31 March 2021
Reporter: Peter Lathan
Today Jim Beirne MBE steps down after 21 years as Chief Executive of Newcastle’s Live Theatre.
When he joined in 2000, the theatre’s financial situation was precarious but its artistic reputation was high: Lee Hall's Cooking with Elvis was in the West End at The Whitehall, starring Frank Skinner, Sharon Percy, Charlie Hardwick and Joe Caffrey, and Sean O'Brien's Laughter When We're Dead was playing at Live.
After Beirne took up the CEO post, he orchestrated the full refurbishment of Live Theatre (completed in 2007), the opening of Caffe Vivo (now St Vincent's) in 2008 and the pub The Broad Chare in 2011. Further developments have included The Schoolhouse, Live Works, Live Tales and Live Garden, which together form the Live Quarter, a cultural and creative hub on a regenerated Newcastle Quayside, multi-million pound capital projects which are not only culturally significant but provide an important extra income stream to support Live's main aim, to be one of the leading new writing theatres in the UK.
“When I started at Live Theatre the company was very nearly insolvent,” he said, “but Cooking with Elvis was in the West End and Sean O'Brien's play Laughter When We're Dead was at Live—two extraordinary plays. This gave me a creative confidence to shape a new model for the future of Live Theatre.
“My standout memories are the opening nights of The Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre and on Broadway, Our Perpetual Ladies of Succour at Live and in the West End, the shock of Wet House on London audiences at Soho Theatre and a classic First Draft Production with Davey Whittaker (a founder member and stalwart of Live Theatre) and his competitor, fighting it out as two Subaru cars on a race track—written by a 10-year-old, it is still one of the funniest things I've seen at Live!
“It has been a privilege to have played a role in the cultural regeneration of Newcastle, the North East and the Quayside and to see an ambitious vision for Live Theatre come to fruition and flourish including design and architecture awards such as a RIBA National Award.
“Live Theatre and its social enterprise model are recognised as one of the country's most enterprising cultural institutions and our talent development, creative programme and productions have made an impact nationally and internationally.
“It has been fun, exciting, creative and challenging, but it has always been an honour to have led Live Theatre over these years, and I am grateful to all the people I've worked with past and present: the fantastic artists, staff, trustees and stakeholders without whom nothing would be achieved. I hand over the reins to a great new Executive Team and wish them continued success.”
In 2011, he received an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Northumbria University and in 2012 was awarded the MBE for his service to theatre. In 2018, he was appointed Chair of the pioneering Urban Green Newcastle, a charity responsible for the management and upkeep of the city's parks, allotments and green spaces, and he will continue in this role.
At the beginning of March, Jacqui Kell took up the position of Executive Director / Joint CEO and she will soon be joined by the yet-to-be-appointed new Artistic Director / Joint CEO.