Theatre On The Borderline

by Ryan Wilson

Last week the Daily Record reported that work is underway to reopen the Borderline Theatre in Ayr. With development spearheaded by Kelly Craig and Ross Hunter, along with Chris Taylor of Hipshot Youth Theatre group, the historic theatre is set to reopen after a decade of closure.

The Borderline Theatre first opened in 1974 and quickly developed a reputation for entertaining and accessible productions, often with an emphasis on community theatre and engagement. Throughout the years, The Borderline Theatre played host to an abundance of Scottish stars, including Billy Connolly, Elaine C Smith, Alan Cummings and Robbie Coltrane. Many productions found widespread acclaim, touring national theatre circuits and garnering numerous awards. The theatre supported emerging talent- commissioning renowned Scottish playwright Liz Lochhead’s first play Shanghaied in 1988- and collaborated with the likes of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in producing Douglas Maxwell’s Our Bad Magnet in 2001.

In 2006 however, the Scottish Arts Council removed regular funding for the Borderline theatre. The theatre, while still producing acclaimed works, operated on a shoe-string budget but was nevertheless forced to close its doors in 2009. The Borderline Theatre Company- the production company who founded the theatre in the converted Darlington Church on Main Street – now operate out of the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr.

It isn’t altogether surprising that this once renowned theatre would close amidst cashflow problems; with widespread austerity and cutbacks, arts funding is often the first thing to go from government budgets, and with the undeniable pull of the city for emerging talent- with its bigger stages and status as cultural hub- inevitably, smaller art spaces and projects bear the brunt of the damage. While theatres standing empty with windows boarded up is a sorry sight for residents of these towns, the effects this can have on communities is more widespread: School trips to the theatre suddenly become more expensive or stop altogether; youth drama projects stop teaching young people new skills and building their confidence; small businesses can no longer advertise their services to local patrons; new and emerging talent aren’t given a space to develop their skills, and are often forced away from the local area to the highly competitive arts scenes in the city; most importantly, without the communal spirit of the likes of the local theatre, communities become more insular and atomised. Opportunities to tell our own stories and celebrate our own talents are missed. Without local arts, whole areas become nothing more than commuter towns, towns with pubs and beds and factories and little else. Local arts in any form unites people around a common interest and provides a platform of communication and entertainment away from the isolation of the living room.

Across the board, from musicians and actors to painters and filmmakers, artists are facing difficulty in pursuing and developing projects, never mind bringing them to an audience. In a world of personalised Spotify playlists and Netflix recommended feeds, it can be difficult to coax people out of the comfort of their homes to take a chance on something they might not enjoy or be accustomed to. For arts venues it’s increasingly important to promote and provide for diverse works; venues fare better when the space is adaptable to a wider variety of artistic pursuits and interests.

The team behind the Borderline Theatre reopening are well aware of this and have outlined plans to use the space for community theatre, as well as film screenings, live music events, and arts classes. Of the development of the project, Kelly said, “The town is crying out for a venue like this to be revived. Ayr is full of students and there is a desperate need for a live music venue and community theatre space.” This would present a fantastic opportunity for UWS and Ayr College students- campuses with significant numbers of performance and arts students- to bring their work out of the classroom and into the community, and the same would be true of local artists or groups from a wide range of artistic backgrounds.

While the benefits of theatre and arts for communities is undeniable, and the Borderline Theatre renovation is a welcome and worthy venture for Kelly Craig and Ross Hunter, its unclear how feasible it will be to maintain the project long term amidst a tumultuous arts funding climate; The larger Gaiety Theatre in Ayr had its own regular funding cut in 2018 and was forced to scale back its operations. With government funding cuts to the arts, it falls to us, the residents of these communities to support the arts and entertainment we want to see, whether that be through fundraising, volunteering services or simply buying tickets.

If Ayrshire is to continue to have its own artistic voice and identity, then it’s important for us to show our support for innovative and restorative projects like the reopening of the Borderline Theatre.

If you would like to support the project, you can contact Ross Hunter at: hello@theirisayr.com