Actor and director, and Coordinator for North East Culture Collective
Stewart Aitken is an actor and artistic director.
He graduated with a Diploma in Drama from Queen Margaret College in 1984.
What sparked your interest in performing arts?
My parents took me to drama and elocution lessons when I was quite young, and the joy of performing in front of people I think was sparked then.
At secondary school, we went along to see a production of 'Widows of Clyth' at our local theatre in Dunfermline, and I was mesmerised and began to think that this might be for me!
I then joined a local drama group. We used to perform the classic thrillers and comedies of the time. During my final years at secondary school, I joined the newly formed Carnegie Youth Theatre and also the Burntisland Youth Theatre. I was also fortunate to spend a fortnight in London with the National Youth Theatre, where we created an improvised production.
The Director at Burntisland Youth Theatre encouraged me to apply to QMU. It was the only drama course I auditioned for so I was very lucky to be accepted as the alternative was studying accountancy at Stirling University.
What did you enjoy most about your course?
I loved almost everything of what we did during my three years at QMC. I enjoyed working in the drama workshop classes and of course getting into the rehearsals for the student productions.
"We did a number of classics including plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov and Miller but the two productions that I enjoyed more than the others were our award winning production of “The Lass wi’ the Muckle Mou’” by Alexander Reid and “Fando and Liz” by Fernando Arrabal. Two more polar opposite productions I don’t think I could have chosen, but both taught me so much about the excitement and power of theatre."
The most important thing I learned at QMC was that the sum of the collective parts is much stronger than any individual performance or performer. It can raise a play from just me good to being memorable.
What are your most memorable experiences of being a QMU student?
I clearly remember feeling I had been thrust into a world I had no clue about, the flamboyancy of some of my other course mates, the reserved attitude to us drama students from the students and lecturers from other courses, and the mad nights of music, quizzes and parties in what was known as the “old” student union rooms at the Corstorphine campus.
Also, the pride we all felt as a whole year when rehearsing and performing our sell out 'Lass wi the Muckle Mou' show for the Fringe in 1983.
Tell me more about your career path since leaving QMU.
I have been very fortunate to have been working pretty consistently in theatre and the arts over the past 37 years.
Once I secured my equity card with a touring puppet theatre company, I worked as an actor with a number of Theatre in Education, small scale and rep companies.
I also did a lot of workshop and directing work with young people and adults with learning disabilities.
I developed a strong interest in directing so in the 90’s, I set up a theatre company, based in Edinburgh, with a couple of friends, called First Base Theatre Company. We produced music theatre productions as well as having a large community theatre company based at The Netherbow Theatre (now the Storytelling Centre).
The directing and management side of my career took in the 1990's with Artistic Director roles at Borders Youth Theatre and Wigan Pier Theatre Company. After that, I became the Artistic Director/CEO of Aberdeen International Youth Festival.
I have been very fortunate to have had a very varied career so far with many highlights as well as many challenges as funding and tastes change, along with political priorities.
Tell us more about what you’re currently working on.
I am currently working as the co-ordinator on a project called the North East Culture Collective, with Cultural Aberdeen, a collective of arts organisations in the city. The project is part of a national initiative, that has 26 collectives across the country, linking creatives and artists with community groups significantly impacted through the Covid pandemic. The projects are looking at how these creative partnerships might play a role in communities’ recovery. My role is to work with local authority departments and third sector organisations to highlight priority areas and communities of need and help set up conversations with creative partners and individuals.
I am also very involved with the Aberdeen-based theatre company, Ten Feet Tall, working as a writer, producer and director.
What advice would you give to students and new graduates starting out?
Be open to opportunities and ideas that come along even though they may not be what you think your preferred job is, as quite often they will lead to other connections. There are so many ways to use your talents.
Keep working at your skills (something I have wished I had done more of) and try to enjoy being part of the creative and cultural world – it can often be the best of careers and a privilege.
Sometimes you have to move away, try something else, so you can be able to come back and try again.