Jackie Wylie: Life since The Arches

Credit: The Arches

NTS and Take Me Somewhere Artistic Director talks Glaswegian theatre
Aea Varfis-van Warmelo
Writer

The closure of The Arches in 2015 resonated across Glasgow in several ways. Initially, it marked the loss of a haven for the new, the strange and the exciting. Following this, it created a wave of new theatre initiatives, easily labeled ‘post-Arches’, with the key-phrase being “building off the Arches’ legacy”. It is curious that initiatives are still being described as such, and that theatre is still being defined by the Arches’ absence. This is either a testament to its influence, or a sign that Glasgow’s fringe-theatre needs a new centre, somewhere to thrive, not mourn.

Enter Jackie Wylie, ex-Artistic Director of The Arches, current Artistic Director of The National Theatre of Scotland, and of Take Me Somewhere, a festival whose inaugural season lasts three weeks from February 22nd through to March 12th.

Reading the programme for Take Me Somewhere feels like reading a strange blend of old and new. There are several names that have been associated with the Arches, but there is also a colourful selection of new theatre to be seen, and it’s all combined into what looks and feels like a contemporary festival. It is strange then, that the sense of the Arches’ spirit still lingers in the press and publicity surrounding Take Me Somewhere. It is understandable that its roots are firmly placed within the people who were witness to and involved in the Arches’ closing, but it is difficult to reconcile the idea of the festival as a new beginning when its beginning is located in the past. When asked why a festival was chosen, Jackie Wylie responds that: “when the building closed in 2015, there was an understanding amongst the Arches’ funders that although there wasn’t a sustainable model for the building of the Arches, the artistic programme was a vital part of the landscape of Glasgow and Scotland, more widely, so they provided me with the resources to have a conversation with the artistic community about how a legacy for the Arches might carry on beyond the building. It was through those dialogues that we came up with the idea of a new festival.”

So comes the fickle distinction between legacy and haunting. Jackie suggests that using an idea of legacy is useful as a springboard for the first few years of the festival, or as she says “as a reference point. People can understand what it means for a festival to replace the Arches, because it had festivals built into its structure anyway… My hope is that […] it can find its own place within the infrastructure of Glasgow, and that over time will stand on its own without the Arches.”

She describes the Arches as possessing an “ethos”, “a particular energy about giving voices that would otherwise be marginal within mainstream culture, or voices that have something particularly vital about the world to say.” This sounds like an accurate assessment, and this homeless ethos has distributed itself around Glasgow since the closure, with the opening of smaller scratch-nights and generally small-scale attempts to re-home it. Take Me Somewhere provides a larger space for it to continue, especially suggested by its diverse programme. When asked about the programme and how it was composed, Jackie says that it came together “incrementally” and that all the pieces are “saying something very urgent about this particular time that we are all living in […] We sort of realised we were programming something with a very urgent, political tone — and I don’t mean political with a big P.”

However, the Arches’ ethos wasn’t merely composed by the art it produced or its political tones, but also by a sense of contributing to Glasgow, and allowing the city’s emerging theatre-makers to flourish. The festivals and programmes the theatre featured gave a platform to those seeking to grow and find their place within the industry, and as such it was more than a building but also possibly the heart of Glasgow’s theatre scene, where both established and new merged. When asked how Take Me Somewhere plans to replicate this and whether it intends to grow into something that functions similarly, Jackie mentions that the discussions that led to the creation of the festival also enumerated ways in which local theatres have begun supporting emerging artists, one of which being the Tron. When I mention that all of the Tron’s talent development programmes have either been shut or rebranded as aimed at “professionals”, she is surprised. I ask how a three-week festival can do much for the theatre-scene other than feature already established artists (as this year’s programme does) and she answers that there is hope for the festival to expand into having year-round programmes, but the phrase she returns to frequently is “resource dependent”, and there is optimism in her tone, but it is cautious.

Essentially, Take Me Somewhere’s 2017 season will offer something new and exciting in the sense that it will remind us of something we used to know. The programme contains a reliable selection of the kind of work Glasgow is familiar with and loves, all work that deserves to be seen. However, the festival’s future is a mystery, in this instant. Either it becomes a new powerhouse and a new core for the city, or it is a flash in the pan, a brief moment of ambition. Regardless of long-term pessimism, it is something bright to look forward to in the early months of 2017.