Our charity started life in 1963 as an informal group of local arts enthusiasts promoting events for Cumbernauld’s newly established town’s folk. Cumbernauld itself was a new town, perhaps one of the most ambitious modernist designs of the 20th century in the UK and its masterplan represented all kinds of aspirations for a modern way of life.
Across Scotland, the 1960s were also a time when artist activism led to the forming of many artist collectives and groups, that today are institutions of our cultural life, such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Traverse Theatre. In his chapter in the book ART WITH PEOPLE , the artist, curator and critic David Harding wrote “The democratic urges and idealism of the Sixties moved a number of artists to question their role in society. Individualism, self- expression and ‘art about art’ began to be replaced in their practice by collaboration, social relevance, process and context.”
A hugely influential group established in the 1960s was the Artist Placement Group (known as APG). Founded by John Latham and Barbara Steveni, APG was set up to place artists in non-art situations and institutions to make art out of the experience.
A number of people who were arts enthusiasts and newly based in the Cumbernauld gathered together to create an arts forum. By 1963 and under the direction of Tom Laurie they were able to establish a theatre in a row of 18th century cottages.
Tom’s vision was to establish a membership-based, community led arts centre where there was an opportunity to experience a melting pot of local creative talent and performances of folk, jazz, poetry, art exhibitions and drama, all open to the public.
The influence of APG led to the appointment of many New-Town artists including Cumbernauld’s Brian Miller whose appointment provided a unique opportunity for an artist to influence the formation of the town.
In his blog, the contemporary writer Kirkland Ciccone from Cumbernauld writes… “Brian Miller, the closest thing to a patron saint the town of Cumbernauld had, quickly set to work putting his stamp on the building (Cumbernauld Cottage Theatre). Brian is in the DNA of Cumbernauld and The Cottage Theatre definitely benefitted as a result of his talent. From the logo painted on the side of the building to the posters used to advertise the plays Brian wrote and performed, The Cottage Theatre was a brand all itself. Even now, on occasion, I hear people talk about those old plays.”
There were many writers, directors and performers drawn to present their work in Cumbernauld, to an enthusiastic and engaged community, empowered through creative expression.
Cumbernauld Theatre became the regular home for the works of well-known figures from the world of theatre and music who were renowned for developing distinctly political works that collectively explored and expressed critical perspectives on land ownership, mineral rights, political control and the economic divide within society. Such leading artists included for example, Tom McGrath and 7:84, and Ewan McColl and Peggy Seegar.
As the Cottage, Cumbernauld Theatre was committed to an art that is publicly owned and collective in its production and this commitment continues for the Trust.
Generations of young people have been involved in the Cumbernauld Youth Theatre whose work has tackled pertinent issues such as unemployment, drug use or explored social movements such as feminism or racial equality. In the 1980’s Simon Sharkey developed International Youth Theatre programmes creating opportunities for the young theatre participants to travel to take part in festivals in Singapore, Portugal and Jordan. In more recent years under Ed Robson, the Theatre branched out into delivering the Yay Ya Schools Literary Festival, and projects for Primary and Secondary schools that were linked to the curriculum for drama and English, as well as co-productions with New College Lanarkshire for trainee actors to gain valuable experience as they embarked on their careers. Our programmes have built up community togetherness and developed individuals’ confidence and ambition, with many Youth Theatre graduates going on to study professional arts practices and have successful careers in the creative industries.
This history of continued investment in community creativity has led to a phenomena now clearly visible when visiting Cumbernauld Theatre of an audience that is representational of the community, people of all ages and from all walks of life.
Our community in Cumbernauld of 50,000 is one where we see ourselves as creative people, having grown up in the company of fantastic creatives like Tom Laurie, John Baraldi, Robert Robson, Liz Carruthers, Simon Sharkey and Ed Robson.
We look back fondly on our days at the old Cottage Theatre and the friends we made there and we will continue to champion the arts as an intrinsic part of our community life.
We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone for sharing their recollections and history of the origins of Cumbernauld Theatre.
If you would like to share a memory or mention someone in particular in relation to the Theatre’s history, please visit our Have Your Say section and send your comments and memories by choosing the Our History option.
Be part of our future. We invite you to join us.