We spoke to Jemima Levick, Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Stellar Quines – a touring theatre company inspiring excellence in women & girls – about all things challenge, change, creativity, progress and inspiration
Q: We are HUGE fans of Stellar Quines. For those folk in our community who haven’t heard of you, in no more than three sentences, can you sum up what you do?
Well… We aim to be Scotland’s leading touring theatre company, inspiring excellence in women and girls, and our mission is to Celebrate the value and diversity of Women and Girls by making brilliant theatre, provoking change, nurturing artists, and empowering participation.
Q: There’s such range in what Stellar Quine’s create, evidenced a little here by the wonderful images from your productions and team. Is every single day different in the Stellar Quines universe?
What happens every day is our slightly obsessive attachment to emails! Aside from that, thankfully, it is different every day, particularly for me as my role encompasses the Chief Executive side alongside the Artistic. We’re always driving things forward with the creative side in mind, but there are days when I can be found sitting staring at a suite of HR policies. Every time I get back into the rehearsal room I’m reminded of how much I love it – it’s a joy.
Photo by Stellar Quines
Q: Stellar Quines has been going since 1993 so I can only imagine the resistance you must’ve experienced over the years, as well as the highs and sense of satisfaction in watching an incredible idea gain momentum and power. Can you tell our readers about the first time you remember Stellar Quines’ work really paying out in terms of societal change and what that experience taught you that you still refer to today?
Brilliant question, and hard to answer! I guess the change we really make isn’t through one project or experience, but through our very existence. Without a regularly funded theatre company (in Scotland specifically) whose core purpose is dedicated to celebrating and driving forward the voices of women and girls, we might be suggesting that we’ve achieved equality in its complete sense. And we really haven’t. Stellar Quines serves as a reminder and a provocateur, in that we can enable other companies to improve their gender practice through co-productions with other companies for example, as well as alongside creating productions and opportunities for people to engage with that, encouraging people to think about the position of women or girls.
When the organisation was founded in 1993, it was a very deliberate act by a group of frustrated female actors who weren’t getting the roles or leadership opportunities they should have. Things have changed for the better since then, but we’re a long way from redressing the balance. Christine Hamilton’s brilliant research piece, Where Are The Women? demonstrates the areas we’re doing well at and where we’re still underachieving. One of our next projects is directly inspired by this, in that we’re finding ways to support more women to occupy design roles within creative teams that are historically overrun by men, such as Lighting, Sound and AV (video) Design.
In terms of societal change, we’re working to bring the Tonic Theatre’s Advance Programme to Scotland; their programme asks companies to examine gender within their organisational practice and enables them to instigate real and meaningful change. My ambition for this is that once we’ve worked with the theatre sector, we begin to work with arts organisations in a more general sense. If we can change the way people work and consider gender, we will inevitably reap benefits through broader cultural practice in Scotland.
“It’s been a big old collaboration over a long period, in which people have been bold and brave & have always, without fail, aspired to be the very best we can be.”
Q: If a reader was looking for a feminist theatre hero to inspire them and lift their social media timeline, apart from Stellar Quines, who would you recommend they follow?
On Twitter I recommend Victoria Sadler, Hannah Khalil, Lucy Kerbel (Tonic Theatre), Bechdel Theatre, Vicky Featherstone and Tiata Fahodzi.
Q: Your vision is; ‘to be Scotland’s leading touring theatre company, inspiring excellence in women & girls supported by our mission to celebrate the value and diversity of women and girls by making brilliant theatre, provoking change, nurturing artists and empowering participation.’ What are the biggest blocks in the way of you achieving those goals right now and how can like-minded organisations and individuals help you overcome those block?
Well, the obvious answer is money and time! We need to retain a certain level of resource enabling us to keep delivering and growing. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to make everything work on very little, and can be a real block both creatively and practically. What we try to do is to embed ourselves within other organisations so we can support one another to achieve more and reach further.
Our networks are what provide us with inspiration, enabling us to reach new people, whether they’re audiences, participants or artists. We can often be found talking over all the brilliant work going on at Young Women’s Movement Scotland, The Parliament Project, and Glasgow Women’s Library. All we ask is that people keep spreading the word about our work and opportunities and to engage with us. We love hearing from new people.
Q: Can you tell us about a time you faced mental health challenges and what you did (or still do) for wellness now??
I think I’m very lucky in that I’ve never suffered from a sustained period of mental health difficulties, although I do live with the effects of mental health every day in that my husband suffers from anxiety. I guess I have some understanding of just how hard that is. One of the things I’ve learnt is the importance of a safe space – the creation and maintenance of that, both at home and at work.
So many people in the theatre sector live with mental health challenges every day, and I think we’re getting better about talking about it honestly and carefully so the right kind of support is in place. I’m sure we can do better, but we’re working on it.
Q: If you could affect change in any area of law or government policy that you think would make the most positive difference to the lives of women and girls, what would that change be?
I’d like Gender Equality to be at the heart of all policy please; in that every piece of policy is scrutinized through a gendered lens – future, current and historical. Most laws and policies are predicated on a historically patriarchal blueprint, so we need to start re-assessing everything in order to make real and meaningful change. In education, health and the justice system women and girls are often treated very poorly; just look at survivors of domestic abuse and suspended sentences – it’s appalling – I’m convinced they wouldn’t work the way they do if men were the primary victims.
Q: Of all the things Stellar Quines will do in 2019 what are you most excited about?
Eeek! That’s a bit like having to choose between my children! I’m excited about our creative training course in Sound Design. I’m hoping to find new and brilliant Sound Designers I can engage with for future projects. But also (I couldn’t just choose one!) we’re co-producing a beautiful show called This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries and This Girls Does Nothing with Imaginate as part of their 30th Anniversary Festival. It’s a wonderful little feminist fairytale for 7’s and up’s and I’m super excited about making it.
Q: Reflecting back, what’s made Stellar Quines such a success and, how does failure feel as part of the organisation’s journey?
I think our success lies with the brilliant people – both women and men – we’ve worked with over the years. Artists, Actors, Board Members, Production Managers, Administrators, Producers – all of them. It’s been a big old collaboration over a long period, in which people have been bold and brave and have always, without fail, aspired to be the very best we can be. Quality and passion are key to what we do, without that we’re nowhere. The founding members of Stellar Quines – Gerda Stevenson, Lynn Bains (etc.) and Muriel Romanes my predecessor, were real trail blazers; Muriel introduced me to the company when I was graduating from Drama training. She was an unapologetic risk-taker and hugely ambitious, not for herself but for the work Stellar Quines were producing. Her tenacity and drive has certainly carved out some of Stellar Quines’ success. It’s my job now to press ahead and move it on. Of course, there’s been failure along the way too, any kind of artistic endeavor has risk attached. Sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it’s a bit of a damp squib! But you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. I’m a big believer there’s something positive in everything, even if it’s just that you know to never do that thing again!
You can read more about Christine Hamilton’s amazing Where Are The Women? research at http://christinehamiltonconsulting.com/women-in-theatre/
You can read more about The Tonic Theatre’s Advance Programme at; http://www.tonictheatre-advance.co.uk/