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Emma Rice departure: the industry reacts to ‘backwards step’ and Globe’s ‘loss of nerve’

Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner
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Emma Rice’s announcement that she is to step down as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe has been met with dismay from arts leaders, who have labelled it a “backwards step” for the sector and a “huge loss” for the theatre.

Critics of the move have also claimed Rice has been the victim of sexism in the arts.

A statement from the theatre said Rice would step down in 2018, with the venue returning to more traditional staging following her departure.

However, arts leaders have criticised the move, with choreographer Matthew Bourne writing on Twitter that he had visited the Globe for the first time under Rice.

He added that he would not be returning, and called the move a backwards step.

Playwright Tanika Gupta, who worked with Rice on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the venue and described her as “one of a kind”.

“It’s a bit non-sensical to me and I think ultimately what happened was she could not really be the artist she wanted to be under those parameters. I think it’s artistic difference. Ultimately it’s a big loss for the Globe. Emma is brilliant and she will flourish,” she said.

Gupta added that it was “backward thinking”, claiming that the recent production of Imogen had been “full of young people” and that she had “brought a whole new audience to the Globe”.

“I think it’s a thing about women in the arts and the amount of backlash they get. Emma is not on her own in that respect and there is a broader discussion to have,” she said.

Gupta expressed concern that the theatre would return to being a “museum and a research institute”.

Stage Directors UK chief executive Piers Haggard described the move as “very shocking news” and “a great shame”.

“I think theatres work best when the board has courage and is prepared to back an artistic director for longer than a few months. This is a sad loss of nerve,” Haggard told The Stage.

“She has obviously upset some of the male establishment and I imagine, it would appear to me, that there was some ganging up on her,” he said.

He added: “She is an artist from the left field, they [the board] knew that.”

Haggard went on to say that Rice did not deserve the treatment she has received since taking up the artistic directorship.

“Obviously the board has the right to do what it wishes but it would have been better if they had had more bottle, in the old fashioned sense, and were able to stay with her. I think that, artistically, she has come from the other side of the fence, but she’s a grown up, fully developed, artist of the theatre and she deserves respect,” he said.

Director Thomas Hescott described the move as “appalling”. Writing on Twitter, he said a board “should not interfere with the work unless a theatre is in crisis”, adding that the Globe was not in crisis. Critic Quentin Letts wrote on Twitter:

Rather a pity that Emma Rice is leaving Shakespeare’s Globe @The_Globe . She perked it up greatly and made it less grindingly ersatz. — Quentin Letts (@thequentinletts) October 25, 2016

Meanwhile, director Derek Bond called the move “profoundly sad”.

Emma Rice: a timeline

1994 – Emma Rice joins Kneehigh as a performer
1999 – Rice directs her first show for Knee-high
2005 – Rice becomes artistic director of Kneehigh
2012 – Rice becomes joint artistic director, with Mike Shepherd
2015 – Rice is appointed artistic director of the Globe
2015 – Rice becomes artistic director designate of the Globe (November 2015)
2016 – Rice takes over from Dominic Dromgoole as artistic director of the Globe (April)
2016 – Rice announces she will step down from the position after the 2017/18 season (October)

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