Paisley Arts Centre celebrates 30 years with exhibition of poster archive
For thirty years it has been a hub for dance, comedy, culture, and theatre with even the odd world famous celebrity popping up in the café.
As Paisley Arts Centre (PAC) celebrates three decades in the business, its treasure trove archive of publicity posters has been opened to the public for the first time.
An exhibition of the art works showcasing many of the productions to grace the stage since it opened its doors on October 31st, 1987, will run at the venue from November 1st until December 31st.
In September Renfrewshire Council unveiled a £2.5m funding package to refurbish the arts centre, including new seating and improved staging, as part of a wider £45.7m investment in the town centre ahead of Paisley's UK City of Culture 2021 bid.
Many of the best names in show business passed through the doors of the small scale studio theatre on their rise to fame.
The venue also housed local theatre company PACE, whose annual pantomimes have become a local institution.
A programme for a touring production of German dramatist Bertolt Brecht’s play The Resistible Rise of Arturo UI from 1991 reveals the professional stage debut of David Tennant – then a 20-year-old drama graduate.
The first resident theatre company, Visible Fictions, later went on to become the first Scottish company to conquer Broadway.
Other famous names to pop up in the archive include Elaine C Smith, Robert Carlyle, Taggart’s Blythe Duff and comics Lee Mack and John Bishop, as well as the late comedians Caroline Aherne and Sean Hughes.
Legendary Scottish comic Jimmy Logan nearly didn’t get the chance to perform there when he found himself locked out as he was about to go on stage.
Moira Orr, 49, joined the box office as a teenager just a few months after it opened in 1987 and said: “Billy Connolly used to pop into the café for a coffee – it was just that kind of place. The first time I did a double take and thought ‘I know you’. But it was all very relaxed and people would come in and chat to him.”
The centre is housed in a former 18th century church, the Laigh Kirk, and the drama began even before the first actor uttered a single line.
Drew Calder was a 17-year-old apprentice joiner working on the refurbishment of the building, which included excavation work.
He said: “The foundations were to be dug out by hand and as the guys got closer to the building they started to find strange looking white stones among the dirt. As the hole got deeper, more of the strange stones kept on appearing until one was uncovered with a large hole.”
When one of the workmen stuck his finger in, he came away with more than he bargained for.
Drew said: “He pulled on the stone - only to be left with a human skull attached to his finger.
"He screamed and shot out of the excavation, round the corner and straight into the nearest pub.”
The police were called and the remains were removed for forensic analysis before being returned to the site six weeks later and reburied. It belonged to one of the many graves that still remain with the existing burial grounds at the Arts Centre.
Stewart Aitken, now the Artistic Director and CEO of the Aberdeen international Youth Festival, owes not only his start in the business in the late eighties and early nineties to PAC- but also his wife.
He said: “The first panto was quite a risk as we had no idea if people would come. I think there were only 20 or so in the youth theatre at that time and four professional actors.
“But word got out and by the end of the run we were selling out - and the rest as they say is history.”
He met his wife Kathy there while she was working in the bar and added: “We celebrate our own anniversary – our Silver wedding- in February next year.”
Jean Cameron, Paisley 2021 Bid Director who credits the art centre with giving her and many others their start when embarking on a career in the arts, said: “It was somewhere exciting things did – and still do happen. It’s an old building which had a great presence and there was always talk there was a ghost there.
“I was officially front of house staff but it gave you the chance to get involved and I remember choreographing pantomimes, including a Thriller dance routine one year. It was also very much loved as a venue for touring theatre companies across Scotland and became a real favourite on the circuit. People have a real fondness for it and it started off a lot of careers.
“The £2.5 million investment allows it stay a fantastic venue for culture and a place where local talent can find a home.”
Morag MacPherson, Head of Cultural Services for Renfrewshire Leisure which operates the venue, said: “Paisley has a proud tradition of performing art. Paisley Arts Centre has been pivotal in developing opportunities to create and perform, and for audiences to experience the best in touring theatre, music and comedy. Many young people in Paisley have not only developed their stagecraft, but also built confidence and developed life skills by taking to the stage there.”
Councillor Lisa-Marie Hughes, chair of Renfrewshire Leisure’s Board of Trustees, said: “Paisley Arts Centre has been a cultural hub in the town for the past 30 years and many people who are now adults, remember with pride their performances there with groups like PACE.”