Minack Theatre on the Cornish Coast

A Cornish icon where theatre meets dolphins

By Cornwall Chamber of Commerce

Minack Theatre CEOCornwall Chamber of Commerce

I'm Zoe, the Executive Director of the Minack Theatre, I've been here 12 years, but I actually started at the Minack back when I was a student.

MirandaCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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The craft of theatre

We have a range of performances including drama, musical theatre and comedy. Putting on a show involves a huge amount of creativity.   

Performers spend many years training and focusing their skills, but they are supported by stage managers who make sure everything is in the right place at the right time, costume designers, set designers, and hair and makeup design plus all aspects of lighting and sound design.   

We occasionally get shows using projection which doesn’t work so well in the matinees, but for evening shows all these skills come together.   

Sea View from Minack TheatreCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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From back garden to theatre

Back in the late 1920s Rowena Cade was part of a group of local players - she designed the costumes for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a local meadow about two miles inland.   

Rowena Cade and her mother bought the headland in the early 1920s and built Minack House. Having been part of the company for ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, when the same group wanted to stage ‘The Tempest’ in 1932 Rowena offered the use of her cliff-side garden. It took a couple of years in which Rowena and her gardener Billy Rawlings turned the cliff-side gully into the bare bones of what survives today.   

Compass in StoneCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Preserving a timeless theatre

In many ways Rowena never stepped back and said: 'It's finished,  perfect', she built things for each season. 

One of the last things she built was the Juliet balcony which is stage right (the left side of the auditorium) – this was for a production of ‘Romeo & Juliet’. There’s an interesting debate about whether or not she might have subsequently knocked this down and built something else, however, the Trustees have decided we should aim to preserve all of Rowena’s work in the lower part of the theatre.   

Seats with namesCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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That element of craft and skill has given us what's a completely unique auditorium. Of course, it's not perfect at this age now, but it's just amazing how it all came together and where we have extended in more recent years we've done it in exactly the same style. 

Ideally people wouldn’t be able to see the more modern repairs when they visit. We aim to keep the quality of the building work consistent. This is a real challenge in this day and age with building materials. Modern builders use normal cement. Rowena put lots of Porthcurno beach sand in her cement to give it a glistening look, but of course it’s not as good quality or acceptable for modern building methods as they use well washed and properly graded sand. Therefore sometimes getting it to match is quite a challenge for us.   

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A theatre like no other

Most of our visitors who come, will often come for one of three reasons they'll come to see a show and say: 'Oh, look at the view' and 'oh, look, there's this really interesting backstory', or they'll come for the heritage and then they'll actually see a rehearsal for a show going on at the same time and say: 'Oh, look, it's actual, living theatre. There's actual, really great quality theatre that happens here as well.' 

I've got a theatre background and coming to it, learning all about the heritage site and managing a tourist attraction has been interesting for me personally.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve had to learn how to manage the two sides of the business and bring them together. This has created something hugely unique. 

Couple Taking PhotosCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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A professional theatre that celebrates community.

We do a family show where the adult parts are played by the professional company, with professional musicians and a professional production team around it. 

Then we cast local young children into children's roles. So we had Hetty Feather planned for this year, which is Jacqueline Wilson book adapted for stage. So we have a cast of 12 local, young people with four professional adults and a couple of musicians as well.  In 2019 we staged ‘The Secret Garden’ with six professional adults and four young people in the children’s roles. Giving these opportunities to local young people is just brilliant.   

Every time we get audience members saying: 'those kids are amazing, which drama school do they go to?' well they don't they are local kids from local colleges and we are giving them that opportunity. 

Sea ViewCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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Theatre with dolphins!

We've had shows where there's been a Coast Guard search nearby, we've literally had to stop shows because a helicopter has just flown backwards and forwards right overhead, but we all understand why that is; it's more important that whatever the issue is gets sorted out.

 Lots of our audience love the fact they come and see a show and can watch the dolphins. In fact, we get visitors asking: "what time are the dolphins coming, they're a little bit late today!"

So regularly the actors get up-staged by dolphins and we had to say to the actors, if the audience start doing that, don't turn around, just carry on. 

Seating Area at Minack TheatreCornwall Chamber of Commerce

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The future of the Minack

For me it's about what else can we do November to February?  Total visitor numbers over those four months will be less than we get over a normal Easter weekend. It’s tiny, so anything we can do to bring more visitors in over those four months is an area of development for us as an organisation.   

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