Jemima Levick: 'We have to keep pushing to make small changes in order to change the bigger picture'
- Deborah Chu
- 5 September 2019
Stellar Quines artistic director discusses why the award-winning theatre company continues to advocate for increased involvement of women in the industry
When Jemima Levick took over the reins of Stellar Quines in 2016, she joined a company with a 26-year legacy of creating theatre by and for women – one which positioned women as creative drivers and central subjects in their own story. But the world had changed a great deal since the company first began. 'Feminism specifically has moved in new directions, and women of all ages are identifying with the movement far more,' says Levick. 'The simple truth is that our branding wasn't reflecting those changes, and now that we're becoming clearer about what those are for the organisation, we can start shouting about them.'
Historically known as a 'woman's theatre company', Stellar Quines now self-identify overtly as a feminist theatre company. In wearing their political ethos on their sleeve, Stellar Quines have refashioned themselves not only as theatremakers but also as agents of radical change, developing activist programmes that knock down doors for women and girls across Scotland.
The company were key contributors to Christine Hamilton's 2016 report Where Are The Women, which produced damning findings on gender disparity in publicly funded Scottish theatre. When the report revealed that only 11% of composers, musical directors and sound designers in the field were women, Stellar Quines responded with the establishment of their M*****classes series, in which female-identifying people of all ages and experience could learn about the industry, gain skills and receive mentorship. Moreover, the company expanded their Creative Learning programme, which creates projects within communities that consider how various aspects of our identity – be it gender, ethnicity or religion – can affect how we experience the arts.
For Levick personally, being an activist also means taking a step back and allowing other women to lead on the majority of their projects. 'I firmly believe that if we're Scotland's theatre company for women and girls, it can't just be about one person's work,' she says. 'We have a responsibility to give more women opportunities, be that their first professionally produced production, their notoriously difficult "second album" or the support they need to take a risk.'
A Stellar Quines production already creates manifold opportunities for female theatremakers, with 70–90% of their project roles being held by women. But Levick insists that more must be done in order to combat the resource scarcity – whether it be funding or time – that is disproportionately affecting women in the industry. 'In the 17 years I've been working as a director, I've watched the demise of companies producing their own work,' says Levick. 'The rise of co-productions has reduced the amount of work being made too – there simply isn't as much to go round. Women suffer within that chain of events for numerous reasons: unconscious bias, the decision to become a parent taking them out of the workforce, the role of governors and their understanding of best practice, the theatrical canon being dominated by men as writers and lead characters.'
What can be done to help dismantle these systemic prejudices? 'We have to keep pushing to make small changes in order to change the bigger picture,' says Levick. 'For example, when we co-produce with other companies, we encourage our partners to think in the same way, so if we're discussing who might do the production shots, we ask them to think beyond their normal pool and to seek out a woman instead.'
Despite the momentous amount of work ahead, Levick is inspired by the audience reaction to their work, particularly their latest project This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. 'We performed to hundreds of young people across Scotland, and the way they engaged in the show was amazing,' she says. 'They were so open and excited, that it was a good reminder that we need to keep going, keep making and crucially, to keep talking to younger audiences.' Especially in these politically fraught times, Levick insists that theatre offers something that is becoming rare in our increasingly solitary, digitalised lives. 'I think we need to make space for discussion, to learn, to laugh, to cry,' she says. 'Theatre provides that space in a beautiful way.'