Only the brave
As Arches Live! returns to Glasgow for its sixth year, David Pollock talks to new artistic director Jackie Wylie about her vision for the annual celebration of experimental theatre and performance art
Following Andy Arnold's departure for the Tron Theatre, the Arches' new artistic director Jackie Wylie has had a very busy life. 'It's been crazy timing, because I started my new job right before Edinburgh Fringe mania kicked in, so it's been a whirlwind,' she says. 'I've been trying to do a bit of restructuring here, and trying to see every single Fringe show I possibly can. But it's exciting too, just getting on with it and looking forward to what we're going to do next with the Arches.'
As the Glasgow venue's former arts programmer, Wylie has plenty of experience of working on the Arches Live! festival. Indeed, as her previous responsibility was for the Arches' visiting arts schedule, Wylie has helmed the autumn celebration of experimental theatre and performance art for four out of its six years.
'Arches Live! has been my baby for a long time,' she agrees, 'but this one is also a statement of what I want to do with the Arches in future. The main purpose of Arches Live! is to provide emerging artists, or more established artists who want to take a new direction in their work, with a structured platform on which they can show these works. By showing all these new pieces together within the context of a busy festival, it allows the artists to be bolder, more risk-taking - they know that the audience will be seeing five or six performances in an evening.'
As Wylie makes clear, the festival aims to inspire its participants as much as the audience. Artist Greg Grant, who is unveiling a new multimedia performance of Cocteau's experimental play The Human Voice and a collaborative musical work entitled Idolon this year, agrees that the artists involved become emboldened by a certain strength in unity. 'Working on my projects at the Arches has presented an opportunity to explore different artforms,' he says. 'There are no taboos within Arches Live! about crossing over and engaging with different media, and there's such an eclectic bunch of people there that it's easy to find collaborators from outside your own bank of knowledge and experience.'
The idea of breaking down boundaries between artforms is one Wylie is particularly interested in championing at this year's festival. 'It's about multi-disciplinary ways of working, which are all geared towards pushing the boundaries of what we think of when we consider theatre,' she says. 'Under the banner of a theatre festival we'll be showing pieces which have their bases in visual art, dance and multimedia, text-based pieces, interactive pieces and much more.'
She continues: 'As Arches Live! gains momentum, I feel confident in pushing at the edges of what we can do. It's now established as a place where audiences can go to see new work, so we don't need to push the festival as a concept. We can concentrate on encouraging the artists involved to really go for it within their own work, to take courageous decisions.'
Highlights among the 17-shows on the bill include Grant's take on The Human Voice. Developed as part of the Black Box residency, Grant's version of Cocteau's ground-breaking monologue on the subject of madness at the end of a phone line breaks down the work into two parts. These are then read by actors who are physically separated from each other, communicating via MSN Messenger. 'The original play was an examination of the telephone: of new technology in everyday life, so I thought it would be interesting to merge this with the themes of my work, which looks at the way new digital technology influences people on a day to day basis,' says Grant. 'Plus, as Cocteau was a visual artist as well as an author, I wanted to parallel his crossover into different media with my own experience on this project.'
Another intriguing piece is Megan Barker and Neil Doherty's collaboration, Cria, which uses Carlos Saura's film Cria Cuervos as a jumping-off point for the pair's continuing experiments in trying to find what Barker describes as 'a filmic language for theatre'.
'A camera can bring you right in with a close-up, distort your view or pull right out and give you a wider picture,' says Barker. 'We wanted to find ways of doing that theatrically, not using multi-media technology, that would enhance rather than diminish the experience.'
She adds: 'It's not an adaptation of the film. It's using the film as a jumping-off point for a load of visual poetry and linguistic images, which are loosely tied together and hung on to the skeleton of the film. Neil has a great sense of rhythm so it feels a bit like I'm writing a big messy poem and he's framing it, layering it, punctuating it and setting it in verse.'
Other highlights include Adrian Howells' Footwashing for the Sole (in which the performer and Arches regular investigates the connotative act of washing a person's feet by doing it to a volunteer) and Nic Green's new work, Trilogy: Part Three. 'Nic came from the Contemporary Performance Practice course at the RSAMD, and she's extraordinarily committed as a young artist,' says Wylie. 'No one knows what she's going to do until she's onstage, but her work usually demolishes what we think of as ideas of masculinity and femininity, and the power structures inherent in that relationship. I'm excited to see it, but a bit scared at the same time.'
Wylie laughs, realising that she's returning yet again to the notion of bravery in performance. 'I think Arches Live! only works when the artists are enabled by us to be as bold as they possibly can be,' she says. 'A lot of them like to sit down and talk through what they're doing, while others just want to be down in the rehearsal space getting on with it. What we have to do is support them - even if it means they make the wrong decisions - rather than direct them. As long as they're pushing at their limitations and trying to find the best way to be innovative, they're joining in with what Arches Live! is all about.'
Arches Live!, the Arches, Glasgow, Thu 18-Sun 28 Sep.
Arches Live! highlights
The Past Drop
The anger, frustration and resentment of a single mind is explored in this one-man show about the fractured fury of being male. As the two sides of performer Murray Wasons - rational and irrational - come into conflict, his approach to life splinters.
Tue 23 & Wed 24 Sep.
The Human Voice
Arches visual artist in residence Greg Grant re-works this Jean Cocteau piece about the effects of telecommunications on human interaction, which has become increasingly relevant in our era of social networking. Grant takes up the question of whether we are becoming closer or more isolated.
Thu 18 & Fri 19 Sep.
The Dionysian Friday night piss-up is contrasted with the anally-retentive nine-to-five in this searing exploration of dreary everyday life. The focus is the urban landscape, full of traps and pitfalls, which becomes a heady carnival that surrounds everything in sight.
Thu 18 - Sat 20 Sep.
The Lost Property cupboard is a place of forgotten pride and diverted journeys. It is also a potent metaphor for our need for belonging in an increasingly anonymous world. Writer Sacha Kyle leads the audience through a spiral of loss and forgetfulness before wishing us a safe passage home.
Thu 18 - Sat 20 Sep.
Death is the theme of Liars' piece, as they put their off-the-wall signature on the perennial questions of life, the universe and everything. This series of improvised reveries includes weird and wonderful accounts of deaths, ranging from bites to bungee jumps, provoking laughter about this most taboo of subjects.
Thu 25 Sep.
The boundaries of reality blur in this portrayal of life in a tyrannised country, inspired by Carlos Saura's film Cria Cuervos. The death of a dictator does not guarantee the death of his regime, as three girls discover while trying to get a handle on their disturbed lives.
Thu 18 - Sat 20 Sep.
Foot Washing for the Sole
Adrian Howells takes up the weary feet of his audience, washes, massages and kisses them before sending them happily back into their shoes. Not for the foot-phobic.
Thu 18 - Sat 20 Sep.