Do your thing

Every so often I come across a story that particularly inspires me. This happened during our holiday when we visited the amazing creation of Rowena Cade. Maybe you have heard of her? I hadn’t, although I knew of the thing she made, namely The Minack Theatre. And when I say she made it, I am being literal – with her own hands and initially only the help of her gardener, Billy Rawlings, she built the most incredible theatre. But not just any old theatre – one created within the land, on the Minack Headland in Cornwall, overlooking the sea, nestled between the boulders.

In order to allow a local group to stage an outdoor production of The Tempest in 1932, Rowena and Billy created an amphitheatre on the headland. In the months prior to the performance, they moved granite boulders and shifted soil.  In August 1932 the play was staged, lit by car headlights and with the audience scrambling down the slopes to get to the grassy seating terraces. It was a great success and the start of an amazing project.

To begin with many of the building materials were scavenged. Sand from the beach was carried up the steep path by Rowena herself each evening, ready for making concrete the following day. There’s a story of her collecting some large beams that had been washed ashore – she and Billy carrying them up from the beach. When the customs men came to see if she knew of the timber’s whereabouts, they took one look at her apparently frail frame and assumed that she couldn’t possibly have taken the beams and she didn’t correct them!

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These are some of the steps from the beach!

WW2 interrupted development of the theatre, but when it was over, they were left with a concrete bunker, which served as the box office for many years! Rowena kept working on the theatre until she was in her mid-eighties. She died in 1983, but her vision and legacy live on.

I love the story – I love the fact that Rowena had a vision and had the tenacity to turn that vision into reality. I love that she didn’t simply achieve this by spending money, that she dedicated her time and her energy into creating this amazing place. I love that she worked alongside Billy and subsequent helpers. Admittedly, she did have the benefit of money to allow her the freedom to do this, but much of the labour was her own. What an inspirational woman.

I really hope that we can go and see a performance there in the future – this time we only went to look round.

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