Intersectional feminist fangirls (including you non-binary babes and menzes too) of the world unite! Scottish intersectional feminist theatre company Stellar Quines rocked our eardrums with insightful, rageful and heartfelt discussions, music and audio plays in the first season of their podcast, Quines Cast. Season two has already kicked off in theatres near you, and we chat to the quines behind the cast, Hannah Lavery and Caitlin Skinner, about the show’s themes: riot, loss, pleasure, and education.
For those who aren’t aware, who are Stellar Quines, and what is Quines Cast?
Caitlin: Stellar Quines is an intersectional feminist theatre company based in Edinburgh and for Scotland. We are interested in the role theatre has to play in the fight for gender justice in our country and beyond. We produce shows, support creatives, work in communities, create campaigns and now we have a podcast! The company has been championing new writing and the creative work of women and non-binary people in Scottish theatre since the 1990s and this year we celebrate our 30th birthday!
Quines Cast came from a number of late-night conversations between Hannah and I as were coming out of the lockdowns and just feeling that at this moment, with so much difficult stuff going on in the world, we wanted to hear from women and non-binary folks. We wanted to create space to have the big State of the Nation conversations from an artistic point of view, and bring people together from different perspectives, ages, and backgrounds.
I heard that there were concerns about the podcast because it combined so many different things: a panel discussion, prompts, an audio play, music, and yet it was a great success. What made you start Quines Cast and squish all these wonderful forms together into one?
Hannah: We knew it was ambitious but always felt confident that we were offering something really special and I suppose at heart, it was we wanted to listen to; a range of different feminist voices responding in multiple ways to big important themes.
Intersectional feminism is at the heart of all that you do. Could you explain what this means for those who aren’t familiar? How can we make our feminism intersectional?
Caitlin & Hannah: Intersectional feminism is about understanding that gender inequality interacts with and overlaps with other forms of social inequality such as racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, racism, ableism, islamophobia etc. For most of the people we work, with gender is only one form of social injustice that they face; it’s only ever part of the picture. If you want to make change you need to look at those intersections, or else you just make change for some people, not everyone. Our work needs to reflect that.
If you want your feminism to be more intersectional you need to get into the fight for disability rights, race rights, trans rights, and worker’s rights. At SQ we often think about who are the people furthest away from power and opportunity, like women of colour, women from socio-economically marginalised backgrounds, etc. If your feminism is inclusive of them, it will scoop everyone else up on the way.
Season 2 is accompanied by live shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow, what prompted your move to a live audience?
Hannah: The live element was always there and I think the quality of performances is elevated by that. However, it is also a podcast, so the discussion group and the conversation and responses by Caitlin and I are recorded outwith the live events to allow that space for podcast listeners too.
Caitlin: It also felt like we wanted to unite people around these themes. I think we’ve both benefited from being in feminist spaces at some point in our careers and we wanted to open that up to people. It’s a chance for folk of different ages and backgrounds to come together around a common desire for a more equal future.
How did you come up with the themes Riot, Loss, Pleasure and Education?
Hannah: Before season one we made a big list of themes/topics that we were interested in and felt important to reflect and respond to, so some of themes of season two – especially Loss – were from that initial planning, but Pleasure and Riot came out of conversations that arose from season one. Riot and activism was a theme that is very much in the news but we purposely make the themes big and wide enough to allow for unique and surprising responses. Seeing what comes out is my most favourite part of Quines Cast.
At the time of this interview you’ve already done the first live show in the season: Riot, with guests Joelle Taylor, Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, a play by Maryam Hamidi’s and a performance by PAIX. How did it go? Could you give us a rundown of what went down, for all the sorry souls who weren’t in attendance (including me)?
Caitlin: You missed out Lara! It was a brilliant night. One of our best I’d say. PAIX is an incredible artist who creates soulful, caring and generous music so she opened with her piece ‘Hope is a Weapon’ and closed with some gorgeous songs about inner riot. Not what you might expect from the theme Riot, which was really nice. It allowed us to open the audience up to the different responses throughout the night.
Then Jessica Gaitán Johannesson gave her reflection piece on climate activism. She asked, what will it take for us to riot? Something I find myself asking a lot recently. Then Maryam’s play The Fear Implant was a dark satire set in a future Britain where rioting was so frequent citizens felt they had nothing else to lose and the government were creating implants to make people afraid again. Set on a daytime TV show, it was really funny and dark but spoke to the terror of the new anti-protest laws we are seeing.
Then Joelle Taylor took the roof off with a poem from her book C+nto where she described her life as a butch lesbian and how ‘her whole life is a protest’. It was both rousing and deeply, deeply moving. I don’t think anyone there will forget her performance.
I thought it’d be interesting to ask you some of the provocations that you’ve got lined up for the live show:
In Loss you explored post-pandemic collective grief. In light of this, how do we cope, what have we gained and lost, and how do we thrive from here?
Hannah: We had toyed with the idea of calling this episode Grief, but as we thought about it, Loss allowed a bigger discussion and reflection on how we navigate and grow from our losses, in all the forms loss can take. We have collectively gone through a huge period of loss, and in many ways are still adjusting and coming to terms with that. In our society, we are encouraged to cope with our losses privately for the most part, and so it felt important to create an episode where we could learn from each other and find some fellow feeling and solidarity.
I think that what I learnt listening to the contributors to this episode was how important it is to acknowledge our losses and have our losses acknowledged. Without that, we can get stuck, and I worry that so many of us are still stuck post-pandemic, or have not yet found a way to have our loss and grief acknowledged and honoured.
How can we reconcile our relationship with pleasure, especially in the wake of the climate crisis?
Caitlin: I have been thinking about this a lot because I suffer from depression and in the past health professionals have told me the answer is diet and exercise (fuck off!). But recently, someone told me when I was hitting a down patch that I needed to prioritise the things that give me pleasure. Actually, that’s really helped me make time for it, because I know if I don’t I’ll get sick and if I do it’ll be part of me getting better.
I wonder if there is something in that as we work collectively to deal with the climate emergency, we need to find pleasure it in it. There are HUGE rewards to be had in tackling this crisis and much pleasure to be found in the collaborative effort in addressing it. Maybe part of the response should be to prioritise pleasure (as Self Esteem would say) as we make change.
And for Education, what would an intersectional feminist approach to learning look like?
Hannah: Well, that is a huge question and is exactly why I wanted to pose it in Quines Cast! You know, I think for all that we say we have progressed, I worry that our education system still fails to challenge misogyny and those other intersecting oppressions such as racism. For so many, school and further education are not safe places to even exist in, never mind learn and thrive. This feels like the first thing we need to address before we can talk about the curriculum, though maybe what we teach informs how safe we feel.
As a Scottish woman of colour, I think about how important it was for me to learn about Scotland’s role in Colonialism and what that would have meant for me to have been taught that in my school days, what confidence that would have given me. Then there is so much to say about lifelong learning and how that impacts and supports our ambitions and access.
For those who aren’t able to attend the wonderful live shows (plus those who did attend and are eager for more Stellar Quines content), what can we expect from the pre-recorded sessions?
Caitlin: So, you will get all the best bits from the live show plus some seamless transitions from Hannah and Me! We have more of an opportunity to draw ideas together, make connections and solidify the feminist thinking with the podcast. It’s much harder for us to do that in the live shows so there is a different vibe. You don’t get the chat in the bar afterwards but you do get more profound reflections from Hannah and I. When we do the live shows we are usually too busy fangirling the guests to say anything particularly useful or reflective.