Stellar Quine of the Month: Alice McGrath

Alice McGrath

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
My job as Director of Creative Development at macrobert is full, diverse, a bit bonkers, at times manic, interesting, creative, challenging and fun!  Ask me again in December when our eventful autumn season is done and dusted and all the Christmas shows are up and running and I might have a slightly calmer answer!

I couldn’t do my job without the wonderful people that I work with – they are unquestionably the best part of it.

What’s been your best job in theatre and why?
Every job I’ve had has been rewarding for the stage I’ve been at in my career.  I’ve been really lucky that my last two big jobs (at Imaginate and macrobert) were completely new posts with no blueprint for what should be done and how.  This meant that I could shape and develop them from the start.  That way of working suits me!

Looking back I worked as an usher at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh for years as a student.  I loved that job too for the opportunity to see loads of shows, work with a good team and sample the ice cream…

How has the type of work that you do in theatre changed since you first started?
The thing I notice most in the arts right now is how busy everybody is. It’s perhaps due to decreased levels of funding, greater expectations and developments in technology – meaning it’s much more difficult to switch off from work.  I think people are more stressed (perhaps that’s my rose tinted nostalgic glasses) – and I think this level of hard working is kind of anti arts development!

I read an interesting article recently about leaning back – doing less to allow your brain space and time to think differently, without pressure. It provided some scary stats about how email consumes people’s lives – at work and at home. I am guilty of that at points.  I’ve read a little bit about the Tao practice of Wu Wei – which mildly translates as ‘the action of non-action’. I would like to explore and encourage this more.  To me this is about taking time to look out of the window and go for a walk as part of your daily working practice.  It’s also about tuning in to when effort is appropriate and when it’s wasted.

I’m not sure this fully answers your question – but it feels important to say!

What was your first ever job?
Clearing tables in the Third Eye Centre, aged three or four.  My dad had just set the centre up, my mum was running the cafe and I hated going to the nursery up the road, so they set me to work in the cafe. I loved it but I probably ate more cake than cleared tables.

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
Most people of my generation who worked in the arts worked either with TAG or 7:84 at some point in their career. I was with TAG, working with James Brining, Jon Morgan and Lorna Duguid – all great people to know and work with.  The many colleagues I worked with over that time have continued to be friends and trusted associates. In fact a group of us went on holiday at Easter this year – 32 in total with partners and kids!

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
Auditioning for Eurovision song contest in the 80s…I had an amazing dance routine and a massive do all set to go…

What’s your favourite theatre show, or strongest memory of theatre?
I can never pin it down to just one – so on the large scale Fuerzabruta – the theatrical experience in the black tent at Edinburgh Fringe around five years ago – it blew me away.  I ooooed and aaaaahhhed and gasped and awed the entire way through it.  On the smaller scale – anything by Daniel Kitson – I go to see his shows as my birthday treat when he’s here at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I should also say something about my dad’s work – as it was my earliest theatrical memory: seeing a naked lady talking with apes at the age of seven is quite an experience to take with you throughout your life.

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
Having an idea, or hearing a story in its early stages, or seeing a snippet of a dance piece or hearing an artist talking about their idea for a new work – and getting excited about the possibilities and how we can help make them happen.  Then working in partnership with the many people that it takes to realise these small sketches and early ideas into realised art works that connect with an audience…so in essence the whole business of producing and presenting work and the connections made in doing it!.

What advice would you give emerging women in theatre today who want to play more of a role in the creative development side of theatre?
Listen to and connect with artists as much as you can – but don’t force a relationship if the click isn’t there.

Understand that asking the right questions is an art form in its own right that needs exercised and practiced to make it most effective. Finding the right questions is much more rewarding than trying to find a fix for someone else’s work.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
There are so many wonderful woman that I have worked with in the arts – it’s hard to choose – so here’s my top four of the month! I have endless respect for the strong and steady women behind the scenes that keep things in order and provide a sense of calm.  The lovely Tessa Rennie, General Manager at Imaginate, has made an artform of this – as has the joyous Lucy Mason.

Any time with dance artist Janice Parker and visual artist Rosie Gibson feeds my soul and stimulates my mind – they both make amazing work and value people above all else.

SQ of the Month