In this blog, our outgoing Creative Learning Associate, Rosie Priest, takes a look back at the projects she worked on with Stellar Quines…
I’m not sure how to reflect on my time at Stellar Quines, or really where to start because there have been so many twists and turns and unexpected adventures, so I suppose it is easiest to start with my first projects.
When I first began at Stellar Quines, I was carrying on the work of my predecessor Catherine Grosvenor. Catherine had kicked off two projects I would keep looking after: Letters to… and the Muslim Women’s Stories project in partnership with the Glasgow Women’s Library.
During the two and a-bit years I have managed the Creative Learning strand of Stellar Quines’ work, I’ve overseen the production of nine Letters to… films, involving 27 creatives, artists and directors as well as one constant incredible videographer, Aly White.
After two years of running Letters to…, we will be transforming it into a bridging project for creatives. This will include opportunities to learn new skills from writers and to have their work paid, expanding on Catherine’s original project to provide a wider range of learning opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled for this in summer 2021!
Writing for Performance: Muslim Women’s Stories
I have been fortunate enough to see Sara Sharawai support over a dozen Muslim women to create short plays through these workshops. The latest version of plays have been filmed and will be screened by the Glasgow Women’s Library on April 10th at 1pm. Book your free ticket now!
I am so excited that Stellar Quines secured the funding for the Muslim Women’s Stories project to continue for at least another year. The project will be re-emerging at the Glasgow Women’s Library in summer 2021.
Unlike Catherine, I’m not a writer. My practice has always been one based on being in a room with people facilitating conversation and creativity. My favourite thing in the world is to help other people make something (even if it’s just a conversation). So that was my first job when I started at Stellar Quines.
I had previously worked with an organisation called Stepping Stones. They support young families in and around North Edinburgh, and have an incredible group of young mothers they support. Stepping Stones support these young women through the social isolation that some primary care givers experience. They develop skills, encourage positive well-being practices and, most of all, are a life-line to some of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable and incredible young women.
After meeting with the group of young mothers, it became clear that what they wanted was to celebrate motherhood, and their resilience. Often organisations would develop projects which wanted to capture some murky and grim reality of living in one of Scotland’s most socio-economically deprived areas as a young mother – the group didn’t want this.
We worked on a series of workshops to create short films based on their stories and experiences and to amplify their voices. This first project was all about being in a room with people and just playing, having an adventure. The films which were created are all available on the Stellar Quines YouTube page. I’d recommend exploring some of these brilliant films such as Living with a Toddler (below). They shed a light on the incredible resilience, creativity, wit and skill of these brilliant young women.
I returned to Stepping Stones during COVID. They were looking for ways and means to connect with their young mothers’ groups and were looking for activities to be delivered in lockdown. Over a 3-month period in winter, I worked with a variety of artists to deliver online sessions to the group. Many of the young women had gained internet access from Stepping Stones themselves and I was conscious that what the group needed most right now wasn’t a distraction, but some support. Many were facing food and digital deprivation, often having to choose between having the heating on, or feeding themselves.
We decided to deliver a ‘resilience box’. In amongst the notepads and pens, the activity booklet and glue sticks, were food vouchers, or what I prefer to call “art fuel”. You can’t make anything decent on an empty stomach. The group would often cook together and share stories. What happened was what usually happens when you’re making food – a great chat, lots of laughs and sometimes a few tears.
The storytelling and the cooking supported the other creative activities, and some of the group went on to make photo journals, written journals, stories which explored their experiences of lockdown. Some of their photography has been exhibited on the National Galleries of Scotland website. This project embedded a practical need, that of food, with a creative output. By pairing those two things we were able to deliver some truly brilliant opportunities.
Having spent time in North Edinburgh, my love and interest in the area grew. I developed a close working partnership with another organisation based there called SHE Scotland, who support vulnerable young women and girls in and around the area. They offer a variety of ways to engage and opportunities to learn, play, create and develop qualifications and skills.
We have delivered six school holiday workshops for the groups, including training SHE Scotland support workers in new and exciting creative methods to develop their own practices. By delivering training and developing creative ways of working, we have ensured a legacy to the work we do with SHE Scotland, and given tools to the support workers who are leading on their front lines.
A lot of my work has focused on long-term working. We know that, in order to engage meaningfully, we have to develop those deep-rooted partnerships. What I love about the work at Stepping Stones and SHE Scotland is that I’m now a recognisable face, someone the young women who use their services chat to and have a friendship with. I’m not just a flash in the pan brief encounter – and that’s what I’m going to miss the most about this job, is being with the young women from these groups.
Stellar Quines produced Fibres by Frances Poet with The Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow in 2019. The play was rooted within the brutal legacy of the Glasgow shipyards and the impacts it had on families throughout the city. A large part of the play was the story of Beanie, a woman dealing with her mesothelioma diagnosis, having contracted the asbestos induced disease from washing her partner’s overalls.
I spent 3 months working with groups throughout Glasgow exploring themes of the play. I can’t cover everything we explored in those three months, but one of the incredible things to come from the project was the oral histories of some of those impacted by asbestos. I spent some time at Strathclyde University Archive – it hosts the world’s largest archive on asbestos. What was missing, according to the archivists there, was the human stories of the shipyards. The archives contained hundreds of legal documents, testimonies, images and newspaper articles – but no stories. So, I gathered some.
You can now go to the archive and listen to people’s stories about how the shipyards shaped their lives – from the good to the awful, and what it means to be living with a terminal disease because of the shipyards. These stories will exist forever, protected in the archives, so that these people’s stories will live on.
During COVID-19, Fibres was restaged and filmed. Schools require those undertaking Higher Drama qualifications to see some form of live theatre. It made sense to me that, through Fibres, we could offer this to schools across Scotland for free.
Alongside access to the film, I created an education pack with resources, interviews and insights from the creative and technical teams. So far forty-six schools are utilising the education resources. I am hoping that it has helped bridge the gap many students will be facing, so they can watch theatre and have the resources to discuss it robustly. Even if only half of the schools utilise the packs for their studies, that’s over 200 students across Scotland gaining inside access to a Stellar Quines production.
Before COVID-19 I had been considering the ways in which women were underrepresented within theatre. Whilst Stellar Quines was already tackling the vast underrepresentation of women in technical positions, I turned my thinking to women who write about theatre. We began working with previous The List editor Arusa Qureshi, along with YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement and The Feminist Fringe, to develop our ‘Quines Writes‘ project to tackle the gender imbalance in theatre journalism.
Young women were given training and the opportunity to review shows. Unfortunately, COVID meant the project had to be shifted to an online focus which meant we couldn’t deliver as much training as we had hoped. However the group were given the opportunity to meet creatives behind the productions, interview them and review shows with their efforts shared in The List. The project will hopefully be running again this year with a focus on the lack of BIPOC+ representation within theatre writing.
Present and future work
There’s been a lot of other projects in the past 2 years. This includes current work, such as the How to Change the World zine which launched on International Women’s Day earlier this week. This opportunity for young women offered creative insights into writing through videos from guest artists. We invited the young women to watch the videos and submit their creatives responses for the zine which shares their incredible creativity, skill and passion.
The icing on the cake of my time at Stellar Quines was only a few weeks ago. We secured enough money to pilot a project which has been in the works for over 2 years. This will involve setting up creative hubs across Fife for young women to develop a ‘Young Quines’ company. These groups will support some of Fife’s most vulnerable young women to tap into the tools we regularly use as theatre makers to develop skills, learning opportunities, tackle social isolation and support robust mental health and wellbeing throughout the area. The project will also see eight freelance opportunities created for 12 months. This mean that Stellar Quines will be supporting theatre freelancers with meaningful work at a time when they have been hit the hardest.
I am incredibly excited to continue my work on my PhD which explores how contemporary collaborative art practices impact young people, as well as having the time to focus on my radio show and my art projects. But I still can’t quite believe that my time at Stellar Quines is drawing to a close. As an artist and researcher whose work focuses on facilitation, at Stellar Quines I have been given the opportunity to explore projects and ways of working that were completely unknown to me. I have grown and developed as an artist thanks to Stellar Quines, and I can’t wait to see where they take the Creative Learning programme without me. I know it’ll be somewhere brilliant.