If you like your theatre conventional, well-dressed, and contained within a proscenium arch, then the one Scottish arts festival you should probably avoid is Take Me Somewhere, set to fizz and sparkle across Glasgow over the next two weeks. If, on the other hand, you think you might enjoy wandering from a one-to-one show about the experience of Syrian refugees staged in the Kibble Palace at the Botanics, to a massive moon-inspired installation in the Mackintosh Church at Queen’s Cross, to a bus that will carry audiences from Tramway to Tron to the Platform at Easterhouse – taking in a new Swedish-British exploration of aerial art, sound and visual imagery called Liquid Sky, and legendary New York avant-garde duo Split Britches in their latest show UXO – then Take Me Somewhere is probably the event for you, a thrilling two-and-half-week celebration of the outer edges of theatre, and of where performance might take us next.
The idea of Take Me Somewhere was born in Glasgow in 2016, after former Arches artistic director Jackie Wylie conducted a survey into what Glasgow’s emerging performers and theatre-makers needed most, following the abrupt closure of the Arches in the spring of 2015. The idea was to focus on the future, to support artists in developing their work, to create an international platform that would help inspire, energise and showcase Glasgow’s performance scene, and – not least – to explore the amazing network of performance spaces, both permanent and temporary, that Glasgow still offers.
Within a few months of launching Take Me Somewhere, Jackie Wylie was appointed artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland; but she saw through the first festival, in February 2017, before her departure, and handed over the artistic directorship to her closest collaborator at the Arches in its last half-decade, LJ Findlay-Walsh, who is taking Take Me Somewhere forward in the same positive and fiercely exploratory spirit.
“We’re definitely focusing on what we have rather than what we’ve lost,” says Findlay-Walsh, in a brief break from final preparations, “but we are still responding to the priorities that emerged from that 2016 consultancy. So there’s a mix of invited work and newly-commissioned work, a terrific range of venues – including new ones like Queen’s Cross Church and the Britannia Panopticon – and plenty of opportunities to discuss work during the festival, and of course to have a couple of parties. Never let it be said that there was a festival in Glasgow where there was no opportunity to party….”
This year’s Take Me Somewhere programme includes 14 shows, two installations, two cabaret acts, four discussion events, and a closing party; and among the performing companies and artists, Findlay-Walsh has succeeded in striking a fine balance between international acts, invited work from Scotland and England, and shows newly created for Take Me Somewhere 2018. Apart from Split Britches, the international acts include Dead Centre’s Dublin Festival smash-hit Hamnet – an astonishing live-video spectacle in which a young teenage actor plays Shakespeare’s son – and Mouthpiece, a Canadian two-woman show about cutting adrift from gender stereotypes, acclaimed on the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe; there’s also a visit, at the close of the festival, from the acclaimed New York transgender artist and cabaret singer Mykki Blanco.
UK visitors to the Festival include leading LGBT artist David Hoyle and singers the Lipsinkers, who appear in Hoyle’s LGBT history show Diamond. From Scotland, there’s a work-in-progress glimpse of Cora Bissett’s planned Edinburgh Festival show What Girls Are Made Of, and Mamoru Iriguchi’s much-loved children’s show, Eaten. And the new work includes shows from former Arches artists including FK Alexander, Eilidh MacAskill and Rosana Cade, Ultimate Dancer, and – at the Britannia Panopticon – Peter McMaster.
“One thing I’d like to emphasise,” says Findlay-Walsh,” is that it’s not really about new or emerging artists, this year. It’s rather about giving new opportunities to artists who have already been working for some years, but who now need support to develop in new directions. So we’re trying to do that. Then, our close knowledge of the directions Glasgow-based artists are taking also informs our international programme, and the shows we invite – sometimes because the themes are similar, but sometimes because the work is entirely at odds with anything we’re seeing here, and that can speak to us, too.”
Findlay-Walsh is also intrigued by the rich pattern of influences and family relationships in international performance art; this year, she has invited the Belgian-based artist Florentina Holzinger, strongly influenced by former Arches regular and queen of New York experimental performance art, Ann Liv Young. And she acknowledges that on the Glasgow performance scene – and internationally too – there is an almost overwhelming preoccupation with shows that radically challenge conventional ideas on gender and sexuality, and that reflect on the experience of gay, transgender and bi-sexual or non-sexual people.
“It’s interesting to analyse exactly why that theme is so strong,” says Findlay-Walsh, “and it certainly isn’t universal. But I do think there’s something about a rejection of the forms of toxic masculinity that we see all around us in the news, and about a refusal to let that worldview set the agenda any longer.
“And one of the most thrilling things about this festival is that when we’re presenting new work, we often don’t know ourselves exactly what’s going to happen. FK Alexander’s new show is called Violence, for instance, and she describes it as an ‘anti-love tribute to crushed hope and renewed desire.’ Apart from that, though, I have no idea how it’s going to turn out; all I know is that I’ll be there with the rest of the audience – and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.”
Take Me Somewhere is at venues across Glasgow until 2 June, www.takemesomewhere.co.uk