#EmmaRice

#EmmaRice and The Globe

emma

I declare an interest as a friend and fan of Emma and previous Board member of Kneehigh Theatre.

So what follows is not an attempt to create a balanced view. It is rather the seed of an idea…

Emma has brought light, energy, inspiration, new audiences, new beginnings and fresh creativity to The Globe.

Shakespeare would be chuffed. Surely.

But the Globe’s Board and management have decided that the theatre is better off without Emma’s approach.

I am interested to ask what this might mean for the relationship between Artistic Directors and the Boards of theatres? And ideas around artistic freedom.

When I began my job as Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre it was only a few months before it was clear that I was not as good as the previous guy. The Board could have acted quickly, perhaps giving me an ultimatum “be more like Tom Morris or move on”.

They didn’t. And it wasn’t just that they didn’t sack me, they empowered me to be as good as I could be. Not compared to the last person. Year by year, the Board enabled me to keep becoming a better version of myself.

As Matt Trueman has shrewdly said we need to ask ourselves who is enabled and empowered to take risks? It is not just about appointing a new Artistic Director, it is about supporting them once they are in post.

What I find remarkable about the Board’s approach at The Globe is that Emma has, by any measure, other than the most derisory, as set out in yesterday’s statement from The Globe, succeeded.

She is certainly a hell of a lot more successful than I was in my first 6 months. And I am sure, many others too.

When a theatre’s Board appoints an Artistic Director it arranges a multi-partner marriage between Artistic Director, Board, Artists, Staff and Public.

It is an immense undertaking to arrange this marriage. And it should not finish with the ceremony. It should also be about doing everything you can to then enable and empower the Artistic Director in the first few years to give the new marriage the very best chance of success.

Why has Emma not been empowered and supported by the people who recruited her?

If The Globe’s approach is to be any kind of benchmark for the future of theatre, then we also need to ask ourselves whether we are descending in to a world that looks more like the Premier league? In which lofty Boards hire and fire team managers with impunity. Of course the reality is that most theatre Boards are great and would never consider acting in this way.

But I would like to suggest one simple mechanism to ensure that theatres do not go down this road, learning from what’s happened to Emma at The Globe.

If a theatre decides that it is not working out with their newly appointed Artistic Director, then the Chair should also resign, along with new Artistic Director. And if a CEO is involved, as with The Globe too, then they should go too.

Because it was their responsibility to appoint them and it was also their responsibility to make the appointment work – caring, nurturing and supporting the new marriage.

Theatre Boards must take responsibility and be accountable for their own choices. And not lurk in the shadows.

Otherwise it might become too easy for Boards, fearful of funders and in a climate of conservatism, to begin to restrict artistic freedom.

If this simple commitment was agreed, I suspect we would see bouts of empowerment and support breaking out following new appointments, with Chairs and Boards getting right behind their new Artistic Directors, knowing that their neck is on the line too.

It’s an idea, maybe there is a better one.

The statement by The Globe yesterday, about lighting and sound, was a complete Horlicks. And I suspect it will take the theatre a decade to recover from the way it has handled this matter. Emma’s creative star will shine even brighter while The Globe’s will sadly dim. Literally.

Emma has shown characteristic bravery to see out her work at the theatre until 2018 when many would have walked away. She has shown herself, once again, as she did at Kneehigh, to be a true leader, as well as an exceptionally gifted theatre director.

15 comments

    • I will do that Debbie, it will be a pretty simple list – and I suspect some of the things on it will be things that they did not do, as well as things they did. D

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  1. This is a brilliant response, David, to the shameful way that Emma has been treated. As a kneejerk reaction, I love your solution, but I also suspect that, sadly, if the Chair or CEO’s neck was on the line, it might just lead to more conservatism, with someone of genuinely innovative vision never even getting appointed in the first place. It seems to me that any attempt to try and tackle risk-averse boards must start with their composition. We need to get rid of the self-appointed, rich elites who oversee many of our theatres and return theatre buildings to theatremakers to harness the collective energy of their audiences/communities. It’s great to hear that you have had the experience of being nurtured and supported by your board – how wonderful! As Debbie says above, perhaps you and your board might share why and how that has worked so well. Having sat on boards, been employed by boards and talked to others about their relationships with boards, I have come to the conclusion that this whole voluntary, hierarchical model is utterly flawed and perpetuates privilege, cronyism and corruption. I think that some kind of democratic, representative, accountable structure is needed to replace it.

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    • I agree Lisa there is a risk that something like this could change the process and have unintended consequences. But perhaps it might also help attract more of the right people to become Chairs. Nick Starr described the role of the Chair to me as a “consensual risk-taker” which I think is a pretty good first line of a Chair’s job description. I agree with your thoughts about democratising our organisation’s structures, interesting to think about how to do that. D

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      • Governance of the Arts is long overdue for a complete re-vamp. Middle class middle aged enrol as volunteer Theatre Board members for all the wrong reasons – mainly their own irrelevant agendas and joining a cosy social group with assumed status! Then they do just that – lurk in their risk-averse shadows, avoiding taking any responsibility, let alone accountability, or making any serious effort to engage helpfully with the right approach.

        Board composition is often determined by Chief Exec’s and Chairs who look for safe and benign – no boat-rockers! I so agree that, also having sat on boards, been employed by boards and talked to others about their relationships with boards, I have come to the same conclusion – this whole voluntary, hierarchical model is utterly flawed and perpetuates privilege, cronyism and corruption. They very rarely seek to refresh with younger new blood prospective Board members and they stay on ad infinitum. Theatre Royal Board in Plymouth even felt so ineptly cosy that they chose to change the Mems and Arts to allow three terms of three years rather than two! – and that was a knee-jerk reaction when realising that five of their cosy number were about to have to step down! Another self-appointed, smug elite, in continuation!

        Unfortunately theatre-makers have condoned this system to date, however daunting the excessive demands in terms of presented paperwork, rather than harnessing that collective energy of audiences/communities. TRP even had a Chair who openly declared no interest in theatre, and a Board member recently retired form Local Authority who declared this was her new replacement job – which she was totally unsuited for, not having a job spec other than her creation and not having had a job interview!

        We are long overdue for that overhaul and yes, some kind of democratic, representative, accountable structure is needed to replace the present system.

        And it is an absolute priority to start with attracting more of the right people to become Chairs, to start this change! “consensual risk-taker” is an excellent first line of a Chair’s job description. I have long thought about writing a consultation paper about democratising our theatre governance structures, and it is time that the profession put thinking caps on!!

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  2. There are quite a lot of us that are depressed by the Globe’s decision. Two steps forward and 3 steps back really. How boring of the board. Ms Rice’s involvement took me back to the Globe for the first time in a very long time. Exuent excitement and thrill, enter predictability and ham.

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