Roland Muldoon, artistic director and chief executive of the Hackney Empire, has announced that he is to quit after 20 years in charge of the east London venue.
He and his wife Claire, head of programming at the theatre, will leave later this year. Following their departure, general manager Simon Thomsett will fill the role of acting chief executive until a permanent successor is confirmed before the end of this month. The appointment is expected to be internal and Thomsett is in the running to take over on a long-term basis.
Muldoon took charge of the Empire in 1985, re-establishing it as a home for variety. He oversaw the venue’s extensive £19 million refurbishment from the beginning of the fundraising in 1997 to the Matcham-designed theatre’s reopening in January 2004. He is widely credited with saving the venue, which was built in 1901.
Comedian Griff Rhys-Jones, who led the fundraising campaign, commented: “Roland and Claire not only saved the Hackney Empire, they created the Hackney Empire. The idea of what it represents to thousands of theatregoers in London today and to the people of Hackney who use this theatre on a day to day basis came about because of the dedication of this couple. They will be a difficult act to follow, as the theatre and its refurbishment is their legacy.”
The pair will continue at the venue until the beginning of December and are leaving to pursue other interests in the arts world.
Speaking to The Stage, Muldoon said: “It was a difficult decision. But we’ve spent 20 years being arts bureaucrats and we wouldn’t mind doing something else. I’m still young enough and fit enough to try something new. We are looking for offers, maybe even a new venue. I like the idea of being a DJ.
“It’s a hard, wrenching thing to leave but I was afraid I might die here and come back as a ghost. We leave the place in capable hands – Frank Sweeney will take over the programming and he must be one of the first black guys in Britain to get to that kind of position.”
* Meanwhile, the Hackney Empire will host an exhibition celebrating 30 years of flyposting from November 16 to December 15. The exhibition will be launched at a special event on November 15. It will feature posters from the in-house campaigns by CAST Theatre Group, founded by Roland and Claire Muldoon, and will be housed in the Empire’s new exhibition space in the Marie Lloyd building.