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Jackie Wylie Takes Over The Arches

The new artistic director of The Arches nearly comes a cropper en route to her first press interview since being appointed two weeks ago. Given her history with the venue as clubber, performer and arts programmer, it’s probably not the first time Jackie Wylie has almost fallen down the stairs of the building she’s now in charge of, and almost certainly won’t be the last. It should not, however, be mistaken for a symbol of how the 28 year old intends to programme the thriving arts venue, which hosts theatre, music and club events, now she’s taken over from outgoing director Andy Arnold. Arnold may have stamped his punk-hippy aesthetic on the venue he helped created in a labyrinth of old railway sidings seventeen years ago, but Wylie intends making sure it remains the creative maelstrom it’s become for a new generation of emerging artists.

“I still want The Arches to keep the punk spirit that it has,” Wylie enthuses, “but I want to take it further, and explore ways of performance that are radical and dangerous, and ways of making theatre that maybe haven’t been discovered yet.”

That sentence alone can’t capture the whirlwind that is Wylie, though it does go some way to highlighting her sense of still intangible creative possibility for how The Arches can be utilised. As the venue’s Arts Programmer for the last four years, Wylie has helped embrace often uncategorisable performers into the Arches hub. This has primarily been under the catch-all umbrellas of the Arches Theatre Festival and the Arches Award for new Directors, where sometimes rough and not always ready works were launched on short season runs in hitherto undiscovered nooks and crannies of the Arches cavernous space. Wylie also instigated the Arches Scratch nights and developed relationships with out-there international companies such as The Riot Group and The T.E.A.M.

Such activity is all well and good when you’re a young whipper-snapper given free rein by your boss. Now Wylie is the boss, however, with all the responsibility power brings with it, won’t her style be cramped somewhat?

“I think the reverse is true,” she motormouths. “Andy Arnold let me do what I want, and that was brilliant. He’s the one who told me to go and take all those risks when I started here, so it makes sense for someone who grew up in The Arches to get this job in a way that it might not be for anyone else. Now, I can really do what I want.”

Wylie stops suddenly after she says this. It’s as if it’s just hit home exactly what she’s taking on. Which, given a busy music and clubs programme that makes its crossover of art forms unique in this country, is a pretty tall order.

Wylie never planned to become an arts programmer, let alone run a space on the scale of The Arches. She first visited it while a student on Glasgow University’s Theatre Studies course. Andy Arnold’s open door policy at The Arches allowed Wylie and collaborators in student theatre companies to perform there. Wylie was instantly smitten.

“There was something about the place,” she says, “which I found really exciting. There was an energy here, and a buzz about the place that I just wanted to be a part of.”

Wylie doesn’t sound airy-fairy or affected when she talks like this. Rather, her attitude, as with her conversation, is brim-full with a passion that occasionally spills over into a machine-gun of words like ‘risk,’ ‘edginess’ and ‘danger.’ Given that Wylie is talking about an arts space that receives Scottish Arts council subsidy of £100,000 a year – a relatively small some compared to some less productive outlets – such words may sound overblown. But then, even her appointment as artistic director of The Arches isn’t how things usually pan out.

“I’m kind of conscious of the fact that I’m female and that I’m 28 years old,” says Wylie. “And how many artistic directors are there like that in Scotland? So it feels in some way like its a little bit radical, and that’s totally in keeping with what The Arches is about.”

Wylie may be forgetting about the presence of Vicky Featherstone at the helm of the National Theatre of Scotland and Hannah McGill at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but she remains the youngest of the three. For all her dervish-like tendencies, enthusiasm alone may not be enough to counter raised eyebrows from middle-aged males within the theatre industry. Neither, however, do you suspect Wylie will allow herself to be patronised.

“The reaction so far has been brilliant,” she insists, “but I’m quite prepared to fight for my corner, and if I am I know that will make me put on even better programmes than we already do.”

One of the main questions over Wylie’s regime will be what happens to the Arches Theatre Company. This was the body set up by Arnold to perform in the space under his own direction. With the move from a rehearsal room director to a creative producer who’s thus far concentrated on enabling talent, will this mean the end of The Arches own productions? Far from it, according to Wylie.

“The Arches Theatre Company will continue to exist,” says Wylie, “but there will be differences. Obviously when Andy was here he directed most of the shows, but now I want to somehow integrate it in a way with the work of the emerging companies and what’s going on elsewhere. We’re still working out ways in which we can do that, and how we can bring different artists who we’ve developed at The Arches into that way of working, whatever that turns out to be.”

While Wylie is understandably reluctant to reveal concrete details of her future plans, both for The Arches as a venue and a theatre company, some indication of how things may pan out can be gleaned from The Arches forthcoming Christmas show. The first fruits of her tenure, it will be directed by Al Seed, the radical physical-based performer and The Arches artist in residence.

It’s significant too that one of the artists nurtured at The Arches is writer Megan Barker. Wylie performed with Barker back in Glasgow Uni days, and has consistently championed her work since. Rather than nepotism, this approach is more of a boot-room mentality that enables a free-flowing exchange of ideas. If you believe Wylie, and her passion’s infectious enough for you to buy into everything she says, this is just the start.

“In five years time,” she says, “I want possibilities which haven’t yet been conceptualised to be ongoing. I want to do events that have international significance, but for young audiences who might not normally come to things like that. I want to do things that are not about an establishment version of culture. I want to create events that matter, and then I want to take them further.”


Finished With Engines, first presented by The Arches, Glasgow, plays as part of The Traverse Theatre’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe season, from July 31-August 10, various times

Ends

The Arches – What Goes On?

Arches Theatre Company – Founded by Andy Arnold in 1991 to occupy the then derelict railway sidings that would become The Arches. Over the last seventeen years, Arnold focussed in work by David Mamet, Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and more recently explored a series of Irish classics, as well as premiering two hitherto unperformed works by novelist James Kelman.

Arches Theatre Festival – A mixture of established and emerging companies take over the full Arches building. The likes of The Riot Group and The T.E.A.M., young American companies who cut their teeth on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe prior to being picked up by The Arches.

Arches New Directors Awards – An annual scheme whereby two winners are selected and resourced by The Arches to present a new piece of work. The most celebrated winner to date is Davey Anderson, whose play, Snuff, was given a highly successful Edinburgh Festival Fringe run before touring the country.

Scratch – Modelled on a similar initiative at Battersea Arts Centre, Scratch nights throw together a diverse array of Arches regulars to create a ten minute piece of theatre over a couple of days and presenting it to an audience of their peers.


Music – As well as being a regular stop off point for quality touring bands, including being one of the major venues for the Triptych festival, for the last eight years, The Arches has hosted Instal, now regarded as one of the highest profile experimental music events in Europe.

Clubs – As immortalised in Arab Strap’s 1996 single, The First Big Weekend, The Arches is something of a hedonist’s paradise. From the early days of Café Loco, The Arches has housed an array of nights, and currently plays host to the likes of Death Disco, Luvely and Octopussy.

The Herald, July 15th 2008

ends

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