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Arches Live

When Arches Lives’s now annual compendium of small-scale new theatre began in 2002, what was essentially a mini-festival of work was played not so much under the same roof as quite literally underground in The Arches vast low level interior. Designed as a low risk showcase for emerging artists and companies working outside the immediate mainstream, here was a cosier cousin to the National Review Of Live Art which allowed a younger generation to explore form and content in a manner previously left un-catered for locally.

Six years on, and Arches Live is as distinct a part of the annual arts calendar as any of the other, more high profile festivals which proliferate. With eleven bite-size pieces currently rehearsing in every nook and cranny of the Arches subterranean space, as well as installations, artists films, a spoken word night and The Arches own Scratch Night, out of which three of this year’s shows developed, ongoing, energy around the building is understandably at a premium. Arts Programmer Jackie Wylie, whose baby Arches Live has been for the last three years, clearly fires off the heat she’s allowed to be unleashed under her care.

“Arches Live is my favourite time of year here,” she enthuses. “That’s not to say anything to the detriment of the theatre festival in April, but because Arches Live is all about emerging companies, there’s a real feeling that everyone’s in this together. There’s also a sense of anticipation that something might lead to something else, and the possibility that something might go on elsewhere.”

Arches Live’s strike rate, while small is impressive. Pit, written by Megan Barker and directed by Neil Doherty, was picked up at Arches Live for a successful Edinburgh Fringe run at The Traverse Theatre. Previous contributors have included East European physical theatre ascetics Derevo and Lone Twin, who, while both have been around a lot longer than many of the ad hoc liaisons Arches Live embraces, can help set a benchmark for those still finding their feet in terms of ambition and execution of their work. It can also help nurture a small-scale network of collaborators.

This year, for instance, Doherty returns to work with writer Rob Drummond, while former winner of The Arches Award For Stage Directors Stuart Murdoch works on a new piece called Damaged, in which a family breakdown is observed by the audience through headphones. Further works feature Ben Faulks’ Companions Of Pram company, whose Hammer & Tongs uses trampolines as a musical instrument, while Arches regular Adrian Howells leads individual audience members on a very private autobiography.

Contrary to what’s been written elsewhere concerning Arches Live, there is no over-riding theme to this year’s programme. Wylie nevertheless points to a proliferation of material vaguely linked by a move towards the most intimate internal workings of each artist.

“There’s a lot going on in very different ways about alienation,” Wylie observes, “but trying to find some kind of hope and transcendence in this inevitable state of isolation.”

It’s the sort of exploration of inner space, of course, which the international Live Art scene has been tackling for years. Yet such a presence of private inquiry at Arches Live suggests a sea-change in the concerns of theatre-makers beyond the received canon. The last few years, after all, has seen a more consciously outward-looking wave of work that has tackled global themes. This in itself was a response to the late 1990s trend for introspection in what then appeared to be a post ideological age. What goes around, then, comes around.

“It’s totally a generational thing,” according to Wylie. “It could be one of two things which are polar opposites of each other. Either people have given up completely on the idea of being able to change anything anywhere. Or, and what I hope it is, is people giving up on polemic and exploring new forms to try and say something new. If there’s one thing that sticks out in Arches Live it’s looking at how hard it is just to be a human being. That sounds really melodramatic, but it’s essentially about a new generation trying to find some kind of community. Community’s a word with all sorts of connotations, but what we’ve got is a community of artists, and that’s far more exciting than Big Brother and My Space and all that awfulness. I don’t believe all this stuff about artists apparently becoming more conservative because of whatever’s going on around them. The artists at Arches Live are discovering from each other a confidence that goes beyond all this mass produced stuff. Nobody’s that interested in what David Hare’s saying anymore, because he’s not dealing with what’s going on in people’s real lives. Arches Live is providing a platform for artists to explore that in whatever way they want.”

Arches Live, September 20-29, The Arches, Glasgow. For full details, go to

The Herald, September 18th 2007



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