Up to scratch
Steve Cramer talks to Arches programmer Jackie Wylie and finds more embryonic talent at the latest Scratch Night
Fessing up that you like to be in small, dark and dirty rooms and experimenting with bunches of strangers might seem an alarming admission. When you add that the folk you are with are liable to get naked at any moment, some rather rum conclusions might be drawn. Yet Arches programming dynamo, and gifted actress Jackie Wylie is willing to admit to such activities with pride. ‘My favourite moment among Scratch Nights was the time the physical theatre actress Anne Liv Young suddenly decided, with her partner, to get naked and play two late night radio talkback hosts, it was hilarious and really compelling.’
She’s describing the increasingly legendary Arches Scratch nights, whose popularity betokens a taste for work that pushes the boundaries in all directions. They are nights where artists can try out new ideas before an audience; a precious commodity, because here the artist needs to commit to nothing more than testing something out, reserving the right to fail.
Now this right has had to be invoked on a few occasions, but, still, more often than not, there’s pleasing entertainment and much reflection to be had from these informal evenings of theatre, often truncated into several short pieces. There’s no great sense that the audience will be seeing finished work, but there’s a feeling of participation for the folk who are normally expected to simply passively watch which often leaves spectators exhilarated.
‘I suppose the most important thing about it for the artists involved is finding support and feedback from other artists working in similar areas,’ says Wylie. ‘These nights are a meeting point between people who would otherwise be working in isolation. I think one of the best things that comes out of it is just giving these people a chance to meet. And the conversations after the events are pretty amazing - actually, there’s plenty of drinking involved, but that helps too.’
However informal the atmosphere, there are sometimes genuinely international events to be scratched. Among recent Scratch Nights, members of both The Riot Group and TEAM, possibly the two best young companies to come out of the USA in the last decade, have participated. There, is, in every Scratch Night, room for an unannounced special guest, although, at present, the bill mainly features young and unknown artists.
An established Arches face, Alan McKendrick is directing a piece by fresh young graduate Josh Makaruk. ‘He has this piece involving a monkey,’ says Wylie. ‘He plays a piece activist whose father was in the first Gulf War. This toy monkey that he talks to represents a lot of traditional versions of masculinity, the attitudes of his father. Phil Spencer is contributing a piece with live art and video work too and there’s a lot of buzz around that one.
‘Often, the pieces we show at Scratch Nights don’t go any further, but it’s amazing the number of pieces that do eventually become major productions from this start. Megan Barker, who’s producing Pit at the Edinburgh Festival this year, began as a scratch artist.’
Go on, get down and dirty with the artists - you might find yourself in at the beginning of something big.
Scratch Night, Arches, Glasgow, Tue 17 Jul