A Year of Departures and Arrivals

Apart from the pandemic, which, obviously, had a major and potentially devastating effect on the region’s theatres, the big NE story of 2020 was the number of changes at the top of some of the best known theatres and companies.

It began in January with the retirement of Gillian Hambleton as Artistic Director of Northumberland Theatre Company (NTC). She had been 30 years with the company and was succeeded by Assistant Director Louis Roberts.

Also in January, Philip Bernays, CEO of Newcastle Theatre Royal, announced his retirement after 15 years, but when the pandemic hit he agreed to stay on until there were positive “light at the end of the tunnel” signs. Now he has decided that he will be leaving in summer 2021.

Another long-standing CEO to announce his departure at the beginning of the year, in this case in February, was Jim Beirne of Newcastle’s Live Theatre who had been in post for 20 years. He too agreed to stay on to steer the organisation through the problems of the pandemic.

Then in June, Artistic Director Joe Douglas announced he would be leaving in November.

It was decided that Beirne would be succeeded by an Executive Director and Douglas by an Artistic Director who would be joint CEOs. Jacqui Kell, who has been with the theatre since 2018, was appointed Executive Director and the Artistic Director will be appointed in January or February 2021.

In March, Cinzia Hardy, Founder, AD and CEO of the Morpeth-based November Club, announced she would be standing down at the end of the year to concentrate on freelance work and new creative opportunities. In October it was announced that her replacement will be Joe Hufton, who was then Associate Director of Les Enfants Terribles in London, and he and Hardy worked together until the end of the year.

Although it was announced in October 2019, Lorne Campbell, Artistic Director and Chief Executive at Northern Stage for 7 years, left Newcastle and took over as AD of National Theatre Wales in April. He was succeeded at Northern Stage in November by Natalie Ibu, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Black theatre company tiata fahodzi.

In June, Anand Bhatt from Leicester, co-founder of the Aakash Odedra Company, was announced as the new Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director of Dance City, replacing the previous CEO and AD, Anthony Baker, who left the organisation in August 2019.

In December, Mark Calvert, Associate Director at Northern Stage for many years, announced he is leaving, initially, he says, for some “R&R” and then “plans will be made.”

I cannot remember a year—and I’ve been around a long time—in which there have been so many changes at the top of NE theatre organisations.

2020 was weird in so many ways.