Diversifying Theatre Leadership in Yorkshire

Diversifying Theatre Leadership in Yorkshire

ADF participants meeting Director Amy Leach in rehearsals for Hamlet. Photography by David Lindsay.jpg
Artistic Directors of the Future participants meet Director Amy Leach in rehearsals for Hamlet at Leeds Playhouse. Photography by David Lindsay
Date Published: 06 March 2019
Robin Hawkes

by Robin Hawkes, Executive Director and Joint CEO of Leeds Playhouse

Leeds Playhouse is for everyone. We believe that our shared humanity is a powerful force for unity, equality and fairness. We are fiercely committed to engaging in meaningful ways with local communities, particularly those traditionally disconnected from mainstream cultural activity, in all areas of our work. Our Creative Programme reflects this ethos; it is as varied as the people of Yorkshire. What unites our programme is the same thing that unites us as people – great storytelling and a sense of shared humanity.

We strive to embody this ethos through every area of the Playhouse, so we jumped at the chance to work with Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway, the team at Artistic Directors of the Future (ADF), and four other partner theatres across Yorkshire to create a ‘Yorkshire Edition’ of ADF’s brilliant Board Shadowing Programme. The Programme aims to bridge the gap between culturally diverse artists and leaders and pre-existing theatre Boards, whilst also providing participants with insight into how theatre buildings function.

ADF is dedicated to creating change where it matters the most, at leadership level, working with culturally diverse artists and leaders at varying levels of experience to inspire, prepare, support and empower the next generation of artistic leaders giving them the leverage they need to progress to the next step. Their programmes demystify the roles of the artistic director, board of directors and senior management team, celebrating the talent which exists within the culturally diverse community, thereby challenging the status quo and changing the face of theatre. Like us, they believe that by working collaboratively with producing theatres such as the Playhouse we can together deliver unique and pioneering training opportunities for artistic leaders.

So we have jointly recruited a cohort of eleven participants who have an amazing array of skills and experience. They all share passion for theatre, particularly in Yorkshire, and a desire to understand what makes organisations like the Playhouse tick. Our first group meeting took place here in Yorkshire just before Christmas. It was an incredibly inspiring occasion, with theatres and participants sharing their aspirations for the programme and their ambitions for what it can achieve. That cohort is now in the midst of a hectic schedule of trips throughout the spring to Hull, Scarborough, Sheffield, and York, as well as Leeds. They’re attending Board and sub-committee meetings to gain insight into decision-taking processes at the highest levels of our organisations, as well as participating in a wide variety of the activities of each participating theatre and seeing as many shows as possible!

For the five theatres involved, the Programme is providing an invaluable opportunity to extend our networks, hear new perspectives and perhaps even recruit some new trustees. While the Playhouse’s board feels broadly representative of the demographic of Leeds from the perspective of ethnicity, we still have work to do to encourage and empower other minority demographics to join us in leading the Playhouse into the next chapter of its story.

We also know that encouraging diversity at every level of our organisation will make us more successful in everything we do. We believe that approaching challenges from multiple perspectives invariably leads to more effective solutions. So we work hard to ensure that our staff team, as well as our artistic programme, is as representative as possible because we believe that by embracing diversity and intersectionality we’ll expand audiences, encourage participants, inspire artists and recruit and retain new team members from a wider talent pool. And together, we’ll be able to tackle some of the most urgent challenges of our time by creating truly vital theatre.

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