THERE’S a word that Jackie Wylie keeps returning to. In our hour together she repeats it nearly a dozen times. Sometimes she applies it to her life. Most times, though, the new(ish) artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) brings it up when she is talking about her work. Again and again she uses the word "balance".

“I have the word ‘balance’ tattooed on the inside of my brain,” Wylie tells me at one point as we sit in Rockvilla, home to the NTS’s office and rehearsal spaces, before proceeding to demonstrate how deep the ink runs.

“The hardest thing is to try and balance everything. You have to balance different versions of theatre, you have to balance all the different geographic places in Scotland, you have to balance all the different audiences you are reaching. You have to balance the local and the national and the international.”

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See-saw. It is now over a year since Jackie Wylie was announced as the new director of NTS, some nine months since she started the job and just under a week before the launch of the 2018 programme. In person, she gives every impression of someone who, less than a year into her biggest job yet, is in reasonable equilibrium.

“I do feel settled,” Wylie says. “At the beginning it did feel like there was air rushing past me very quickly.

“I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the team in here, listening to what has worked in the past and beginning to start to chart where I want the organisation to go in the future. I think you have to listen first, don’t you?”

Not everyone does, Jackie. “I think with a national theatre you have to listen because you have to think about what the national theatre has achieved in the first 10 years. The only thing I can do is build on the success of that going forward.”

Wylie, formerly the artistic director of the late, lamented Arches, is 37 years old, the mother of a two-year-old daughter, and someone who loves Karine Polwart's music. Such is the hinterland of the leader of one of the country’s most important and visible cultural vehicles.

Quite a youthful leader, some might say. Some have said. “When I was 28 everyone was like: ‘You’re so young to be running the Arches,’” Wylie points out. “And when I was appointed here everyone was: ‘Oh, you’re so young to be running a national company.’ It’s going to be so embarrassing when people stop saying that. I don’t know when I stop being young.”

Not yet, I think. She certainly is not lacking youthful enthusiasm.

Wylie is the third director in NTS history. She is also the first Scot to take the post, following on from Vicky Featherstone and Laurie Sansom. The latter left rather unexpectedly last year after three years in the post.

First things first. Why did Wylie want the job? “I think I was sort of compelled to apply for it,” she says. “Scotland is always working out its values and its place in the world and at the moment I think Scotland is really looking outwards and trying to assert itself as having a different set of values to other people.”

She doesn’t say England, but let’s make the assumption.

“It’s trying to express the possibility of tolerance and progressiveness and expansive, outward-looking ways of being,” she continues, “and, actually, when I went for the job it did feel like an opportunity for a national theatre to be part of a conversation.”

The first fruits of that can be found in next year’s programme, which has just been announced. It is a mixture of the familiar, the new and the site-specific. There is even a theatre festival expressly aimed at younger audiences, something that is important to Wylie.

“One of the things that is really present in the season next year is an attention to new generations and younger audiences,” she says, “and bringing in the next generation of theatre-makers, but also the next generation of audiences. I think theatre has a responsibility to engage subsequent generations.”

Has theatre a problem with that? “Umm, I think theatre has to compete in newer ways. I’ve got a two-year-old and I pick her up from nursery and she constantly asks for my phone. There are different ways of mass participation in culture now that theatre has got to compete with.

“But I think there will always be a place for people to come together in a live moment. If you could make theatre as identity-defining as what band you like, what football team you support … Why can’t theatre have the same level of popular support?”

That’s about class surely, I suggest. “I don’t think the National Theatre of Scotland is elitist in any way.”

I’m not saying it is, but theatre can feel very middle-class.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I think there are so many different definitions of theatre that I don’t think that is the case. And I think Scotland has got an amazing tradition of a broad spectrum of different theatre experiences. I actually don’t think there is a class thing about theatre, although I do think there is a job to be done to demystify the artistic process. ‘What is this mysterious theatre thing that we don’t understand?’”

Maybe in the end, of course, the rest of us are just too busy watching Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed to worry about theatre? We are simply not paying enough attention. “Aye, but that is a reverse snobbery, isn’t it? Theatre has got to be exciting. It’s theatre’s responsibility to be exciting.”

Excitement, in the NTS’s case, with a Scottish flavour presumably. One of the low-murmur grumbles about the Featherstone and Sansom eras that preceded Wylie’s came down to the simple fact that the person at the head of the organisation wasn’t Scottish.

Wylie, who grew up in Juniper Green in Edinburgh, ticks that box, but to be honest she doesn’t see why the box needed to be ticked in the first place.

“If you look at it from the flip side I think I got the job because I’m the best person for the job, not because of my Scottish identity. It’s very reductive to try and define people by their national identities when, actually, the most useful way to think about national identity in the 21st century is about how complex we can define it; not how narrow. So, to be upset because somebody’s not from Scotland running a national institution … I don’t think it’s a useful way of thinking about things.”

What’s her own definition of Scottishness? “There’s two positive things about Scottish cultural identity that have been shaping my thinking about the characteristics that might define NTS. One of them is a kind of egalitarianism. The National Theatre of Scotland is inherently non-hierarchical. The idea of being a theatre for everyone, if you think about it, is kind of utopian, egalitarian, like the NHS. I think the BBC is a bit like this as well.

“And being without walls is a kind of anti-elitist thing in itself. I think that is a Scottish thing, though we’re quite romantic about that.

“And then the other thing that is interesting, but not talked about enough, is Scotland’s relationship to invention and innovation. So, there’s a lineage around risk-taking in order to progress. I would hope that what the National Theatre of Scotland can do is innovate and take risks and be part of that trajectory.”

Wylie’s own trajectory took her from Edinburgh to Glasgow University and from film and TV location scouting around Scotland to the Arches. She remembers as a kid doing a turn at her grandad’s home in Corstorphine with her 12 cousins.

“I was probably the biggest show-off out of all of us.”

Her mum used to take her out of school to go and see plays at the King’s Theatre. Wylie was an actor herself for a while. Was she any good?

“Well, I think my decision to go into arts leadership is quite telling … I don’t know. I liked it when I felt I was part of something that had something to say. As an actor you are evoking emotions in other people. It’s a kind of addictive thing which isn’t about the performance. It’s about everyone being together, experiencing something. Theatre creates this feeling of being alive. I think it’s because it’s high-stakes, high jeopardy.”

That riskiness was very much part of her remit as artistic director of the Arches, which began nearly a decade ago. It came to an end when the Arches was forced into receivership in June 2015 after licensing restrictions were imposed upon its nightclub due to police complaints over drug misuse.

Wylie was on maternity leave at the time. The sense of loss, she thinks, is still felt. “I think you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. The Arches was really hard work. It was much more complicated than the National Theatre of Scotland to balance the club with the theatre."

After it closed, Glasgow Life and Creative Scotland gave her some funding which led to the Take Me Somewhere Festival and then the NTS job came up.

“I now look back on that time and think: ‘Oh God, that was so intense. Going from the Arches, having my daughter, setting up the Take Me Somewhere Festival and then being appointed to the National Theatre of Scotland. All of that happened within two years and I wonder how my daughter will perceive all of that when she grows up?

“She’ll probably think it’s good a good example about being a woman in the 21st century.”

The 21st century isn’t looking quite as female-friendly and progressive as it should, though. We are speaking less than a week after the Old Vic Theatre in London issued a statement of apology after an investigations into complaints raised against former director Kevin Spacey. That’s just one strand of a whole raft of allegations surrounding men in positions of power in both political and cultural life. We could call these the Weinstein years.

Issues of power and abuse are something that Wylie has discussed with her staff. “There’s a lot of stuff about process and HR and we all use those words which are about protecting organisations really. But for me it’s got to be about creating a culture where it’s completely unacceptable.

“We’re in a moment of change where things are uncomfortable and then hopefully we will get through this moment and things will be better. And it will be completely unacceptable.

“This isn’t just about sexual harassment,” she continues, “it’s about the systemic issues around hierarchy and power. Organisations have got to adapt because those old-fashioned ways of thinking about institutional hierarchy are not relevant any more. They haven’t been relevant since the Industrial Revolution.

“The other thing is that culture can often lead the debate in setting an example. At the moment the focus is on those cultural institutions. So how do we get beyond that and how can we be aspirational versions of how to conduct yourself?

“I do look back on the time I was appointed to the Arches. I know that you’re not asking me this, but I’ve not had experiences of some of the things that are being talked about. But it was hard for me to be a young woman appointed to be artistic director of an organisation in a way it wouldn’t have been if I had been an older man. I think if you’re a 28-year-old woman you don’t get to have authority in the same way you do if you’re an older man and that’s the way the structures of the world work.”

It’s nearly time to wrap up. The PR has poked his head through the door to remind us Wylie’s time is carefully eked out these days. “All of this is unexpected to me,” she says when he disappears. “How people manage my time.”

What is the shape of life outside this building? “I travel a lot. I was in New York last week, I’m going to Dublin tomorrow because we’ve got a show opening, Let The Right One In. And then I’m going over to Brussels for a conference. When I get back I just want to be with my daughter and spend time with her.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m on a treadmill but the thing that gets me through it all is the optimism of taking on NTS … God, I realise it’s so all-consuming I don’t have much to say about my personal life.”

She does have one. There’s her daughter and her partner Alasdair. “He’s a software designer. He’s from North Uist and I often think of the axis; me being from Edinburgh living in Glasgow and then having this other family in the Hebrides.”

As she knows from her days as a location scout, there are many different Scotlands. “The Hebridean is a new thing for me since I met my partner. So, we’ll go up as often as we can and his parents have a house that looks out across the Machair and it’s absolutely beautiful.

“You can hear in a different way. You can hear the wind and you can hear the birds and you can hear the sea and you can get this peacefulness that you don’t get anywhere else.”

What does that sound like? Balance restored, perhaps.

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