A New Life: Pianodrome at The Pitt

The Skinny catches up with the producer of Pianodrome at The Pitt, Matt Wright, about how the venue offers a contrast to modern-day Fringe chaos

Feature by Amy Hill | 29 Jul 2019
  • Pianodrome

As Fringe madness descends upon Edinburgh and the city once again fills with flyerers, vendors, ticket booths and just about every kind of street performer imaginable, Venue 391 – Pianodrome at The Pitt – feels like a breath of fresh air.

Made entirely of upcycled pianos, and situated this year at The Pitt, Edinburgh's food and drinks yard down on Leith's Pitt Street, it’s a space that feels both physically and conceptually miles away from your average Fringe venue. "I think when you see the amount of waste that goes into building the Fringe, and you see the amount of full-on consumerism, a lot of people feel uncomfortable," the Pianodrome's producer Matt Wright tells us ahead of its move to The Pitt this August. "So we want the Pianodrome to be a sort of antidote to that. It's a space where people can breathe."

Wright’s S!NK bandmate, and the Pianodrome's designer, Tim Vincent-Smith already worked with reclaimed wood, and dreamt up the idea of a performance venue built entirely from recycled pianos. "It started off as an idea when Tim noticed that you could get an unlimited supply of pianos that have been chucked out from people's houses," explains Wright. "People are devastated about it, no one wants to throw them out, but a lot of them are not really playable anymore."

The pair produced prototypes over the next four years, improving the design as they went along, learning more about how different parts of pianos could be used. "And then finally we got to the point where we thought we were ready," continues Wright. "We got some funding last year from Creative Scotland to get a warehouse, as well as hire some people to help us build it."

The Pianodrome is built as an amphitheatre, with audience seating in the round. It was first opened to the public during last year’s festival, when it occupied Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens. "The Botanics seemed like a natural home for what we're doing," says Wright. "This lovely space, with the trees growing offers a real connection with the natural world."

Wright explains that the move to The Pitt feels almost equally natural. "It’s another old structure, which doesn’t have any other uses, and so it feels like a sort of DIY space," he says. "And, of course, the Pianodrome can fit inside!"

This year, the Pianodrome is hosting everything from physical theatre to folk music to life-drawing classes. The line-up includes four shows from the Made In Scotland showcase, including Raymond MacDonald’s Lie Still My Sleepy Fortunes (16-17 Aug), Tom Bancroft's In Common (14-15 Aug) and Kirsty Law’s Young Night Thought (13, 15, 19 & 24 Aug).

Gill Maxwell, executive director of the Scottish Music Centre, and the music partner of Made In Scotland, is thrilled about the collaboration with Pianodrome, and says that the venue is "on course to present an exciting programme, with lots on offer for music lovers." Wright echoes her words: "In the context of the Fringe, where throwaway culture is rife, a space made entirely of recycled material can offer a message to people.

"It’s so easy now to exploit natural resources," says Wright. "Often we don’t think past the lives of beautiful things like pianos. We wanted to divert that stream of waste, and give these instruments a proper homage and a new life."

Wright also says that they feel as if this venue returns to the roots of what the Fringe is all about: "The Fringe began as a way of waking people up again, and offering a place to be creative in a post-war environment," he says. "It’s all about showcasing the art that's all around us, and opening avenues for creative exploration."

Pianodrome at The Pitt Highlights

#Pianodrome Live, 31 Jul-25 Aug, 7-10pm (Wed-Sun only)
Supported by Made in Scotland Showcase, #Pianodrome Live, hosted by five-piece band S!NK, is the venue’s flagship evening show, with a different guest joining the band every night. The show aims to demonstrate how the Pianodrome can be used, in particular with it existing in the round. Highlights include Callum Easter (3 Aug), Will Pickvance (10 Aug) and Dawanggang (23 Aug).

Lunchtime Concerts, 1-24 Aug, 1pm (not 14-16 Aug)
You can check out who’s playing in these concerts in the Fringe guide, and there are some real gems. The event is by-donation, and showcases some true up-and-coming musical talent. There are 24 different shows, from folk to soul, and indie to jazz – truly something for everyone. Highlights include Café Spice (9 Aug), Weird Cousins (10 Aug) and the Fergus McCreadie Trio (15 Aug).

I Piano, 7-11 Aug, 3pm
If you're into shadow-puppetry, then this is the show for you. With puppetry accompanied by live piano, this show is set to be family-friendly and extraordinarily relaxing, with music that ranges from Beethoven to boogie-woogie. If you’re in need of some mid-afternoon escapism, this is not to be missed.

Pianodrome at The Pitt, 125 Pitt St, Edinburgh