That freedom had existed over almost twenty-five years, ever since the Arches Theatre Company was founded by its original director Andy Arnold as the accidental progeny of Glasgow's Year of European Culture in 1990. Under the leadership of Arnold and then Jackie Wylie, the Arches became a globally recognised experimental hothouse that nurtured and developed artists, many of whom went on to become a kind of in-house artistic family.
Two years since the Arches closed, that spirit is back in Take Me Somewhere, a three-week city-wide festival of the sort of radical performance work from a younger generation of artists who first cut their teeth at the Midland Street venue. Rather than being confined to one space, Take Me Somewhere looks set to take place in venues ranging from the Tron to Tramway, from Platform to the Glue Factory, the CCA, Gilmorehill and the Citizens Theatre.
The Take Me Somewhere programme contains work by names familiar to Arches audiences. Kieran Hurley and Julia Taudevin revive their Edinburgh Festival Fringe hits, Heads Up and Blow Off respectively. Nic Green and Take Me Somewhere artist in residence Peter McMaster also came through the Arches. International artists such as El Conde de Torrefiel from Spain and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko from the USA will also appear, with Edinburgh Festival Fringe hits such as Lucy McCormick's Triple Threat and High Heels in Low Places by Panti also on the bill. Andy Arnold presents a site-specific tour of the Tron, and there is even a Scratch Night featuring the sort of works in progress which, at similar nights at the Arches, were later developed into era-defining performances.
With many of the producing and administrative team behind Take Me Somewhere also Arches alumni, this is in part Wylie getting the old gang back together. Developed with support from Creative Scotland and Glasgow Life, it is much more besides.
“It's about the spirit and energy of everyone involved really believing that Take Me Somewhere needs to happen,” says Wylie, “and being really determined that it will. As well as working with artists that we knew in Glasgow, we wanted to bring in international artists, so local artists could work beside them, and have a sense of excitement around the city. We spoke to all the other venues in Glasgow, and after going through all the grief after losing the Arches, finding out how we could do work together was really exciting ”
When Wylie talks about the Arches, it is with the language of loss, as if a family had been shattered by cruel events outwith its control.
“It was devastating,” Wylie says of the closure. “For me as artistic director it was devastating, but it was for artists and audiences as well, because what was so special about the Arches was the community and the energy that community created that was part of a virtuous cycle. To have that suddenly taken away was heart-breaking for everybody.”
Wylie is living proof of how the crossovers between artforms presented in the Arches changed lives. Her first experience of the building was as a clubber while a student, a time when she also performed there as part of an ad hoc theatre company. From there, she went on to become arts programmer, and was already in with the bricks when she was appointed artistic director following Arnold's departure to the Tron.
Since the closure of the Arches, and inbetween leading the development of Take Me Somewhere, Wylie has been appointed artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, a post she will take up in March. Between now and then, Take Me Somewhere will square up to a world which has changed considerably since the Arches closed
“It's very political,” Wylie says of the festival. “Not with a big 'P', but a lot of the shows that are on are asking challenging questions that need to be asked. We didn't plan it that way, but artists are going to respond to the situation they're in, and works like Heads Up and Blow Off are already responding to crisis and the socio-political moment in time that we're currently living through.”
Rather than sliding into tub-thumping polemic, there is an intimacy about the Take Me Somewhere programme which again draws its energy from the Arches. This stems in particular from the lingering presence of the late Adrian Howells, whose participatory one-to-one performances became a spiritual touchstone of the Arches before his passing in 2014.
As part of Take Me Somewhere, the Gilmorehill Centre will host The Art of Care-Full Practice, a symposium exploring the ways in which both the self and others need to be looked after in the development of intimate artistic work. There will also be a presentation of a work in progress by Nic Green, the 2017 winner of the Adrian Howells Award for Intimate Performance, set up in Howells' honour. Even here, Wylie recognises that such work can't fall prey to navel gazing.
“One thing uppermost in my mind about the situation we find ourselves in just now is that being loving is as bold and as important as being angry,” she says. “Artists and everyone else need to use both to find a way forward. It's important to huddle together, but you also have to find solutions.”
Take Me Somewhere is itself part of that solution.
“This is an evolution of what the Arches did before,” says Wylie. “It's about looking outwards, and isn't just about what goes on in one building, but is about Glasgow in its entirety and the international perspective that comes out of that.”
Wylie isn't in a position yet to talk about her forthcoming tenure at the National Theatre of Scotland. While her brief as artistic director is something she recognises will be broad, the influence of her experience at the Arches and with Take Me Somewhere is something she will undoubtedly take with her.
“The National Theatre of Scotland supports the infrastructure of Scottish theatre right across the country,” she says, “and collaborative projects are a big part of that.”
Once in post at the NTS, what happens regarding the future of Take Me Somewhere as an ongoing entity will no longer be Wylie's concern. Given the team she has put in place, it is in very capable hands.
“Take Me Somewhere is funded for a year,” she says, “and the existing team are working together as we go into this first festival to consider how it might be an important part of Glasgow's arts calendar as the Arches was before it. In terms of developing and supporting the sort of work that's on in Take Me Somewhere, there is a very clear need for it. The Arches proved that, and given the work that is already going on, hopefully Take Me Somewhere will be able to keep on proving it.”
The Herald, January 31st 2017
Take Me Somewhere runs at various venues in Glasgow from February 22-March 12.www.takemesomewhere.co.uk