Stellar Quine of the Month: Judith Doherty
How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I’m Chief Executive, Co-Artistic Director and Producer of Grid Iron. Far too many titles, I know, but they each describe quite distinct roles and, in fact, open different doors so I think it’s good to have them all there. I use Producer most often when I’m introducing myself, I think mostly because it’s my most favourite part of my job – actually making shows happen in the physical sense. In the simplest terms, as well as sharing artistic directorship with Ben Harrison, I look after the practical running of the company with one other full time member of staff, our inimitable Finance and Development Manager, Deborah Crewe. Together we’re jacks of all trades (but hopefully masters of some too!)
What’s your favourite Grid Iron show and why?
That’s a really tough one because I have lots of different reasons for liking lots of our shows. And even the ones that have been tricky have had things about them that I’ve appreciated, if even just for teaching me valuable lessons. I’ll always think fondly of our first Fringe show, The Bloody Chamber in 1997 because it put us on the map, Decky Does a Bronco because we did it for so many years (four productions over a ten year period) and it’s such a splendid piece of Scottish writing and Roam, our co-production with NTS at Edinburgh airport because it was just so very unlikely we would pull it off. It was the first time anywhere in the world that a show had been allowed to happen in both the landside and air-side areas of an airport without the audience going through security. We needed the permission of the Department of Transport to make it happen and, while I’d love to take the credit for that, it was actually down to the incredible persuasive powers of Vicky Featherstone.
If I had to pick just one it would be a show we made in Norway called Tryst. It was just such an incredible experience. We created the show on a tiny island in Stavanger Harbour called Engoyholmen which was home to a community of boat-builders who made traditional, wooden hulled boats. They were just the most welcoming, talented, creative and funny people we’ve ever encountered. We had to learn to row to get to work in the morning (see photo!) and we collected the audience on a 1930s passenger boat that the folk on the island had restored. When we were there the boat-builders launched a boat that we’d watched take shape during the year or so of recce visits we’d done in preparation for the production. They chose to name it after a character in our show and we all felt so incredibly honoured and touched – and, oh my word, that was some party!
What was your first ever job?
When I was still at school I had a summer job in my cousin’s husband’s architects firm. I made tiny corrections to drawings and sprayed models, nothing too taxing, but there were several actual architecture students working there to gain experience and they were paying us all £1 an hour which just didn’t seem fair so I kicked up a rumpus and got it raised to the princely sum of £1.20. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless (They didn’t ask me back the next summer).
The next job I had I only lasted one night. I was at art college in Nottingham and I was filling in for a friend of mine who waitressed for a catering firm. I turned up at a function suite to discover that the event was an all-male dinner during which an Under 11 Amateur Boxing competition was taking place – hosted by Bernard Manning. For all the reasons you can imagine it was absolutely horrendous and signalled the end of my waitressing career.
What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
I would have to say that it was not one, but three people, who I met immediately one after another, who set me on my course. The first would, not surprisingly, be my co-artistic director at Grid Iron, Ben Harrison. We met at Edinburgh University when he was acting in a show I was producing. Then he directed a show while I was the Fringe venue manager of the university’s theatre building (Bedlam Theatre) and we fought tooth and nail about almost everything – which obviously meant we were destined to work together – and here we are 17 years later.
The second was Mary Paulson-Ellis who is well known to Stellar Quines. I had been her box office manager the year she was Fringe venue manager at Bedlam and, when the time came for her replacement to be appointed, she gave me the confidence to go for the job. And because I got that job I encountered Hilary Strong who was then the Director of the Fringe Society. She said I should come and work at the Fringe office after I finished uni, which I did for a couple of summers, and there I met amazing folk, made some lifelong friends, and was able to ask advice from people from all over the world who had set up their own theatre companies. The Fringe has been the single biggest influence in my own career and that of Grid Iron. I think it probably still is.
What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
I don’t really like to think like that. I’m more of a silver-linings kind of person. I was told very early on in my career that if I wanted to make it as a producer I should move to London but I love Edinburgh and didn’t want to leave. Things may have been different if I had, I guess, but I certainly don’t ever regret staying in Scotland.
What’s your most memorable moment in theatre?
There have been so many that I’m going to go for a recent one – and I really don’t want you to think I’m sucking up because this is a SQ newsletter – but the moment when Maureen Beattie gave her guttural yell of heart-break in The List was just heart-stopping. I felt it from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. It was extraordinary.
What’s your favourite play or piece of theatre?
Again there have been so many that I’m going to go for three recent ones. They are: White from the excellent Catherine Wheels, The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean from the beautiful Shona Reppe (again with Catherine Wheels), and Bullet Catch from Rob Drummond. That really was the first time I’ve ever really, really not wanted a show to end. Not just because of the fear of what could potentially happen but also because it was absolutely, totally brilliant.
What do you like the best about working in theatre?
It would have to be the fantastic people I get to work with, the amount of fun we get to have, the fact that even when things get tough there will be some brilliant person around the corner who will bring a smile to your face. But perhaps even more than that is how an audience look and sound when they’ve enjoyed your show. The feeling of having entertained people, of taking them out of themselves for even a short while, is possibly one of the best on earth.
What do you order at the bar once the show has come down?
That would be wine. Red or white. And then some more wine.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
Isn’t it great that there are so many brilliant women working in theatre in Scotland that I could’ve had a list as long as my arm. But because it’s this particular month I’m going to go with the fantastic actress Charlene Boyd who is just about to have her first baby (and is possibly having it as I type!) Charlene is a joy to work with, beautiful inside and out and just a generally lovely person to be around. I think she’s going to have a brilliant career – and she’s going to be a fabulous (and incredibly cool) mum.