Joyce McMillan: The ‘inspired’ appointment of Jackie Wylie

Jackie Wylie was artistic director at The Arches in Glasgow for seven years before it closed last summer.
Jackie Wylie was artistic director at The Arches in Glasgow for seven years before it closed last summer.
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In appointing Jackie Wylie as artistic director, the board of the National Theatre of Scotland achieves three things at a stroke.

First, it skips a generation in Scottish theatre and helps to ensure that the NTS will remain at the cutting-edge of the art-form, as it moves into its second decade.

Second, it lays to rest the idea that the board would never appoint as Scot, or anyone who has primarily worked in Scotland; Jackie Wylie grew up in Edinburgh, went to Boroughmuir High School and Glasgow University, and made her career primarily at The Arches, for 25 years the vital hub of Glasgow’s grass-roots art scene.

And third, it simply removes the problem that could have haunted Vicky Featherstone ’s founding artistic directorship if she had not taken steps to defuse it, and did haunt Laurie Sansom’s short tenure in the job; the tension, for any chief executive who is also a director of shows, between the practical need to be in the office - making daily decisions about the vastly complex structure and priorities of Scotland’s national “theatre without walls” - and the creative need to be in the rehearsal room.

Jackie Wylie is not a director but a creative producer, with a formidable track record in spotting and nurturing rising talent, for building international links, and for sharing her own huge enthusiasm for the work; and with the NTS about to move to its new producing and administrative hub at Rockvilla, she may have been appointed at exactly the moment when the NTS needs a leader with those qualities.

Wylie will, of course, need a strong team around her, particularly when it comes to creating big main stage productions, which have not featured in her career so far.

She will need a powerful group of associate directors, and strong co-producing relationships, particularly with Dominic Hill’s Citizens’ Theatre, and David Greig’s Lyceum.

Yet her knowledge of Scotland’s theatre scene is vast, her track record in developing the latest generation of exciting Scottish-based theatre makers unparalleled; and if she can create a vision for the NTS that wins the support, respect and enthusiasm of the whole organisation, then this appointment could prove as inspired as it is brave.