an internationally acclaimed venue, supporting local artists and the radical edge of theatre

Feature by Gareth K Vile | 08 Oct 2007
One of the few surviving enterprises from Glasgow's year as City of Culture, Tramway has emerged from awkward beginnings as a post-industrial space to become an internationally acclaimed venue, supporting local artists and presenting the radical edges of both theatre and dance. Originally adapted for Peter Brook's Mahabharata in 1988, it stuttered into life through the early nineties, gradually establishing a distinctive identity.

Tramway is unique, catering to the local community through the popular café and Hidden Garden, and attracting artists from around the world. It has become the home for the New Territories Festival, the National Review of Live Art and an important venue during the Triptych music festival. The National Theatre of Scotland has frequently collaborated with Tramway, and the Scottish Ballet will be moving into an adjacent custom built home in 2009, having made dramatic use of the main space for their contemporary pieces.

Under Steve Slater, it has grown from a derelict space - at early shows, members of the city council arrived in hard-hats to ostentatiously express their reservations - into a regular venue for companies as diverse as Forced Entertainment, Les Ballets C de la B and Theatre Cryptic. Because of the versatility of the open spaces, and the multiple spaces available, Tramway is as comfortable for small productions and exhibitions as it is for the international shows. Through the Dark Light commissions, and supporting companies like the excellent Fish and Game, Tramway has cultivated strong links with Glasgow's performers.

As the venue gears up for its twentieth anniversary celebrations, Tramway is taking a short break from the performing and visual arts. By the time it reopens in January, Tramway will have enlarged its café, created a new art exhibition space near the foyer and the new art and dance facilities on the upper floors will be well on their way to completion. It will also be preparing for the arrival of the Scottish Ballet in 2009.

As Steve Slater acknowledges, there are challenges and opportunities. "We are having lots of talks with the ballet about a collaboration." And this extends beyond the artistic but the two organisations will remain independent. "The basic need for the café is to provide for the additional numbers that are going to be brought in by the ballet," explains Slater. "We are different organisations - the challenge is to bring us together. It's a very complex project - to try and merge a new build with an existing organisation. But hopefully in the end, what we will gain is a far stronger facility."

Tramway has battled to achieve its current status, and its commitment to challenging theatre has made it an unlikely success story. The clarity of its programming, combined with fair pricing and development of the building, has led Tramway from the underground into the mainstream, without losing integrity.

Slater is rightly proud of its achievement. "We are reaching an interesting point in the history of the building: twenty years ago it was a derelict site that was being demolished. Now it is a major national and international dance facility and the home to the national ballet company - a beautiful garden and a resource for the local community. We cater for everybody in different ways."

The Tramway may be dark for now but with the new revamp and the arrival of Scottish Ballet it promises to be enlightening audiences for many years to come.