Our Ambassadors: Courtney Stewart

Stella Ambassador Courtney Stewart is the Artistic Director of La Boite Theatre. In this interview she talks about representation in the arts and why it matters.

Courtney Stewart

How did you first encounter the work of Stella?

I have always loved reading. However, it wasn’t until I fell pregnant with my first baby that I really started to pay attention to the authors of the books I was picking up. I read A Little Life and Pachinko and became really conscious of seeking out stories by women. A few years later I came across Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau and the Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie – two books that have stayed with me until this day. I walked into Better Read than Dead in Sydney and both books were out front and centre, a year later I saw that both books had been shortlisted for something called the Stella Prize. I then looked at past Stella Prize winners and longlisters and realised that so many of the other books on my shelves at home had been listed too.

What do you see as Stella’s role in the Australian cultural sector?

Stella plays a critical role in elevating stories by Australian women and non-binary writers to make sure these works receive the readership they deserve. So many of these stories have been incredibly influential – not just for other writers, but for other women and non-binary artists across disciplines.

Tell us about your experience directing and producing multicultural plays?

It’s the most meaningful work of my life. It feels like my very purpose for being here on Earth – being a part of shaping the soul of the nation. The stories I have a hand in telling are contemporary Australian stories that have reached audiences across the country. Working on these stories has changed my life so profoundly, because they have profoundly changed the lives of those encountering them.

“It wasn’t until I saw an interview with the amazing Jules Patey in Audrey Journal where she said she’d like to be an artistic director that I thought to myself ‘Oh! Is that something I’m allowed to want to aspire to as well?’ This is why representation is so critical – we need to see that something is possible.”

As Artistic Director and CEO of La Boite Theatre, what’s your take on women and non-binary leadership representation in the arts?

There aren’t a lot of women and non-binary artistic directors in this country – not nearly enough. In fact, I never aspired to be an artistic director – purely because I had never seen a woman or non-binary person leading a company. It wasn’t until I saw an interview with the amazing Jules Patey in Audrey Journal where she said she’d like to be an artistic director one day that I thought to myself “Oh! Is that something I’m allowed to want to aspire to as well?” This is why representation is so critical – we need to see that something is possible. 

What productions are you working on now?

I’m about to dive into rehearsals for our next show Fancy Long Legs – based on the children’s book by the incredible Rachel Burke, adapted for the stage by powerhouse Naomi Price. La Boite will collaborate with The Little Red Company and Brisbane Festival on this work, and I will direct. I love that this work will be an adaptation of a children’s book – I have two kids and I’m passionate about making work that will instil a love of stories and storytelling in them.

What roles have books played in your life?

Books are everything. Every time I want to understand something or someone on a deeper level – I’ll find a book to kick start that learning. I also rely on books and stories to help keep me connect to the world – losing yourself in the story of another person with other given circumstances helps to contextualise your own existence. It helps keep you humble – and makes sure you take a break of being your own main character for a while.

What are your top Stella books?

Definitely Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island, Vicki Laveau-Harvie The Erratics, Joey Bui’s Lucky Ticket, Melissa Luchashenko’s Too Much Lip, and Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race.

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