Jeanie trained as a sculptor but soon moved into theatre as a Reader, Literary Assistant, and then Script Associate at the Royal Court. In 2005 Artistic Director Michael Boyd invited her to join the Royal Shakespeare Company as a Dramaturg, it is her role to find new writers and develop them.
How did you get into your role as a Dramaturg?
I didn’t know it existed. It is one of those invisible jobs. I went to Art school and became a sculptor. When I worked in my studio I did lots of temping work, and one was working as a PA to Maxwell Stafford-Clark and Stephen Daldry in the Royal Court. It was a way of keeping in touch with theatre and I got work script reading. What I found was that the language I used to talk about sculptures, the three dimensionality of it, works well when talking about plays. Theatre is a very physical way of writing and the language made a lot of sense. I had a good instinct at identifying artists whose primary reason for existence was to be creative.
How much do contemporary concerns affect your decisions when finding new writers?
That’s a really good question. Even though many plays are accomplished pieces of writing, many will never see the light of day if they don’t find their moment. They need to connect with society, what’s going on at the moment, and that is one of the angles you should take when looking at what to produce. I think writers need to be open to being a child of their time. Some writers look around and imagine the play everyone wants, but that often doesn’t work as it becomes too contrived and cerebral. We noticed recently a lot of writers were beginning to write about faith, so we are putting together a set of Faith Season plays at the end of next year. That’s because it’s naturally become something people need to examine. We can spot those kinds of trends and those are the things we need to respond to in our program.
What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
I saw a lot of plays in The Other Place, the studio theatre, at Stratford-upon-Avon. There was a production of Anthony and Cleopatra that I found amazingly intense and exciting. I felt completely turned on by the language and I was physically close up to Michael Gambon and Helen Mirren. I also feel like it’s a good night when I’ve learnt something, not about the world but myself. I’ll have a moment, an epiphany, where something gone on in the play and subliminally in my head. I put certain things in place and have a realisation about myself. I think theatre can do that more than other art forms and that would be my addiction. Theatre had always been important to me; I didn’t know there was a job in it.
How can the Royal Shakespeare Company attract a more young and diverse audience?
One of our biggest obstacles is that people think we’re an elitist organisation; if they do actually come to the company they’re amazed that perception is wrong. What we need is ownership of theatre from ethnic minorities, from front of house to backstage. Theatre needs to open up so people see that it’s another one of those industries you can work in. As a Literary Manager you’re looking for someone who is looking at this moment from a fresh angle, so that works really well looking for ethnic minority writers. Great art historically happens at great turbulence. It’s almost like geology, look for where the volcano is going to erupt, then find writers who are experiencing that and going to tell the big stories. If we can do more of that we will have a global sense of the stories we are telling and that will open up what we do.
What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see the Dunsinane and God’s Weep at Hampstead Theatre?
As we’re coming to a general election we have two different types of leadership on offer, and responsibility, redemption, and leadership are themes that bring the plays together. There’s resonances about how one very small decision, especially in Dennis Kelly’s God’s Weep, sets in motion a massive corporate machine and whether or not that can be stopped. If you say to a young person, however, Dunsinane is related to Shakespeare, they may think they’re not going to understand it. David Greig is a very exciting writer who he writes big ideas with a lightness of touch. It’s really accessible, funny, about families, real people going to war and what war does to them. It is not something you have to sit there stroking your beard thinking, that’s interesting, instead it sends your imagination spiralling off into different directions. And it’s got some great swordfights.