Stellar Quine of the Month: Fiona Sturgeon Shea

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?

As Creative Director, I am responsible for the overall leadership of the organisation which supports, develops and promotes Scotland’s playwrights. A great deal of my work right now is making and nurturing our partnerships – with playwrights, obviously, but also with theatre companies, academic institutions, funding bodies and others – here in Scotland, the UK and internationally. We are governed by a great board of directors made up of professional playwrights and other skilled professionals. And I’m supported by a talented and industrious small team in Emma Mckee, our General Manager, and Emma Campbell, our Communications and Administration Co-ordinator.

I love my job. It is an absolute privilege to work with playwrights in the way that I am able to. It’s a great honour to have people share their stories and their work with me, often when they are still raw and unformed – and to be invited into the different processes that playwrights practice. I never underestimate what a gift this is.

You were recently in Canada – what are your thoughts on the artistic links between Scotland and Canada?

We are part of an international network of playwright development centres across the world. Canada has a particularly strong tradition of this. We would love to work more regularly with our Canadian colleagues and that was part of the reason for my research trip.

Playwrights’ Studio was originally modeled on Centre De Auteurs Dramatiques, the Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal (and others). I wanted to check in with these organisations to compare our models and our activities, hear fresh thinking and discover innovative approaches to developing plays from experienced colleagues. Our Canadian peers were very open to hearing about our work. Playwrights supporting one another through mentoring is something that we are particularly strong on in Scotland. Obviously, I was also there to promote Scotland’s playwrights and was really heartened to discover that awareness is still very high. I saw posters of plays I had worked on at the Traverse and elsewhere in new Canadian productions adorning the walls of many theatre companies.

Our international work is designed to complement that of producing new writing companies like Stellar Quines and the Traverse whose work with Canadian artists has been exemplary. So, watch this space – or rather!

What was your first ever job?

My father was a professional artist so I grew up in a family business. I worked in our art gallery and shop from a very early age. It didn’t pay very well and I doubt if I was a model employee!

My first full-time job was Marketing Assistant at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. This is where I met Tom McGrath when he was Associate Literary Director (for the whole of Scotland but based at the Lyceum). Tom felt that I was wasting my brain stuffing envelopes for most of the day – which really was the main job of a Marketing Assistant in the pre-Internet dark ages – and would give me scripts to read instead. That first year at the Lyceum was very important in giving me a real understanding of how a professional producing theatre works. Doing things as basic as gathering biogs for the programmes helped me understand the different roles and contribution people made.

Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?

Tom McGrath was one of the most inspiring and supportive people I knew – even when we were arguing about things! He had such an influence on so many people – and still does through the Tom McGrath Trust. Another person I met at the Lyceum was Faith Liddell (now Chief Executive of Festivals Edinburgh). She and Tom were the people who believed in me and recognised potential in me that I didn’t necessarily see myself.

What has been your favourite theatre production?

Oh gosh, there are too many to choose from! The one production I will mention was Sarasine by the theatre company Gloria, adapted by Neil Bartlett from Balzac’s story. I saw it in the old Traverse and I’ll never forget Bette Bourne’s entrance (in complete blackout) as a 300 year old castrati. It was so brilliant, powerful and atmospheric, it’s really stayed with me.

What do you like the best about working within theatre?

It’s really always been about the playwrights for me – even when I was working as I did for many years in Audience Development. I loved what we achieved at the Traverse in the 1990s, spending a really significant amount of time with the playwright to communicate their intentions about the play in a way which also met the audience’s expectations. The playwright Nicola McCartney says that what I used to do was dramaturgy through marketing. That always makes me smile.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?

Ella Wildridge the translator and dramaturg and patron of the Tom McGrath Trust – the woman is a genius. She’s inexhaustible and puts me to shame with her energy, ideas and the fact that she’s always learning.


SQ of the Month