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The Green Room: Do actors make better artistic directors?

Michelle Terry performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. She will take over as artistic director of the venue in 2018
Michelle Terry performing in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. She will take over as artistic director of the venue in 2018. Photo: John Haynes

Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details...

Albert_Parker

Albert Parker is 60 and has appeared as a regular in soaps, two BAFTA award winning sitcoms, theatre and TV

Jenny Talbot, 39, has nearly 20 years of experience in West End and touring musical theatre with occasional forays into TV, film and plays

Adam Lovett, 45, has appeared in Oscar-winning films, on TV and in theatre at the RSC, National Theatre, and the West End

John Pepper is 31, and for the past 10 years has worked as an actor in various regional theatres, the National Theatre, in radio, television and film

 

Beryl Phoenix is in her 40s. She has played leading roles at the RSC, worked on new plays and toured both national and internationally

Ros Clifford is 30. Currently a deputy stage manager, she has worked extensively in London and regional theatre for nine years

Josie Woo is in her 30s. She has been acting since she was a teenager and has since worked extensively in theatre

 

AdamIt’s strange how the actor-manager went out of favour. I can’t see why an actor would be any worse being an artistic director than a director.

Beryl Surely it’s down to the individual? Mark Rylance did great things for Shakespeare’s Globe. I think Michelle Terry will, too.

Adam I would have loved to have seen a Simon Russell Beale-led National Theatre. And, like Beryl, I’m pretty excited to see what Michelle Terry does at the Globe.

Jenny Daniel Evans has done a stupendous job so far [at Sheffield and Chichester].

Albert Yes, but he seems to have given up acting and turned entirely to directing, and he’s fantastic, but real actor-artistic directors can also lead from the stage.

Adam I remember when Ian McDiarmid and Jonathan Kent ran London’s Almeida Theatre together. I loved the shows they put on.

Josie I think a good artistic director doesn’t necessarily have to be a good director, and it follows that a good director won’t always make the best artistic director.

Ros The more I think about this, the more I think directors are a better fit. But maybe that’s because I have more of a practical, logical brain. They are used to dealing with all sorts of people and steering the ship of a show. They work with producers and ‘the third floor’, they are aware of the politics of a building and a process.

Josie In a way, it’s less important to me whether they are an actor, a director or a producer – what matters is the strength of their vision for the company, backed up with strong leadership and management skills.

Albert I think the great ones have always had a great business team behind them. Rylance did at the Globe as did Laurence Olivier at the Old Vic – and Kevin Spacey for that matter.

Josie The best artistic directors are aware of their responsibility and privilege as a key influencer in the theatre world, and programme and nurture artists not just according to their own tastes, but with a mind to broadening and diversifying our theatrical landscape.

Jon What can career actors bring to the job that career directors don’t/can’t?

Beryl Audiences. And maybe empathy? Not that we’re victims.

Albert A sense of leadership from the front.

Jenny Personally I don’t see what an actor can’t bring that another person can.

Ros I do find that actors, even actors who have been in the industry for years, have little understanding of any other roles except their own and the director’s. And maybe the producer.

Adam But directors are used to being aloof, not one of the gang... they can’t be really because of their position. I think that makes it harder to run a building and rally the troops. Actors would probably be better at that.

Ros Yes, actors are inherently company people. They are aware of the importance of a strong, supportive, loving company and I think an actor-artistic director would bring this to an institution that may not necessarily have that.

Jon How about the less glamorous side? I’ve heard some people suggest that actors aren’t as well equipped for meetings, scheduling and so on.

Albert To survive as an actor these days you have to have a very aware business side.

Adam Being an artistic director, it’s pretty much scheduling and fundraising isn’t it? And rallying the troops. No reason why an actor can’t do that.

Jenny It’s all giving strength to the argument that actors are stupid puppets who go on stage and say other people’s words.

Beryl It’s about the team behind them.

Albert That’s where a lot of young actors fall down. They are just waiting for a good fairy to wave her wand and provide a job.

Jon Anyone have ambitions to run a theatre?

Beryl No ta.

Jenny I would give it a go.

John I think it would be a terrific challenge. But I’m marginally more interested in producing.

Albert I think I’d be thought too old now. It’s a young man’s job. I’ve done lots of directing at reps, but being on the staff with all the HR would drive me mad. The very antithesis of creativity.

John Oh I don’t know, surely the wealth of experience would serve you very well?

Jon I wonder if we programme things differently from career directors? What makes a good season in terms of repertoire, directors hired and scheduling?

Ros I think actors may be a little more aware of what an audience would want...

Beryl I think the board would have a lot to say about what ‘we’ programme.

Albert If they had actors on the board at the Globe perhaps they might not have had the problems they did…

Ros From my experience of working with directors, I think they have their finger on the pulse a little better and so can programme a broader, more interesting season. I’m not saying an actor couldn’t do that, I just think a director has more tools and maybe knowledge.

Jon Say you’ve got your big whiteboard and someone has already written ‘A Shakespeare and a musical’ on it: what kind of thing would you be looking to add?

John There has to be something to draw in younger audiences.

Beryl A contemporary, young people’s show.

Albert A play with a lot of women in it just to keep them quiet?

Beryl Cheeky. But yes, that too – female-led pieces. And current political writing.

Josie There are compromises to be made on keeping the board and supporters sweet – that’s where charm comes in. An intelligent actor, in tune with the political aspects of running a company, is more than capable of being an AD

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