Opinion: What legacy will the Commonwealth Games cultural programme leave?
'The aftermath of the Commonwealth Games arts programme will define its worth'
Before accepting his honorary doctorate from Edinburgh's Queen Margaret University this month, Eugenio Barba offered a few thoughts on the purpose of theatre. 'It is,' he said, in his lilting accent, accentuating his words with florid hand gestures, 'about making the familiar strange.' A legendary director, who has been making imaginative and original work since the early 1960s, Barba has influenced generations and his style – a combination of text, vocal dexterity and movement – is part of a movement that opened up theatre to new ways of communication and entertaining.
If theatre before this revolution was stuck indoors, contemporary theatre spends much of its time running about the streets getting people involved. The Commonwealth Games are accompanied by the nation-wide Culture 2014 and Glasgow-based Festival 2014, which have enlisted artists from across the performance spectrum to help celebrate the arrival of the athletes. Despite the occasional pointed response to the influx of sport (Robert Softley's inevitably sardonic production), the creatives of Scotland have jumped at the opportunity and are taking over the city, and touring the country, with events on a massive scale.
It's admirable to see so many events, especially those taking an uncompromising moral stance (Drew Taylor's 44 Stories questioned the treatment of LGBT people in certain countries) or the efforts of The Touring Network to bring international art, like the Junk Funk band of Lesotho, into villages that rarely get gigs. But the question that hangs over both Culture and Festival 2014 can still be asked during the jamboree.
The legacy of Culture 2014 could stop with the celebration: while it might make Scotland an impressive tourist destination, its value for the people of the country depends on whether it leaves anything behind. The youth dance festival at Tramway is a wonderful programme, offering performances and master-classes; yet unless it provides a benefit for future generations, it will simply become a set of memories. In the same way that the athletes' village could either provide affordable housing or expensive residencies, the aftermath of the Commonwealth Games arts programme will define its worth.
On a simple level, this might mean ensuring that young people or communities who have become involved are supported in future years, or that The Touring Network is regarded as a vital organisation in provision beyond the central belt. It might see existing projects, such as Toonspeak, who recently won Scottish Charity of the Year, being helped to take the Games' spirit forward. The worst case is if the Games are merely a jamboree, a special occasion, that then undermines on-going activity by spending all of the money.
Returning to Barba's idea of theatre as a 'making strange': all of this performance and art could present the country in a new light. At its best, art is capable of remaking the way that the world is understood, revealing either the sublime, even sacred, moments of life or the hidden horrors. The intensity of performance during the next few months – alongside the Fringe – has the potential to make the familiar exciting and dynamic, to prove that art is part of daily life and a way of enhancing discussion and community. The social revolution that Barba's theatre reflects is not yet completed, but events like Culture 2014, despite their corporate veneer, offer hope.
Gareth is The List’s theatre editor and a freelance critic and performer