Claire Dow

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

I’m a creative producer for theatre and events. I enjoy the variety of shapes that they can take, from coming up with my own creative projects and making them happen, to facilitating and supporting others to deliver their projects through coaching, consultation or management.

I’m currently standing in for Jemima Levick while she’s been away on maternity leave. It’s been an honour to work with the Stellar Quines’ team and support them through an exciting time of change. Next I’ll be leading on the Theatre and Dance Touring Research for Creative Scotland with Lisa Baxter founder and Director of The Experience Business, due to be published in February 2017.

What was your first ever job?

My first job was with a t-shirt printers, I loaded wet printed shirts into the conveyor dryer. Then I folded and packed them. At my best I could fold and pack 4.5 shirts per minute. It was a fantastic small company which took long lunches and played Jimi Hendrix too loudly. I worked there part time along with crewing shows and being a technician part time, they were fantasic at letting me come and go when it suited me.

What made you decide to work in the arts and what role have you enjoyed the most?

I remember vividly the moment I realized that theatre could be a paid job. I was on a youth theatre placement with Druid Theatre Company in Galway, and it was the opening night of Poor Beast in The Rain by Billy Roche. I had finished setting up on stage, I turned and saw all the seats and realized that people would be coming to see it in real life. It was so exciting, I was hooked. I managed to hang around long enough to get work with Druid and never looked back.

My favourite role to date has been producing the People’s Tower; Dundee’s Royal Arch. It was something I instigated and drove through and it was a wild success. The arch was made out of 1200 cardboard boxes and took all day to build! My favourite moment was toppling the 17m high arch and trampling the cardboard boxes with hundreds of overexcited kids who couldn’t believe their luck.

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

Early in my career, a production manager called Tony Kileen in Druid allowed me to go on tour for a week, if I swore I wouldn’t miss my uni lectures or classwork. I went on tour and never went back to uni! He later directed me to degrees in stage management in the UK which brought me over to Scotland. The opportunity to study here changed my life and I am grateful to have been welcomed in to study without tuition fees, and without a thought to emigration or free movement issues.

What do you like the best about working within the arts?

Without doubt the people. You get to meet and work with such articulate, clever and talented people. Its surprising and inspiring. I think that the theatre sector in Scotland is blessed with a generosity of support for each other and an ecology that shares information and encouragement. I love the moment when the lights go down and an audience are present, in the moment, sharing an experience together that exists nowhere else. Its magic.

What advice would you give women looking at a career in the arts today?

Take the time to think about what is important to you. What are the projects you’ve seen that have excited you most? Find people doing work that gives you energy and inspires you and work with them. If you can’t find that, then make it happen yourself and others will come to you.

Be truthful and generous with others, find ways to build your communities of support so you have a place to share your successes and challenges with peers. It’s the most valuable thing, to know that others are there and can help, and that you can help others.

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

Julie Ellen, she’s had a huge influence on me and my career in terms of development and moving into arts management. Working with her at Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland she taught me how to be a leader and a manager, by being an example of what a generous manager and leader can be. We learn from the people who are our bosses, and I hope to emulate her ability to challenge and support people to reach their potential.

Mary Paulson Ellis

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

I am a writer. I’ve just published my debut novel, The Other Mrs Walker (Mantle/Pan Macmillan). I like writing best when I am deep in the heart of a story and the words are flowing like wine and I feel sort of intoxicated with all the possibilities. Then there’s the other 99% of the time…

I also do various other bits and bobs: script-editing, mentoring, occasionally teaching. All these suit the more gregarious side of my personality which likes to get out and in amongst things.

What was your first ever job?

My first ever, ever job was serving sliced bacon in British Home Stores while wearing a straw boater. I was 16. But my first proper job was as Admin Assistant at TAG Theatre Company in the mid-1990s, which I loved. We were based at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in what the other staff jokingly called the broom cupboard. We did some great shows while I was there – Men Should Weep, Lanark, Peter Pan. I was passionate about theatre so it was the perfect job for me. I also got very good at schedules and writing minutes.

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

There have been many over the years, but three that are connected:-

After TAG I got a job as Sponsorship Manager at the Edinburgh International Festival and while there I learned from my boss, Nicky Pritchett-Brown, how to deal with rejection. Fundraisers are rejected all the time; it becomes part of our DNA so I think this really helped when I was starting out as a writer i.e. never give up and don’t take it personally.

At the Festival I also met Sally Hobson, Head of Creative Learning who was kind enough to offer me various teaching opportunities after I gave up fundraising to start out as a writer. Going freelance is always a bit of a leap of faith and she helped to soften the landing.

And it was Sally who introduced me to the legend that is Muriel Romanes. I went on to work for Stellar Quines as General Manager for 3 ½ very rich and rewarding years. Muriel is an inspiration in the way she works with artists of all descriptions. Even after I gave up the job to write full-time, she still supported my creative ambitions in all sorts of ways.

Having worked within theatre, television and now literature, what do you like best about working within the arts?

The power of storytelling to excite, inspire and bring people together in passionate conversation. I’ve had so many brilliant and intense conversations with fellow artists, colleagues and audiences over the years about all sorts of books, plays, TV shows etc. It’s a really fulfilling part of my life, especially when wine is involved. I also love the way the arts can take us for a walk on the dark side – which is where, as a writer, I often like to be.

Who is your favourite writer or playwright and why?

That is a very difficult question to answer because there are so many and varied and they are all wonderful.

In terms of prose writers I love the work of Ali Smith, Janice Galloway and Kate Atkinson. And the empress of them all, Toni Morrison.

In terms of television in which I recently dipped a toe as a script-editor for the BBC, I am a massive fan of Sally Wainright. She really paid her dues working for years on soaps and continuing drama before she managed to secure her own series. Scott & Bailey and Happy Valley are stand out shows for me because of the way she puts women front and centre with all their quirks and complexities.

What advice would you give emerging female writers today?

Never give up. Don’t take it personally. And believe in your vision because if you don’t, no one else will.

Also, take your time to develop your work. After all, what’s the hurry? I didn’t publish my first novel until I was 47. It hasn’t done me any harm.

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

I’d like to give a shout-out to all those back room girls toiling away in the broom cupboard. Where would we be without those spreadsheets, those minutes and those schedules.

But if I had to pick one out of the glorious many, I’d say Deborah Crewe the Finance and Development Manager for Grid Iron Theatre Company. Deb can make anything happen and with wit too. Also she was a ‘consultant’ for my recent book launch. She kept me in good order and positioned the chaise longue with aplomb. @mspaulsonellis

Pippa Murphy

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

I’m a Composer, Sound Designer, arranger and lecturer. I work with many different people in many different art forms. I love the variety of projects I work on, and the diversity of the people I work with.

What was your first ever job?

Little known to many… My first proper job was as a Customer Development Manager at the Forensic Science Service as it became an Executive Agency of the Home Office. The Home Office was keen for the FSS to take on forensic work from corporate companies and barristers representing the accused. I worked full-time there for 3 years whilst I was studying for my PhD in composition. I had a team of 10 and learnt many skills that have equipped me for life including people management, contact management, marketing, sales and customer liaison. After 3 years I left to move up to Scotland, complete my PhD and become a freelance composer. I haven’t had a salaried job since.

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

In 2001 I was lucky enough to be involved in a creative team who went to Iran for 4 weeks to lead a series of theatre and film workshops with students at Tehran University with the British Council. Together we created 4 pieces, 1 led by design, 1 by music, 1 by text and 1 by movement. It was an intense but unforgettably beautiful experience working alongside 40 incredibly dedicated Iranian students. We had a very strict set of parameters to work within and a list of what we could and couldn’t do creatively. Women are not permitted to sing solo, so I created a scenario that the lead woman was mad and worked with sonic utterances and melodic gobbledygook vocal (song) lines to enable a female musical presence in the show. It passed the censors because it wasn’t ‘musical’.

I’ve never since been part of something so passionate and raw.

What do you like the best about working within the arts?

I love the richness of creating music, theatre, dance and film with others; discussing, distilling, nourishing and bringing something alive to share with others.

What advice would you give emerging female musicians/composers in the arts today?

Be yourself, get to know your peers, be prolific, keep listening, share your thoughts with kindness and work with as many different people as you can.

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

Many of my Stellar Quines are already on the list but I’d like to suggest Dana McLeod (now at the British Council) for her dedication to presenting all art forms in many different cultural and geographical landscapes and for her unsung gift of being the wise instigator of many life-long creative partnerships across Scotland and beyond.

For more information on Pippa’s work go to

Listen to examples from the score Pippa has composed for The Air That Carries the Weight.

Rachael Miller

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

I am currently between contracts, but last year I worked on an Royal Shakespeare Company and English Touring Theatre tour of A Mad World My Masters, taken The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy with Stellar Quines to the Fringe, achieved my ambition to work on an opera with a Royal Opera House production of Orpheus at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and also managed to fit in a fun filled Beauty and The Beast panto in Perth. My next contract is back at Stellar Quines on their new production of The Air That Carries The Weight.

What was your first ever job?

My first ever job was working as a book mover in the stack of the Bodleian Library in Oxford; I moved books from one shelf to another to make room for more books. The Bodleian is a copyright library so holds one of every book published in the United Kingdom. I moved books dating pre 1650 as well as some books that were so odd in topic that they might never get looked upon again!

What made you decide to go into a career in stage management?

I was working in the Welsh Assembly Government, hated it, and ran away to the theatre. I joined a local drama group in Cardiff hoping to learn more about being a lighting designer and they actually needed a stage manager. I learnt about how to be one from a book, loved it more than being a Civil Servant and decided to learn how to do it properly so went to train at RADA.

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

I think everyone I have met and every opportunity, good and bad, has helped me. You learn by experience and seeing how others do. I am very thankful to those who have helped me, from those companies who keep re employing me, to individuals who have brought me on board their productions because we have had fun times on previous ones.

What do you like the best about working within the arts?

It’s all the people I get to meet, the different experiences and challenges. The fact that no jobs, or two days, are ever the same. There is no time to get bored and I love constantly learning about things I never knew I ever needed to know.

What advice would you give emerging female stage managers today?

As a stage manager you are the person who everyone relies on. You are the communicator, the diplomat, the leader, the listener, the first one in and the last one out, the supplier of tissues and sugary snacks, the catcher of wasps/bees and creepy crawlies, the one who calms those having panic attacks and the one who will have all their pencils, eraser, scissors and pritt stick pilfered by the end of rehearsals. It is a brilliant, but sometimes tough, job. It is a job that you really need to love to do.

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

I think it would be Emma Rice. Not only because she is the new Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe and I really want to work there again, but also because I am genuinely excited to see what she will do.

Rachel McCrum

How would you describe your current job/what you’re currently working on, and what do you like best about it?

I’m currently working on two main projects, with lots of little bits and pieces clustering in around the edges. The first is working as the first BBC Scotland Poet In Residence, until the end of December 2015. The second is working with poet Jenny Lindsay to run Rally & Broad, Scotland’s cabaret of spoken word, poetry, music and lyrical delight (!), which has just started its fourth season in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Alongside that, I’m working on a series of workshops about creative failure called ‘All In A Fankle’ with writer and academic Elizabeth Reeder, with Artlink on some spoken word sessions in hospitals for Book Week Scotland, a series of workshops for the Scottish Poetry Library, and an ongoing translation project with Montreal based poet and performer Jonathan Lamy. And some performances of my own work about the place too!

For the two main ones…the BBC residency is intense but utterly rewarding. I’m one month into it now, and have already done four workshops with different schools, looking at everything from sound poetry to ekphrastic poetry, written five poems and skittered around the BBC from News programmes to talking with Janice Forsyth, poems about weather. There’s a poem about football coming up soon, about bothy culture, Orkney, at the refugee community, at marginalised groups using spoken word as a form of expression, a way to be heard, and more. The overarching theme was initially to look at different communities across Scotland: what I’m finding is that language is playing a huge part in this, and in how communities work. Which loops it back to poetry, of course.

Rally & Broad is going from strength to strength. My favourite things are, as always, being able to provide a platform for some of the most amazing Scottish and international acts out there, to bring new audiences to see them; working with Jenny and the R&B team; and this year, particularly, playing with the idea of the traditional cabaret or poetry revue. Watch this space come January. We have plans.

What do you consider your best work and why?

I find that difficult to answer: I can pick holes in pretty much anything I’ve written. I feel like I’m still figuring it out a lot of the time. But also, that it’s important to never stop trying to figure it out. It might be terrible to actually think you’ve got it!

I did my first solo show this August, ‘Do Not Alight Here Again’ at Summerhall, as part of new spoken word collective SHIFT/. It was 50 odd minutes of standing and speaking in front of an audience, and it felt for the first time like the various bits of what I try to do – write and perform poems that work on page and stage, the storytelling that can link these poems, how to move on a stage, how to play with props, recordings, images – it all came together. I’m excited to develop this further, to see how to play with, and across, different artforms. There is nothing more damaging that things getting stuck in silos ‘this is poetry’, ‘this is storytelling’, ‘this is theatre’. How much more exciting to mix them up, to play with the audience’s expectations? They’re all just tools to tell a story…

What was your first ever job?

A summer working at the first McDonald’s DriveThru in Northern Ireland, in the car park of Bloomfield Shopping Centre, Bangor, Co. Down. I was 14 or 15, and was paid £2.37 an hour (pre minimum wage). I remember what I bought with my first paycheque – a black bias cut skirt with golden sparkles from Topshop, which had just opened in Belfast. I thought I was queen of the world. I also now can’t go into a McDonald’s without feeling a bit ill at the smell.

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?

Winning the Callum McDonald award for my first pamphlet ‘The Glassblower Dances’ in 2013. As a result, I went to Greece for two weeks as the Michael Marks Poet in Residence in Nafplion, which led to opportunities to perform in South Africa, in Haiti, with Innu First National poets from Quebec, poets from Palestine, Mexico and Montreal. This all sounds very boastful – I don’t mean it to! Winning the award was a complete shock, to me as much as anyone else. The opportunity to travel with poetry has proven the most important thing to come from it, and to meet poets working in other languages, styles. I’ve become a bit of a fervent internationalist, and I’m working more and more on poetry in translation, and particularly poetry in translation in performance. And on connecting Scottish and Anglophone poets with non-anglophone poets, looking at how poetry can connect, expand, enhance.

What was the opportunity you missed or wish you’d taken?

I feel like it’s pretty full at the moment! I just wish there was more time in the day. I would like to have been able to work more on Stewed Rhubarb Press, the press that I set up with James Harding for pamphlets for spoken word artists. It’s still running, and James has exciting plans for it around filming performance, but it’s had to take a bit of a back burner over the past year.

What’s your favourite piece of performance?

That’s hard! Anything that Chris Thorpe writes and performs is worth seeing. #TORYCORE with Lucy Ellinson and Steve Lawson is phenomenal work. Spoken word wise, Hannah Silva and Ross Sutherland are among my favourites. I saw HUG by Verity Leigh this summer in Edinburgh. It was one of the most beautiful, intense, nurturing experiences in a performance. I wept buckets.

What do you enjoy about working in the spoken word sector?

The independent minds in it. The irregular working hours (really!). Getting to spend my time hearing other people’s stories and words.

What do you like best about being a poet?

The freedom to be honest. Or as honest as you can be. The sheer, unadulterated luxury of being to use words exactly as you mean to.

What advice would you give emerging female practitioners in spoken word today?

Hold your nerves like steel. Call out sexism in terms of promotion, a lack of balance in gender billing, if you are described in any way that you’re not comfortable with. It still exists: it shouldn’t but it does. Jenny and I have a ban on any press releases calling us ‘feisty…’ :). Watch, listen, read to a wide range of poets, find the ones (female and male) who speak to you, study them and work out what they’re doing. Write about what is genuinely important to you, don’t get trapped into writing things that are supposed to be ‘important’. Support one another, don’t compete and don’t undermine. Take risks. Be proud of yourself.

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

Jenny Lindsay. Jenny is the longest running promoter of spoken word in Scotland, working on it from the age of 20 on events like The Big Word and Is This Poetry? She is tireless in promoting, performing and building a local scene. That she managed to do this alongside training to be a full time teacher, and campaigning heavily during the Independence Referendum is testament to her drive and stamina. Plus, she’s an excellent drinking companion.

Find out more about Rally & Broad

Sophie Stephenson

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

Currently, I am working with Stellar Quines as choreographer on the production of THREADS – a play by Sylvia Dow which combines songs, steps and stories to weave together a multi-stranded history of knitting in the borders, from 19th Century millworkers to modern day knitting clubs.

It has been great to be surrounded by such a fantastic bunch of women and working with director Muriel Romanes has been an especially fascinating and inspiring experience as she has been full of ideas for incorporating foot rhythms into the piece. I am a step dancer and Muriel was keen to get me onboard to teach the cast steps, which could serve a practical function within the play – to create mechanical work rhythms of the mill. What has been interesting about the project is that it has encouraged me to think of dance and movement as sound. It has required me to distill my knowledge of jig, reel and strathspey steps into individual sounds, outwith the context of formal rhythmical structures, and then to piece together and layer these fragments to create interesting percussive effects. I have also been able to adopt techniques from other dance styles including Québecois, Irish Sean Nós and Appalachian flatfooting/clogging along with seated foot rhythms and body percussion.

What was your first ever job?

I grew up in the Highlands where my parents have a small hotel so I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t working or involved in some way in the family business. The hotel also provided many opportunities to meet people from different countries and to share with them our Scottish culture and hospitality.

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

There have been many people and opportunities that have supported me in my career but I think in particular it was my parents who encouraged me with music, dance and performance from a young age. They made an effort to take me to music and dance classes and it has been these activities, which I pursued outside of formal education, which have been most formative in my career path. Exposure to Gaelic culture through fèisean (traditional music tuition camps) from a young age was also extremely important and after I graduated from the University of Edinburgh I went to live in Uist in the Outer Hebrides to study traditional music and then the following year I moved to the Isle of Skye where I did an intensive Gaelic immersion course and now a lot of the work I do is connected with the language.

What has been your favourite theatre production or concert?

Last year I went to see Québecois group ‘De Temps Antan’ at Celtic Connections and I thought to myself ‘This music is good for the soul’. I was lucky enough to get to see them perform again in 2014 at the Celtic Colours festival in Canada and then, this year, at Celtic Connections I saw another band from Quebec called ‘Le Vent Du Nord’ which special guests including Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, Scots singer Emily Smith and box player Sharon Shanon from Ireland. There is an almost spiritual quality about the resounding drones created by the jew’s harp, hurdy-gurdy, fiddle and accordion in Québecois music which, combined with the driving rhythms of the foot percussion and chant like song melodies, resonate with an inner groove.

What do you like the best about working within the arts?

What I enjoy most about working in the arts is working with and meeting so many different people along the way. As a dance tutor and performer I have worked in communities across Scotland, with a wide variety of different groups. It has also been great to have the opportunity to travel and I have been lucky enough to make two trips across to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Islands – places with which we share so much of our culture through a history of emigration from Scotland to the east coast of Canada.

What is the best advice you have received or would give about becoming a choreographer/dance teacher?

The best advice I was given was to give something back. The trad music and dance scene has very much grown out of grass-root initiatives made possible by the hard work of individuals and communities. If you can offer something back to that community by sharing the tradition and offering a free workshop or volunteering at a festival or on a committee then this is a good way of establishing professional contacts, which could bring future opportunities.

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

My Stellar Quine of the month would be the great singer and tradition bearer Sheila Stewart. I was exposed to her songs through the music of Martyn Bennett. Sadly Sheila passed away last December but her voice is forever with us in the many recordings made of her and the legacy she left behind by bringing the oral traditions of the travelling people to a wider audience. What was also great about Sheila was how supportive she was of Martyn’s music and the idea of bringing the old to the new by mixing old Scots ballads with modern dance beats. There is something real and raw about the tone of her voice that still sends goosebumps across my skin and it is as if, through the songs, she was channeling the sentiments and emotions of the many generations through which the traditions passed. In this way she was a vessel for the songs and a mouthpiece for lore of the travelling people.

I would also pick my two friends, band mates in `Huradal’ and companions on a creative journey exploring Gaelic song, music and dance – Eilidh Munro and Màiri Britton. We all studied at the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh and we share a passion not only for the songs and steps, but the importance of the tradition bearers and communities from which they came.


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.


Alexandra Mathie

alexandra mathie

How would you describe the work that you do?
I am an actress working mainly in theatre and radio. As well as working for other companies my partner (writer, Angie Cairns) and I founded Square Peg Productions in 2005, a theatre company specialising in outdoor (and where possible site-specific) promenade plays on the theme of “Unsung Northern Heroines”. We have successfully mounted six original works so far and as well as acting in three of them I have experienced every other possible job connected to these productions (other than writing the play), from the initial idea through production processes to the final monitoring and evaluation for funders. It is quite an education!

What do you like best about it?
The people.

What do you consider your best work and why?
I can’t really tell. I hope the best is yet to come. There are certainly some pieces of past work I remember being happier about than others, usually because I felt timeless while performing in them and was proud to be part of the surrounding work and production values.  I think I have been very lucky in my work and that makes it hard to pick out specific pieces, but I’ll try…..

Savannah Bay by Marguerite Duras. Wonderful writing and playing opposite the late Faith Brook was a master class every night. I just had to try to get better every day. It was a visually beautiful production and the excellent director, Lily (Susan) Todd, gave me enormous confidence which was a huge gift.

Wit by Margaret Edson and The Unconquered by Torben Betts, both for Stellar Quines and both stretches for me in lots of ways. Terrific, poetical texts that had to be delivered with muscle and were physically demanding to sustain. Directed by Gaynor Macfarlane and Muriel Romanes respectively they were very exhilarating to play and I took a massive stride forward in my approach to future work as a result.

What was your first ever job?
My first ever job was when I was still at school. My sister and I got holiday jobs delivering the Christmas post. As an actress my first job was with the BBC Radio Rep in London thanks to The Carleton Hobbs Award. It was an excellent introduction to the profession. The BBC then generously let me leave the contract early to do my first theatre job, Daisy in Daisy Pulls It Off by Denise Deegan, which soon transferred from Southampton to London’s West End. I was very fortunate and it was a great start.

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
Playing Daisy was a great opportunity and put me ‘out there’ right at the start of my acting career in the 1980’s. Most importantly it made me believe I could do it. Subsequently there have been three occurrences that have made a huge difference to me and to my career.

Firstly, meeting and working with two inspirational people in quite different strands of theatre, Alan Ayckbourn and then Muriel Romanes, has shaped a lot of my choices in the last 15 years and provided invaluable experiences. The second is working at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, a magical theatre in the round that never disappoints me and reminds me that anything is possible in theatre. The third is discovering the work of Pan Theatre (based in Paris) who specialise in choreographic theatre and extended voice technique.

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
No regrets as far I can recall. I mainly say ‘yes’ to everything!

What’s your favourite play or piece of theatre?
I don’t have a favourite play. Too hard to choose just one! In performance, I have never forgotten seeing the Rustaveli Company at The Roundhouse in the early 1980’s performing Richard III, unbelievably daring and anarchic theatre at the time. War Horse is a current favourite for very different theatrical reasons.

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
It’s live so anything can happen and I do enjoy exploring other ways of being, particularly in rehearsal. I love witnessing the risks taken and the blending of so many different skills to produce a whole experience for an audience.

What advice would you give emerging female practitioners in theatre today?
Properly respect and value your own artistic work – it is, after all, a profession.
Practice your skills and make your own work in order to do so if necessary.
Learn from the many fellow artists who do things differently. Be as open to suggestion as you can.
(I try to take all this advice myself but not always very successfully!)

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
Amanda Dalton, a wonderful poet and playwright, as well as an inspirational, imaginative and energetic theatre worker, (particularly with young people) who is extremely supportive and encouraging of the work of other artists. She is a rare person in our creative midst and much to be valued.

Shona Rattray

Shona Rattray

image by Eoin Carey

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I am the Creative Producer at Birds of Paradise Theatre and the only full time member of staff. My job covers a broad range of activities from developing artistic and creative partnerships to company and financial management. I am responsible for communications both internal and external. I like the first day of rehearsals best, everyone in the same room, all my work as a creative producer starts to come alive and the intensive work in creating a show comes alive.
I also have the pleasure of sitting on the Board of Directors for Independent Theatre Council.

What’s been your best job in theatre and why?
I think the individual productions I have worked on are the most rewarding. It is difficult to select just one.  My top three:

Birds of Paradise’s The Man Who Lived Twice by Garry Robson, directed by Alison Peebles. I loved this show. It was a shrine to the glory days of theatre, to American playwright Ned Sheldon and a young John Gielgud, incredibly stylish.

Suspect Culture’s Mainstream by David Greig, directed by Graham Eatough. It was the most complex challenging and intriguing show I have ever worked on.

7:84 Theatre Company’s Caledonia Dreaming by David Greig – A dream production, a dream company and sunny summer tour throughout Caledonia!

How has the type of work that you do in theatre changed since you first started?
I trained in Stage Management at RSAMD and worked as a Company Stage Manager for a number of touring theatre companies in Scotland. I was fortunate enough to work with companies that toured in Scotland and Internationally. As a stage manager I was freelance and I spent a lot of time on tour. I was offered the position of Projects Manager with Birds of Paradise in 2005 and now I am Birds of Paradise’s Creative Producer.

What was your first ever job?
A berry picker. I grew up in Blairgowrie; berry picking was a way of life. I spent my summers with a luggie round my waist trying to get a suntan.

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
That would have been meeting and working with Graham Eatough, David Greig and Nick Powell – collectively known as Suspect Culture. I was their Company Stage Manager and I had the pleasure of first working with them on Airport in 1996. The work that Suspect Culture were creating inspired and really challenged me. Through my work with Suspect Culture I was introduced to an amazing body of artists in Scotland and Europe.  I and toured extensively throughout Europe with them.

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
I was based in Trieste, Italy with A Different Language a co production between Suspect Culture and Il Rossetti Teatro in Trieste and I was offered a job there. On occasions I ponder how different my life would be if I had taken that opportunity, but I don’t regret returning to Scotland. When I left Italy I started work at Birds of Paradise. My only mini regret is I would be fluent in Italian by now.

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
I think this is best summed up by this quote from the film Shakespeare in Love – “allow me to explain about the theatre business, the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster… strangely enough it all turns out well.”

What advice would you give emerging women in theatre today who want to play a role in the producing side of a company, venue or show?
This is a difficult question to answer. I would say, take your time to develop as a producer, find your creative partnerships (don’t force them – the right meeting of minds will happen). Be bold and know what you want. We work in a really supportive business. Learn from both your peers and experienced practitioners alike. As a producer you need a broad knowledge of all aspects of production and company business. Know your strengths and recognise your limitations. Be confident without being arrogant.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
My quine of the month would be actress Kate Dickie. She is beautiful, generous and veracious as a person and actress. She is fearless in the choices she makes on screen and the stage she is an inspiration to us all.

Gill Robertson

Gill Robertson

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
Dreaming, researching, planning and making alongside company business. I like the “being in room development madness” and I am also keen on the nearing the end of rehearsals time when, if all is going well, you begin to see the show as a whole. Also I do sickeningly really like the folk I work with and I think that apart from family, work is where you do your most learning and growing as a person. S o to be surrounded by charming and supportive people is real luxury.

What’s your favourite Catherine Wheels show and why?
Probably Home East Lothian which was one of the inaugural productions of National Theatre Scotland. It went on to become Hansel and Gretel and is by far the most challenging, immersive production I have worked on. When I was asked to create a show based on the idea of ‘home’ I was excited, but apprehensive as it was a much shorter timescale than I normally had. However, as a result I worked far more instinctively than I had in the past which has made me a bolder director. Also because the show was of a bigger scale than past productions and had so many elements to it, everyone in the company was involved, worked hard and as a result the show created a great shared experience. It also meant on masse we got to New York, which was a hoot!

What was your first ever job?
Strawberry picking in the fields around Haddington. (Imagine a young Catherine Denevue in a gingham dress…)

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
I don’t think there has been one particular moment, more of a series of steps that had led me to where I am now. When I started out in the 90s I think there were more opportunities for funding which meant that I learnt from creating shows, which was invaluable. I also think the Children’s Festival and the Imaginate organistion has been influential and has meant that for the past 20 years I have felt part of the community of children’s theatre practitioners in Scotland, which is a warm, cosy feeling.

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
I was offered the part of Dr Who but didn’t feel the timing was great.

What’s your most memorable moment in theatre?
When a cast member cut the top of her finger off during a performance. Not memorable for the best reasons but unforgettable. Also on a lighter note I will never forget wave of emotion and instant neighbourly sharing after watching the Corum Boy at the National Theatre.

What’s your favourite play or piece of theatre?
Impossible question! My list includes: Corum Boy at the National, seeing Pina Bausch for the first time, Chicago in the West End and numerous gorgeous and/or shocking theatrical gems from those crazy makers of children’s theatre in Europe.

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
The people, the freedom to be creative and the chance to create something for others.

What advice/words of wisdom would you pass onto emerging female practitioners in theatre today?
Be brave. Find out what you love. Always be curious… (Sounds more like text from a self-help manual)

What do you order at the bar once the show has come down?
A man, but always go for what’s on offer as it can get expensive.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I have quines: Chris Devaney, dancer, choreographer, maker, grafter and also her good friend Karen Tennant, designer and wise women of theatre.

Laura Mackenzie Stuart

Laura Mackenzie Stuart

How would you describe your current job?
My role within Creative Scotland is primarily to have an oversight of the theatre sector in Scotland in order to facilitate opportunity through funding and other initiatives. What this REALLY means is meeting lots of people and drinking vast quantities of tea during the day, and then in the evening ….

There is no typical day however.  This week for example has included giving specialist input into applications for funding, two panel sessions, giving an update at the Federation of Scottish Theatre members meeting, joint planning with Festivals Edinburgh and British Council Scotland to deliver tailored programmes for each of the 100 international delegates coming to Edinburgh in August and preparing briefings for our new CEO who arrives on Monday.  And tidying my desk for the same reason!

What do you like best about it?
Without doubt the biggest joy is the opportunity to see a phenomenal range of sensational work.
And my knowledge of highland roads is improving greatly.

What was your first ever job?
I spent two summers working at a fun fair in Luxembourg – involving a free pass to all rides – with the sole mission of perfecting my skill at sticking upside down to the inside walls of a massive spinning drum. Not necessarily a focused career decision…

First real job was to qualify as a Fine Art auctioneer at Philips in Edinburgh specialising in oriental ceramics.  This started a long and lingering love of the Far East and especially China.

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
While waiting for an interview for something entirely unconnected I wandered into the Edinburgh Festival Fringe office in 1990 looking for some temporary work and left eight years later bitten by the theatre bug and married to an actor.  Since then, and for the 24 years since, there has been no better place to be in August than Edinburgh.

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
As the wacky world of pensions looms nearer I wonder if my father had a point when trying to persuade me and my sisters to be lawyers.  One is – but the rest of us are happy!  Actually, there are so many things still to be done that there just isn’t time to ponder the ones that got away.

What’s your favourite play or piece of theatre?
Novocento by Theatre de Quat’Sous of Montreal – a profoundly emotional one-person show with striking lighting and sound effects, which succeeded in making Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre’s stage feel claustrophobic and left you feeling as though you had genuinely been in the bowels of a ship for weeks.

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
That rules are there to be broken and therefore the people who are drawn to working that way.

What advice would you give emerging female practitioners or producers in theatre today?
Don’t consider yourself a female practitioner or producer but use what comes naturally to your advantage.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
Freya Stark- writer, traveller and linguist – who personified the value of rule-breaking until reaching a 100 years old and loudly won the argument that being female doesn’t need to hold you back.

Becky Minto

Becky Minto in Finland

How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I work as a freelance production designer mostly across Scotland, though I am lucky that my work in the past has also taken me to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and Northern Ireland. I suppose that is what I love about my job; the variety of work that I am asked to collaborate on. Just recently I was working on a site specific production for NTS called Ignition and now I am at Dundee Rep designing Kora, an installation design into the Ustinov Rooms at The Bonnar Hall.

In the past year alone I have designed productions for dance, aerial, main house and touring theatre, site-specific productions and large-scale events that just happen for one night only. The most important part of my job though is always the people that I meet on each job, they are the heart and soul of each project and to work alongside other creative individuals is a joy in itself. You remember the journey you have been on and who you shared that journey with and it always brings a smile to my face.

What do you consider your best work and why?
That is a hard question as I have been involved in so many wonderful productions and you would like to think that every job you do is at that time the best you can do. However, I guess where I have been involved physically in the entire process, from initial meetings and spoken ideas to the development of those designs and the fabrication of them through to rehearsals and opening night, and something extra special tugged at my heart strings and I would do that same job all over again, then its special.

For me Tryst with Grid Iron was one such show. I remember taking the boat across to Engoyholmen just off the coast of Stavangar in Norway for the first time and it took my breath away. As myself, Jude Doherty and Ben Harrison walked about the island discussing the sites possibilities and its limitations the butterflies in my chest arrived and stayed until we opened. We rowed to work every day, we hung gigantic lace-like sails in the boatsheds, created three course meals inside a fish tank, sat ethereal mermaids on outcrop rocks and installed by hand a seven metre long crest of a wave out of 500 handmade pebbles and over 1,000 crystals. They kept the wave installation up after the company left, and named a boat in memory of the production…that was special!

I also think that work which challenges you and pushes your knowledge and abilities as a designer is special. This Side The Other Side, directed by Mark Murphy, for the opening ceremony for the European Capital of Culture in 2011 was such a show. It involved designing elements I had never seen in its realisation before, including a 200m fire drawing. The show happened just once and as I stood within the mass of 50,000 people I tried to get my camera out to capture the moment and my colleague whispered, “Put it away and view it through your own eyes…you will never see it again”. She was right and it occurred to me that that was the experience for most of the audiences at any production. It was a valuable lesson that has stayed with me since. On a different note I asked my daughter what the best job I had done was and she said having her…so maybe I am wrong!

What was your first ever job?
I worked in a Newsagents on a Sunday morning, from 7am – 1pm and earned £7.50 for the shift. I was 15. I loved it apart from the early mornings!

What was the contact/opportunity/job offer that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
I was very lucky to be offered a resident design position with Ken Alexander at The Byre Theatre. Over the summer there were five productions, one a month. It was set, costume, scenic art and props, an absolute challenge but an absolute joy. It was a very hands on job and that role within a team has stayed with me since. I stayed there for two years and learnt so, so much. Ken was a star for having faith in me. I took over the position from a wonderful designer called Janet Scarfe, who told me, “There are no flys and no wings and no money…but apart from that you can do anything you want.” I suppose it taught me about the process of creativity under all situations. It was a wonderful experience.

What’s the biggest opportunity that you missed or wished you had taken up but didn’t?
There have been times that I have had to say no to projects but that is usually down to time clashes. I guess that’s just the life of a freelancer, it is frustrating as you want to be able to do all the work you are offered.

What’s your favourite set or show design?
It was actually a moment from a show. Years ago I went to see Dracula by Northern Ballet at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. Dracula strode magnificently down a ramp the width of the stage in what appeared to be a full-length black cloak until he reached the bottom and a wind machine caught him and you realised the cloak was the full length of the festival stage. It was blood red underneath and floated dramatically behind him. He glanced at the audience whilst undoing the neck and it streamed off behind him and disappeared. It was simple, powerful and beautiful and left my heart in my mouth!

What do you like the best about working in theatre?
I think every job is different; every day presents different challenges whether they are regarding set, costumes, props, the site, the performers, logistics, the budget… Last summer I was having a pyrotechnic demonstration with Walk The Plank as part of an R&D day for a project we were doing in collaboration with Cheshire dance. My daughter rang to ask when I would be leaving Manchester to come back to Perth; in the background she could hear the whoops of excitement as we watched the display. “I thought you were at work mum,” she questioned.” “I am” I replied. “Lucky you” she said. I guess she is right.

What advice would you give emerging female theatre designers in theatre today?
To try to see as many different types of theatre and performance design as possible.  To treat every day as a school day and always take up new learning possibilities. To never be afraid to push the boundaries of design and the use of new materials, and never ask anyone to do something that you wouldn’t be prepared to do yourself.

Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
I have worked for many years alongside Rita Henderson, she is a wonderful Director and Choreographer and inspired me with her unlimited energy and creativity when I was starting out in theatre. I have never told her, but I guess I have now.