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“If a theatre decides that it is not working out with their newly appointed Artistic Director then the Chair should also resign”

BLOG – my reflections on the departure of Emma Rice from The Globe


I declare an interest as a friend and fan of Emma and previous Board member of Kneehigh Theatre.

So what follows is not an attempt to create a balanced view. It is rather the seed of an idea…

Emma has brought light, energy, inspiration, new audiences, new beginnings and fresh creativity to The Globe.

Shakespeare would be chuffed. Surely.

But the Globe’s Board and management have decided that the theatre is better off without Emma’s approach.

I am interested to ask what this might mean for the relationship between Artistic Directors and the Boards of theatres? And ideas around artistic freedom.

When I began my job as Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre it was only a few months before it was clear that I was not as good as the previous guy. The Board could have acted quickly, perhaps giving me an ultimatum “be more like Tom Morris or move on”.

They didn’t. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t sack me, they empowered me to be as good as I could be. Not compared to the last person. Year by year, the Board enabled me to keep becoming a better version of myself.

As Matt Trueman has shrewdly said we need to ask ourselves who is enabled and empowered to take risks? It is not just about appointing a new Artistic Director, it is about supporting them once they are in post.

What I find remarkable about the Board’s approach at The Globe is that Emma has, by any measure, other than the most derisory, as set out in yesterday’s statement from The Globe, succeeded.

She is certainly a hell of a lot more successful than I was in my first 6 months. And I am sure, many others too.

When a theatre’s Board appoints an Artistic Director it arranges a multi-partner marriage between Artistic Director, Board, Artists, Staff and Public.

It is an immense undertaking to arrange this marriage. And it should not finish with the ceremony. It should also be about doing everything you can to then enable and empower the Artistic Director in the first few years to give the new marriage the very best chance of success.

Why has Emma not been empowered and supported by the people who recruited her?

If The Globe’s approach is to be any kind of benchmark for the future of theatre, then we also need to ask ourselves whether we are descending in to a world that looks more like the Premier league? In which lofty Boards hire and fire team managers with impunity. Of course the reality is that most theatre Boards are great and would never consider acting in this way.

But I would like to suggest one simple mechanism to ensure that theatres do not go down this road, learning from what’s happened to Emma at The Globe.

If a theatre decides that it is not working out with their newly appointed Artistic Director then the Chair should also resign along with new Artistic Director. And if a CEO is involved, as with The Globe too, then they should go too.

Because it was their responsibility to appoint them and it was also their responsibility to make the appointment work – caring, nurturing and supporting the new marriage.

Theatre Boards must take responsibility and be accountable for their own choices. And not lurk in the shadows.

Otherwise it might become too easy for Boards, fearful of funders and in a climate of conservatism, to begin to restrict artistic freedom.

If this simple commitment was agreed, I suspect we would see bouts of empowerment and support breaking out following new appointments, with Chairs and Boards getting right behind their new Artistic Directors, knowing that their neck is on the line too.

It’s an idea, maybe there is a better one.

The statement by The Globe yesterday, about lighting and sound, was a complete Horlicks. And I suspect it will take the theatre a decade to recover from the way it has handled this matter. Emma’s creative star will shine even brighter while The Globe’s will sadly dim. Literally.

Emma has shown characteristic bravery to see out her work at the theatre until 2018 when many would have walked away. She has shown herself, once again, as she did at Kneehigh, to be a true leader, as well as an exceptionally gifted theatre director.

26 Oct 2016

Categories: Role of PRODUCER and/or artistic director

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