To mark our 30th birthday, feminist historian and chair of the Stellar Quines board, Lesley Orr, shares how the company started, what we’ve achieved in our three decades and some of the incredible Quines behind it all.
We humans are earthbound creatures but, when we look up at the night sky, we are lifted into a realm of wonder, exploration and infinite possibility. It takes time to see beyond familiar constellations, to find the invisible stars, to imagine the deep vastness of their stories.
Thirty years ago, when Gerda Stevenson decided that Scotland needed a theatre company which would ensure that women were centre stage and in control of the creative process, it was the general invisibility of female practitioners that motivated her. Jolted into discomfort by the “extraordinary” experience of working with Monstrous Regiment in a production where all but one of the cast and crew were female, Gerda resolved to challenge the world of Scottish theatre where the reverse was accepted as normal. With Lynn Bains, Morag Ballantyne and Iain Carmichael, she formed a new company. They called it Stellar Quines: an inspired name, evoking that distinctively Scottish feistiness of the lassies – gallus, determined and asserting their starry credentials. How fitting that the first production was Susan Yankowitz’s play Night Sky, about a brilliant female astronomer who, after an accident, struggles to communicate.
The company was soon making an impact:
Bursting with wit, intelligence and energy, Stellar Quines brings a new energy to Scottish Theatre.
(The Scotsman, April 1994)
My first encounter with Stellar Quines was in 1997, when I was coordinating an action research project about women’s experience of domestic abuse. I went to see Refuge, Janet Paisley’s intensely honest, funny and powerful play. It was razor sharp in its dissection of intimate terrorism and how men’s abuse affects women’s lives – precisely the kind of provocative theatre-making that communicated the experience of so many women, and asked big questions of a patriarchal society.
Since 1993, Stellar Quines has been creating platforms and opportunities to make visible the bodies and make heard the voices of those whose stories are routinely marginalised, misrepresented or ignored. As a producing company, we have nurtured a growing constellation of writers, actors, designers, technicians, directors, producers – professional creatives who have immeasurably enhanced the performing arts scene in Scotland. We’ve been blessed with a succession of inspiring artistic directors. And we have a legacy of exceptional, innovative and challenging work, shared with audiences in all kinds of places and circumstances.
But our impact as agents of change has significance well beyond theatre making. Over these years, the Quines have led in transforming the culture and conditions of Scottish theatre. Our research has charted and challenged the unacceptable gendered inequalities of an environment which was complacently male, pale and stale. We’ve campaigned against sexual harassment in the industry, provided skills development and mentoring for creatives, offering vital support through precarious and turbulent times.
In the process, Quines have reflected critically on our own practice and purpose. Recognising our responsibility to collaborate with allies in cherishing diversity and promoting meaningful equality, we have refocused our mission as an intersectional feminist company. If we’re serious about this, we have to go beyond recognition and representation of different identities (vital though that is). We’re committed to theatre as a force for social justice. That involves redistribution of structural power and resources, and as any historian (like me!) will tell you, privilege and power are rarely conceded without a struggle. That’s why our engagement work with communities at the sharp end of discrimination and austerity, and our partnerships with other organisations working for social justice, is so crucial. We know this is for the long term, and requires us to be serious in our commitment to reaching out, building relationships, creating spaces for expression and flourishing. Our Young Quines free drama groups in Fife have never been so important. When young women discover the power of raising their voices, stellar energy is generated!
In this, our 30th anniversary year, the history of Stellar Quines is truly something to celebrate. We stand on the shoulders of everyone who has dreamt and laboured and laughed and cried and created as part of this company. But the best way to honour our past is to secure our sustainability for the future. We have exciting plans for 2023 and beyond, including Disciples – a touring ensemble production created with five D/deaf and disabled performers. In the early days, financial donations from generous friends were vital to our survival. Once again, we invite those who share our vision to pledge support. With your help we will continue to shine in the starry firmament!
We are passionate about our mission as catalysts to change lives and communities: through care and connection, collaborating and making things happen with diverse and resourceful partners.
Please support the Quines and be part of the story, as we look back with pride and travel onwards in hope.
Join Quines Collective
To mark our 30th birthday year, we are launching Quines Collective to help us keep the fight for gender equality centre stage. With your support we can amplify the stories and rights of women, girls, non-binary people and people of other marginalised genders in Scotland and beyond.
Find out more and join in via our Quines Collective page.