National Theatre of Scotland hires former figurehead of The Arches as new artistic director

The former artistic director of The Arches, the long-running Glasgow venue forced to close after a police crackdown, has been hired by the National Theatre of Scotland to be its new figurehead.

Thursday, 27th October 2016, 12:07 am
Updated Thursday, 27th October 2016, 5:23 pm
Jackie Wylie was artistic director at The Arches in Glasgow for seven years before it closed last summer.

Jackie Wylie, who spent seven years at the helm of The Arches before its demise last summer, will become its third artistic director when she takes up her post in the spring.

Ms Wylie, who is widely-respected in the Scottish cultural scene, replaces Laurie Samson, who resigned in April after speaking out over the impact of cuts imposed by the Scottish Government. He had warned the Scottish Parliament that NTS was having to “rethink” its future after being hit with a three per cent cut ahead of its tenth anniversary.

Mr Samson had been just three years in the post since succeeding inaugural artistic director Vicky Featherstone, who was credited with instigating NTS’s “theatre without walls” ethos, which has seen it stage shows around Scotland since its formation.

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New artistic director Jackie Wylie with Dame Seona Reid, chair of the NTS board.

NTS insisted Ms Wylie was appointed to “build on the National Theatre of Scotland’s reputation and loyal audiences, whilst further extending its work to new partners, new audiences, new forms of theatre and new talent”.

Ms Wylie insisted that while NTS would have to live within its means in future, it would not be scaling back its ambitions or changing its remit.

Ms Wylie, described by NTS today as one of the UK’s “leading creative producers,” has been credited with helping nurture leading young theatre-makers like Kieran Hurley, Rob Drummond, Cora Bissett and Nic Green.

Ms Wylie told The Scotsman: “It was such a thrilling prospect to be able to take on an organisation that is so loved across Scotland and has achieved so much. It was an amazing opportunity to build on that success and its existing connections.

New artistic director Jackie Wylie with Dame Seona Reid, chair of the NTS board.

“It goes without saying that I’ll be bringing in new voices and new approaches to theatre-making and new ways of connecting with audiences.

“We’re in a really confident position, having achieved so much, to be able to make very bold artistic choices and really consider what future definitions of theatre might be."

Ms Wylie said she did not want to comment on the prospect of further comments being imposed on the company, but insisted the company had a "brilliant relationship" with the Scottish Government.

She added: "The existing team at the National Theatre of Scotland are really effective in all operational areas but until I am in the door it is impossible to say what things might look like in the future, but I feel confident about that relationship with the Scottish Government.

“Those founding principles of being a theatre without walls and a theatre for everyone will remain at the core of our work. Artistic planning goes hand in hand with business planning. Both of those things are equally important.

"As well as developing artistic plans and looking for partnerships and new ways of generating resource there will always be an eye to living within the organisation’s means. But that doesn’t meant there will be any less ambition or shift in our remit.

"Once I get into the job my first task will be working out the sustainability of that vision, but the focus will be on continuing to achieve ambitions at all times and finding innovative ways to do that.”

Ms Wylie will take up her post in the spring after launching Take Me Somewhere, a new festival to be staged across Glasgow in February and March to “build on the legacy” of The Arches.

The Arches which had gradually built a reputation as one of the city’s best known cultural venues and nightclubs since it opened in 1991. Its space, beneath Central Station, had been opened temporarily for Glasgow’s reign as European City of Culture.

Ms Wylie was on maternity leave when the venue lost its late-night licence following repeated concerns raised by the new Police Scotland force about levels of drug misuse and disorder.

Lawyers for the venue failed to convince the city’s licensing board that the police concerns stemmed from staff alerting them to discoveries of drugs on the premises.

The appointment of Ms Wylie - who was born in Edinburgh and studied film, television and theatre studies at Glasgow University - is expected to silence those who questioned why NTS had hired its first two artistic directors from the English arts world. Most prominent among these had been the artist Alasdair Gray and the playwright Liz Lochhead, the latter of whom was a patron of The Arches.

NTS said it had conducted a “far-reaching” search for a new artistic director, including looking at overseas candidates, to replace Mr Samson.

Dame Seona Reid, chair of the NTS board, said: “Jackie brings great energy and a passion for theatre-making that is far-reaching and collaborative and we look forward very much to Scotland’s national theatre entering its second decade with her at the helm.

“Under her leadership, we will see a commitment to building on the National Theatre of Scotland’s exceptional reputation for world-class theatre whilst engaging further with new forms of theatre, new audiences, new communities and new talent.

“We will see a continuing commitment to a theatre for everyone, serving the whole of Scotland, whilst developing and consolidating partnerships in Europe and the rest of the world. And we will see a collaborative National Theatre of Scotland extending its work with partners, existing and new, to make great theatre in, of, and for Scotland.”