The announcement of Vicky Featherstone?s appointment as the first director of the National Theatre of Scotland shocked many in the arts community who expected the post to go to a stalwart of the Scottish Theatre. Gillian Bates finds out how she bagged this prestigious new role ? and what she is going to make of it?
Vicky Featherstone, the newly appointed director of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), is variously described in the media as ?a dark horse?, ?not Scottish? and ?fearless?. Possibly they missed out on the important label of ?glass ceiling shatterer?. For, in her appointment to such a crucial new role in Scotland?s cultural life, she may have broken new ground for women arts professionals in the UK.
At 37 years old, her relative youth came as a surprise to many who expected the post to go to an established figure in the Scottish theatre. No one would have put good money on the appointment of a young, female, artistic director based in London, regardless of her success over the past seven years as the artistic director of new writing company, Paines Plough.
If interviews are the career equivalent of speed-dating, then what happened with the interview panel was clearly great chemistry. Vicky even refused to ?big up? her Scottish connections. She lived as a child in Scotland and then moved with her family to India before secondary education in Surrey. ?I?m definitely not Scottish? she says, ?You might as well call me Indian because I also lived in India?.
She is well known in Scotland for her work with Paines Plough (the company has worked extensively with Scottish writers such as Gregory Burke, Linda McLean and David Greig). She feels her appointment reflects an outward looking approach from the NTS board. She isn?t unduly concerned at media griping: ?Scotland is not an alien world and it?s never been that. I thought that there was going to be more criticism about ?not Scottish?, actually. People could have been quite angry about it, but I think there is a feeling in Scotland about making it as culturally rich as possible. The fact that I?ve been given this appointment shows a confidence that can only be positive in terms of the work, a confidence in internationalism and other things.?
At the press conference, when her appointment was announced, she described herself as ?fearless? and she is clearly ready to take on the new role: ?There?s going to be a massive amount of focus on what I do. I probably had about 30 seconds? grace when it was announced that it was me and everyone was saying ? oh we hadn?t thought of her before! After that, I have to absolutely prove myself. I have no problem with that. I need to do really brilliant work and I wouldn?t have taken the job on unless I could.?
So, what is she going to do with this opportunity? The NTS will have no theatre of its own and Vicky has no aspirations to develop one: "We are a company that will be able to create work organically in lots of different places and in lots of different ways. We could go to the Highlands and work with a company that is there, do workshops and co-commission something together, rather than say ?do you want to come to my building?? There will be openness: we will be able to create really exciting work in a way you wouldn?t normally think of. To have a building would limit the ideas we have.?
When she takes up the appointment on November 1 (having just celebrated Paines Plough?s 30th Birthday), she will appoint a strong creative team. She has already heard the rumours that she will be taking at least one colleague at Paines Plough with her: ?That will remain a rumour and whisper. I will be looking to appoint a new team and I am going individually to this job.?
She will also avoid concentrating on a big, razzle-dazzle opening show and nothing else: ?I will announce a whole programme of work throughout Scotland, rather than saying this is it, the first show? It will be about a programme of work, rather than the first night being a resounding success or not. The programme will reveal the partnerships we are creating and the people we are working with.? This programme will encompass work in education, community, children?s theatre, family theatre, work with international artists and the opportunity to take the work of Scottish artists abroad.
She credits her ambitious rise to the help and mentoring of Jude Kelly: ?Women give women opportunities. I think to be able to be mentored by, or to have relationships with, women who you perceive as role models is helpful. I went to the West Yorkshire Playhouse as assistant director when Jude Kelly was there? Jude had to fight to get through a glass ceiling and she got that job and she?d set a precedent, so I don?t need to fight so much.? The management technique she brings to Scotland embraces her personality: ?Twenty years ago I would not have been able to say in a press conference I will deal with a problem with my personality. That would be seen as a failed management technique. Now it is celebrated.?
Paines Plough will tour in 2005 with four new plays in co-production called ?This other England?.