Ahead of April Fool’s Day, Kirstin Innes meets Edinburgh mischief makers tePOOKa
The large scarlet doors marking the entrance to the former Lawson’s Timber retail site on Edinburgh’s Lady Lawson Street look innocuous enough. What the guidebooks don’t tell you is that this is actually a portal to another world. Behind the Big Red Door, there’s a performance space and bar area decked out with dragon’s heads and hanging demons, velvet curtains, vivid stage scenery, salvaged church pews, and huge, weird canvasses. There’s a tiny rock garden hung with mirrors and toys, flanked by three brightly coloured sheds which double up as artist’s studios; a costume store, a rehearsal studio with trapezes hanging from the ceiling and a hidden room full of drums.
And there’s tePOOKa. The decade-old performance arts charity, or ‘Edinburgh’s resident mischief makers’, as they like to style themselves, who took over the building three years ago and have been furiously renovating it ever since into an alternative arts venue, with absolutely no money behind them. Most of the time they use the space for teaching aerial and circus workshops, but occasionally, when they receive temporary licences from the council, they’ll open their micro-Wonderland to the public. 'Their April Fool's Festival is running all fortnight.'
‘We want to get people realising that this is actually a venue,’ says Tree Stewart Musso, who has been co-running the company for seven years now. ‘We’re trying to establish the Big Red Door as the place for interesting, alternative music and theatre in Edinburgh, and also a place where people can come and hang out and get involved. It’s something a little bit different that isn’t just the normal theatre or club, which we all find a little bit boring these days.’
The April Fool’s Festival, which starts appropriately enough on April Fool’s Day, is fourteen days of live music and short films (many with an environmentally aware agenda), circus and art workshops, live drumming, theatre pieces, exhibitions, games, cabaret and storytelling designed to celebrate the building. tePOOKa themselves are putting on three nights, when they’ll create characters (like the Gargoyles pictured above) and stay in them for the duration of the evening, but they’re also offering the space out as a platform to local performers who can’t afford to rent spaces for themselves.
‘They’re a brilliant audience, the people who come here, so we can offer people a bit more exposure,’ Stewart Musso explains. They’re hoping the April Fool’s Festival, particularly their daytime activities, will attract a wider audience to the venue too.
‘The idea is that, during the fortnight, people who work in local offices can come in for a sandwich and a quick arts and circus skills workshop. Something a bit different and a bit weird. The programme’s pretty much finalised, but tePOOKa will probably put on loads more games and mayhem. Because we just can’t help ourselves!’ And she laughs, like a demon. Or a mischief maker.
April Fool’s Festival, Big Red Door Edinburgh, Wed 1–Tue 14 Apr. See www.tepooka.org for full listings.