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Indhu Rubasingham: It’s a ‘terrible time’ to be an artistic director

Indhu Rubasingham. Photo: Mark Douet Indhu Rubasingham. Photo: Mark Douet
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Directors Indhu Rubasingham and Max Stafford-Clark have warned that extra demands placed on theatre bosses are threatening creativity and putting the future of the sector at risk.

Tricycle Theatre boss Rubasingham said the current climate meant artistic directors needed a “level of financial nous” that was not required in the past.

She said: “It’s a terrible time to be an artistic director, and I think there’s going to be a problem in the next five or 10 years. I wish I’d been running a building 10 or 15 years ago at least, because what is asked of cultural leaders now I think is beyond our training and our capacity.”

Rubasingham, speaking on a panel about the future of theatre as part of Soho Create, went on to say that “theatres need to be run by artists”, adding that “the minute they’re not, we are going to be in trouble”.

She added: ”But God I wish I had a business manager at the Tricycle… I’d say I spend 50% of my time as an artistic director fundraising and trying to fundraise or worrying about it. Within that as well, the level of health and safety and all those regulations has got much higher.”

Addressing the relationship between executive directors and artistic directors, Rubasingham said: “You can have all the support you want but you have to lead it… You know it’s on your shoulders.”

She added: “It’s a real struggle in me personally, because I know I need to be the vision of the organisation, not on an ego basis, but because there will always be a reason not to do a play and not to do a new play because they’re not safe. Art has to be about taking risks.”

Stafford-Clark, who is a former artistic director of the Royal Court and currently runs touring company Out of Joint, agreed, saying the role of artistic director had “transformed completely” in recent years.

“We have become fundraisers who occasionally get time off to do a play, as opposed to theatre directors who have to take an interest in fundraising,” he said.

Their comments follow a debate last year, when figures including Richard Eyre and former Tricycle artistic director Nicolas Kent also said that theatres must be run by creatives.

However, former Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cooke echoed their concerns in 2015, when he said that running theatres is “becoming a job that almost can’t be done at all”.

“It’s all such a stretch,” he added.

Rubasingham and Stafford-Clark were speaking alongside director Paulette Randall on a panel chaired by Creative Industries Federation chief executive John Kampfner.

Last month, theatremakers speaking at industry conference Theatre 2016 called for a dismantling of the “hierarchical” structure of theatre leadership and for artistic directors to be scrapped altogether.

Director and film-maker Topher Campbell claimed that having one artistic leader running a building or a company was “old fashioned”, and that a more collaborative structure would allow the sector to progress.

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