Hull Truck under fire for artistic director removal

Equity has hit out at Hull Truck Theatre following the Yorkshire venue’s decision to make its artistic director redundant and not to employ a like-for-like replacement.

The union says that it “deplores” the theatre’s decision to remove artistic director Gareth Tudor Price and claims the fact that the venue is not intending to replace him threatens to turn Hull Truck into a receiving house.

Hull Truck is currently being led by chief executive Andrew Smaje, who joined the theatre in October. Under a series of changes to the management team since his appointment, the venue’s association with both Price and former creative director John Godber has come to an end.

Stephen Spence, Equity’s assistant general secretary for live performance, said: “Equity believes artistic leadership is critical to the future of Hull Truck, especially in these difficult times, and the union calls on the theatre’s board and funders to take all steps to ensure that leadership of the artistic programme is not left solely in the hands of administration.

“Our fear is, without artistic input, theatres run the risk of becoming merely receiving venues without an in-house artistic centre. That’s the heart and soul of theatre. Creative administration is vital in any theatre organisation and we are sorry that Hull Truck appear not to agree with us that to have artists like Gareth [Tudor Price] and John [Godber] at a senior decision-making level is essential.”

However, Equity’s claims have been strongly denied by Smaje, who stressed that the theatre will not turn into a receiving house.

He told The Stage: “Hull Truck is employing and giving opportunities to more Equity members than at any time in its history – in the first week of March we had more than 50 members working on productions. For a mid-scale theatre, that’s quite a substantial portfolio of work.

“We’re a big employer in this region of Equity members and when Equity puts out a statement that suggests that there’s a danger we’re going to become a receiving venue, that’s really so contrary to the facts that it does need correcting.”

Smaje stressed that the company had needed to broaden the “diversity of its work” to help fill its new 600-seat venue and he believes that having multiple directors creating work for the venue will help achieve this. He also said that his role as chief executive is not purely administrative, pointing out that he has programmed and produced the current season.

“They say that there is no creative leadership and that couldn’t be further from the truth – you only have to look at the programme to see that,” he added.

Price formally left Hull Truck at the end of February. There is an ongoing legal dispute, in which Equity is representing Price over the terms of his redundancy. Hull is currently recruiting for a producer, which will be a more junior role than chief executive in the organisation. Meanwhile, associate director Nick Lane, who is a writer and director, has been appointed literary manager.

Price said: “‘I had nine great years at Hull Truck and was, both personally and professionally, totally committed to making the theatre a production-led institution of the highest quality, working alongside John Godber, and moving the company into the new £15 million building. I am saddened to see that achievement put at risk by the new chief executive’s decision, supported by the Hull Truck Board, to dispense with the role of artistic director which, apart from my own situation, I believe to be fundamentally flawed.

“The company has a considerable reputation, both nationally and internationally, and has always been artistically led by working directors with a strong commitment to Hull and the region.”

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