Michael Nabarro: The Stage 100 shows how theatre is becoming more diverse, creative and innovative
As we burst on to the stage of 2019, the business of theatre in the UK has never been more challenging nor exciting. In an environment full of uncertainty, with the consequences of budget cuts and Brexit looming but in no way clear, theatrical business and creative leaders are operating in an unstable environment. With a team of more than 100 at Spektrix, supporting the sector to overcome these challenges is what gets us out of the bed in the morning.
Our inspiring theatre community is bringing forward some of the most impressive and diverse work we have ever seen, delighting audiences, and thinking about the future of this great art form. Real gains are beginning to be made in diversity and inclusion, both from a workforce and an audience perspective.
The Stage 100 is a fascinating place to benchmark where we are at as a sector. With 38 new entries, it’s great to see that this well-established industry is not afraid of fresh new faces and skills mixing it up in 2019. Although there is obvious progress (there are 58 women represented on the list) it’s clear that we still have some work to do to ensure that theatremakers – both on and off stage – are representative of the audiences for whom we are creating work. However, it is reassuring to see so much work towards a more diverse and representative sector, not only creating amazing theatre, but also helping to support innovation.
The Artistic Directors of the Future programme is an inspiring example of this and it’s great to see Simeilia Hodge-Dallaway (number 84) working her way up the list thanks to the work she’s doing to empower the next generation of artistic leaders. We’re also thrilled to see David Mumeni (number 98) as a new entry for 2019, representing the work Open Door does to support young people from low-income backgrounds through drama school. Work such as this will enable theatre’s talent pool to flourish.
There is also ambitious work going on to improve the working environment that these young people will inherit. Parents and Carers in Performing Arts has stormed up the list in 2019, demonstrating the growing awareness and importance of supporting parents working in the industry (see PIPA founders Cassie Raine and Anna Ehnold-Danailov at number 52). Then there’s Vicky Featherstone and Lucy Davies (number 19) and Society of London Theatre/ UK Theatre heads (Julian Bird and Cassie Chadderton at number 44), who have paved the way and supported the sector to find positive solutions to the #MeToo movement, making theatre a better and safer place in which to work.
In this environment, innovation and change-making has never been more vital, and the industry is rising to the challenge, creating high quality and groundbreaking theatre that is relevant and inspiring for larger and more diverse audiences than ever before. Jenny Sealey (number 55) rightly reappears on the list for her amazing work with Graeae, championing D/deaf and disabled artists through making incredible art. It’s fantastic also to see Michele Taylor (number 63), from Ramps on the Moon, whose focus on making theatre “the richest, most exciting, most innovative it can possibly be” makes her a vital voice for the future of theatre in this country.
New business models are emerging, supporting theatre to thrive in this shifting landscape. At Spektrix, we’ve been lucky enough to see this first hand from working with London’s Bridge Theatre, led by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr (number 11): a new commercial theatre that made smart decisions informed by insight and driven by what their audiences wanted.
Indeed, for many theatres, resilient business models are requiring a more welcoming design, which is just one of the reasons why it is great to see architect Steve Tompkins (number 1) at the top of this year’s list. Brilliant use of Arts Council England’s (see Darren Henley and Nicholas Serota at number 41) funding streams is demonstrated by Slung Low’s Alan Lane (number 43). Slung Low continues to produce community-focused work in areas with traditionally low arts engagement, utilising funding not just to rethink the role of artists and institutions, but also to demonstrate alternative models in practice.
New in at number 58, William Village and Timothy Sheader, from Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, are brilliant examples of leaders focusing their business model on resilience. They have a venue that is open for performances for only one season each year and they really make it count – with touring shows, hires, an amazing food-and-drink offer, and a fantastic programme of their own. It is also great to see them having funded a redevelopment almost entirely from their own reserves.
Working with organisations with a wide range of commercial models has convinced us that this variety is key to the sustainability of the sector as a whole. We’re proud of being part of this amazing industry and we do everything we can to support it, from enabling business efficiencies, providing insights into how to fill seats, through to fundraising. We’re committed to supporting resilience in the myriad of changing ways needed across the theatre world.
Partnering with more than 300 arts organisations across the UK, while also working closely with some of the key theatre bodies represented on the list and beyond, my colleagues and I at Spektrix see this kind of inspiring work in every part of the country. That’s why we are delighted to partner with The Stage 100 this year to highlight the work of great theatre leaders and creatives and those making our industry a more diverse, creative and innovative place. And so, we add our congratulations to everyone in The Stage 100, who so brilliantly embody vision and innovation in a changing world.
Michael Nabarro is co-founder and chief executive of Spektrix. The Stage 100 is presented in association with Spektrix