‘Could the National Theatre have more than one leader?’
Our industry loves buildings – we are infatuated with them. Every conversation places them in the centre of discussion. Funding applications are deemed stronger with theatres as partners (the bigger, the better), productions are valued on the buildings they are produced in and the recruitment of artistic directors is heavily reliant on the buildings they have been affiliated with artistically.
Even with all their repeated failings and inabilities to take any significant steps to become more inclusive, diverse or equitable – funders and artistic communities have always looked to buildings to solve the biggest problems in the arts sector.
That was until now. We are existing at an unprecedented time when we can no longer rely on buildings. Although we recognise this is a temporary normal, the learning and ingenuity from this moment is critical to redress the power balance, innovate our practices and right our wrongs.
As the founder and artistic director of Artistic Directors of the Future, I have always recognised the power, agency and influence of companies and freelancers as well as the disconnection between them and national portfolio organisations as being one of the primary factors to the cycle of inherited sector problems.
I have always struggled with the idea that a national or international organisation is led by one individual, based in London
However, even with evidence and successful track records, companies and freelancers are locked out of conversations, even during this time of the pandemic when the industry is discussing its future.
The pandemic has placed all of us in our homes. This decentralisation has flatlined the power dynamic as we move from office buildings to remote working, which has opened the floodgates to limitless possibilities, as our industries become more accessible and the national and global becomes local.
One would hope that organisations, in their fight to overcome the pandemic, do not revert to risk-averse measures, reverse the small but important work towards their creative case for diversity and inclusion agendas and, by default, create invisible walls within this new structure.
The industry needs to rethink and adapt future operational and leadership structures and recruitment processes. Fundamental operational changes, such as remote working, which would have taken countless meetings without any resolve, happened overnight because of the pandemic. It has proven what we have already known, organisations are more than capable of implementing operational changes, quickly when prioritised.
Some might say the move to remote working has transported organisations light years ahead, with an appreciation of what this could mean for working parents, retainment of staff who have to relocate, not to mention the recruitment of those who live in suburban and rural areas.
This also leads to a conversation about open and shared leadership practices. I have always struggled with the idea that a national or international organisation is led by one individual, based in London, as is the case usually in the UK. Perhaps now is a great time to rethink this. Could the National Theatre have more than one leader who represents and reflects the name of the organisation?
Companies and freelancers must build healthier relationships with each other, acknowledge and use our agency to support our sustainability and endeavours and thus create an industry that values autonomy, changemakers and companies as much as it values buildings.
Theatre is in dire straits, and in urgent need of support. We all hope that help is on its way from the government. But whatever support it receives, when theatre re-emerges from this disastrous pandemic, it will look very different. Now is the time to think about what happens next. That is what The Stage has asked people working across our sector to do: to select an issue that can be improved upon when theatre returns. The above article is one of 24 pieces in our ‘Theatre 2021’ series. There are many more topics to cover, and many more ideas to share. This series of articles is the first step in saying that despite this terrible crisis, theatre in 2021 can re-emerge, and in many ways can be better than before.