver an increased number of productions, for the widest possible range of audiences, throughout the year.
With the addition of a full height fly tower and a second auditorium, PFT will be in a position to not only receive small, medium and large scale productions from other UK theatres and producers, but it will also be able to tour its own productions, at all scales, throughout Scotland and further afield. A wide range of opera, dance and music performance will also be showcased within the expanded programme.
The creation of a brand new Production Services Hub and Training Centre will allow PFT to share its high quality production facilities and the skills of its outstanding staff with other companies in the performing arts sector, whilst addressing the alarming technical skills gap that is developing within the creative industries in Scotland. In combination, this development will provide other companies with the chance to develop, create, rehearse, build and open entire productions at PFT and, at the same time, provide hands-on, transferable vocational skills development for young people in a wide range of technical disciplines.

2021 Vision Summary
• A major, national arts institution with state of the art facilities is developed in Pitlochry
• Artistic output is both increased and greatly diversified, with more productions, concerts, events and tours year-round
• Theatre attendances rise by c. 40%, significantly enhancing the annual economic contribution deriving from visitors to PFT 
• Positive national and local economic impacts result, with additional direct and indirect employment,  supply chain increases, and uplifts in the provision of goods and services from a range of sectors
• Training and skills development boosts Scotland`s overall creative capacity

Logical next Step
Colin Liddell, Chair of PFT`s Board of Trustees, sees Vision 2021 as a logical next step in PFT`s long history: “The Theatre has been constantly evolving since its birth in difficult post-war times in 1951, and then suffering significant damage in a storm in 1953, after which the founder handed over all his assets and savings to the charity which still runs the Theatre to this day.
"In 1981, the Theatre moved to its current glorious surroundings beside the River Tummel. These buildings have stood us well, but now is the time for the Theatre again to evolve and develop, retaining its special character, to become a centre of excellence, and of touring, production and training."
The Feasibility Study has taught us that the status quo is not an option and that we must grow in ambition and in size to maintain and excite our audiences over the next 60+ years, as we have done for the last 63. So the Theatre is today outlining an inspirational vision for its future development which will be transformational for the cultural landscape of Scotland, Perth & Kinross and Highland Perthshire.”
He continued: "PFT`s Chief Executive & Artistic Director, John Durnin, believes that the time has come for PFT to play a bigger role in Scotland`s arts infrastructure:
“Vision 2021 is the culmination of many years of planning and discussion between PFT`s Board of Trustees, its Senior Management Team, and a wide variety of funders, stakeholders and national agencies. We`ve long known that PFT would have to change – physically and creatively – if it was to not just survive, but to thrive in the very different cultural and economic landscape that now surrounds us. But at the same time, we knew that alongside any change, we also had to retain PFT`s very particular spirit of place and the unique Pitlochry experience that audiences have treasured for so many years."
He concluded: "Vision 2021 provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change, to grow and to develop, yet retain all that is special and valued about this extraordinary organisation. The challenges presented by such a major project are, of course, immense, but the prize it offers is even greater: the chance to establish a new national centre of excellence in rural Scotland and reposition PFT at the very heart of Scotland`s culture sector.”

Pictured are artist's impressions of the view from the north east and (below) the frontage from the carpark


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