Work influenced by the architecture of the 19th-century landmark is being created as part of Hidden Door, which is expected to take over every possible space in and around the building.
Witchcraft trials, the impact of lockdown restrictions, the climate crisis, the depopulation of the Highlands and deep sea corals found off the Scottish coastline are all inspiring elements of the festival.
Artists and performers from Poland, Romania, Canada, Italy, Spain, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales and England will be showcased alongside an array of local talent this summer.
More than 70 singers, musicians and bands will perform on four stages inside and outside the A-listed building, which has been largely empty since the school relocated in 1968.
However, the building is due to become a new National Centre for Music, a project backed by Scotland’s biggest arts philanthropist, Carol Grigor, and violinist Nicola Benedetti, the new director of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Hidden Door, which will run from June 9-18, has transformed several neglected and disused sites across Edinburgh with music, dance, theatre, spoken word and visual art over the past decade, including abandoned vaults on Market Street, a former council depot on Kings’ Stables Road, and a historic theatre building and former cinema in Leith.
This year’s music line-up will feature more than 70 acts, including indie-dance outfit Saint Etienne, folk-rock favourite This is the Kit, soul-pop singer Yellow Days, post-punk electronica group Warmduscher, rising avant-punk star Nuha Ruby Ra and alt-rock Glaswegian outfit The Joy Hotel.
Broken Records, Tinderbox Orchestra, Lizabett Russo, Holy Loaf, Iona Zajac, Cera Impala, Proc Fiskal and Amber Leith will be among the Edinburgh-based acts showcased.
The theatre programme will feature a piece by Saltydolls drawing on the building’s history, which will celebrate “the spirit of teen rebellion”. Visual artists Maria Vigers, Kirsten Millar and Amy Harrison will also be responding to the building’s architecture with their work.
Other theatre includes The Great Pretender, which is billed as a “tragi-comic multimedia drag physical theatre show exploring imposter syndrome”, Dripping Tap Theatre’s experimental piece featuring buffon ballerinas, Adrenalism’s satirical outdoor show depicting two PR managers from a fossil fuel multinational searching for “blue-sky-thinking solutions to climate change”, and Help Yourself, an exploration of quick-fix, self-care culture by Jess Brodie and Victoria Bianchi.
The Pianodrome, a pop-up venue made from old pianos, will be hosting Witches Assembly, which will explore the social repercussions of witchcraft trials and their impact on present-day society.
The poetry and spoken word programme includes Natalie Jayne Clark and Nicole Tait, who will be staging “a feminist exploration of folk tales, witchcraft, and the duality of power and vulnerability of the human body”, Sean Wai Keung, whose stories of mixed-identity and cultural exchange will be performed while he makes bread in front of the audience, and Scott Robertson, whose work is inspiring by his upbringing in the east end of Glasgow.
The dance line-up includes the Spanish-Italian duo Elelei formed by Sabrina Gargano and Rafa Jagat, local street dance studio House of Jack and Edinburgh-based choreographer Alan Greig’s show, which is influenced by iconic LGBT+ characters, and will be performed around the building.
Other visual artists include Fiona Beveridge, with work created on a residency in Oaxaca, Mexico, Rebecca Tucker, whose room will explore the history of the colour green and Emily Weaver, whose video installation will explore ideas around the archeological findings of the Lepenski Vir fish people in Serbia.
David Martin, Hidden Door’s creative director, said: “I believe this is the most ambitious programme Hidden Door has put on so far, and reflects the sheer amount of talent and creativity that has been starved of opportunities over the last two years and is raring to go.
“We’ve designed our programmes by putting out ‘open calls’, where we invite artists of all these different disciplines to tell us about their new work, and how they would show it.
"We’ve been completely inundated with submissions and it’s been genuinely exciting to read through so many inspiring proposals.
“It’s going to be incredible to bring so many of Scotland’s best new emerging artists into the building and see it burst into life.”
Jacob Brailsford, the festival’s music programmer, said: “We’ve continued Hidden Door’s dedication to platforming a variety of local and international talent, celebrating an eclectic range of genres and artists.”
“The festival site, the Royal High School, is such an exciting opportunity for staging live music, and I know that audiences can’t wait to see it transformed, so we’ve been working with the unique spaces to curate a program that pushes boundaries and gives audiences an experience to remember.”
Theatre curator Marianne Maxwell said: “I’m really excited to be working with Hidden Door this year.
"Now, more than ever, there is an urgency to give emerging theatre makers opportunities to develop their ideas and ambition and to share them with audiences.
“This year, as Hidden Door takes over the iconic Royal High School, we’ve created a programme of theatre that is bursting with ideas, these are shows that are brave and funny, playing with style and form that will provoke and entertain the Hidden Door audiences.”