Kirstin Innes gets the lowdown on Behaviour, a new festival at the Arches that wants to spur you into action
Theatre, it’s fair to say, suffers from an image problem. Despite being an utterly flexible and inventive art form, most people still associate ‘theatre’ with a red plush seat and the passive consumption of a story for two hours (perhaps pausing briefly for a gin and tonic). At the end you applaud, maybe even stand up, then you leave.
That’s not what theatre has ever been like at The Arches, but these assumptions may explain why artistic director Jackie Wylie has chosen to rebrand the nine-year-old annual Arches Theatre Festival as Behaviour, a no-holds-barred celebration of live performance. Wylie is in revolutionary mood when we meet, fizzing with excitement over the fortnight-long programme of genre-defying international work she’s pulled together. For her, this festival is not just a showcase of disparate works; it’s a call to arms.
‘What I want to do with Behaviour is offer people the chance to be active, rather than passive in the way they experience culture,’ she says. ‘To take something back for themselves. By renaming it, I want to get people’s attention: we’re less interested in categorising the work that we’re putting on, and more interested in creating a programme which will have a particular appeal. Obviously, we’ve taken the word ‘theatre’ out, but not because we think that theatre is in any way irrelevant or uncool. Many of the pieces are about looking at the ways that theatre retains relevance to a contemporary audience.’
Wylie wants the festival to pull down the barriers that usually exist between audience and performer.
‘When you go to a music gig, you don’t pretend there’s an imaginary fourth wall between you and the performer; what happens is a more permeable arrangement. I don’t think any of the artists we’ve booked this year are particularly interested in that fourth wall; what they have in common is their ‘liveness’, their aliveness. ‘Behaviour’, to me, suggests something human and animal and active, not passive.’
The programme features contributions from such rightly lauded theatre-makers as Tim Crouch and Al Seed, but also includes Town Bloody Hall, where Glasgow artist Nic Green recreates an interactive panel debate between the leading lights of 1970s feminism. Ann Liv Young, the American theatre-maker and, er, enthusiastic nudist who has a longstanding relationship with the venue, has been given the freedom of Death Disco, the Arches’ most popular club night. There are also contributions by influential New York avant garde composer (and Iggy Pop collaborator) John Moran, music label Seven Things, visual artist Torsten Lauschmann and filmmaker Gail Sneddon.
Kicking off the festival in a joyous, riotous howl is the huge hit of last year’s Fringe, Once And For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are, So Shut Up And Listen, a set of interconnected, usually wordless vignettes on teenage life, performed by a writhing mass of 14–18 year olds from Belgium.
‘Yes, Once And For All … really sums up the whole programme,’ Wylie says. ‘That period in your life – being a teenager – it’s almost like being pre-socialised. There’s a wildness and euphoria; being a teenager is all about making gut responses to the things you’re faced with. All that vitality, all that hedonism. It’s impossible not to have a strong reaction to it’
What links all Wylie’s programme choices is a refusal to let the audience sleepwalk through the experience, and she hopes, their lives.
‘I’ve noticed a certain cynicism in the way we interact with the world these days,’ she explains, ‘I think it’s born out of a feeling that we’re not really capable of changing anything around us. These huge social structures that everyone believed in have proven themselves untrustworthy. People feel alienated. Behaviour is about remembering that we’re living and breathing, with the capacity to act upon our own surroundings; that we can choose how to react and how to behave.’
Behaviour is at the Arches, Glasgow, Mon 13–Sat 25 Apr. See Theatre listings or www.thearches.co.uk for full details.