[All images courtesy of the West Yorkshire Playhouse]
West Yorkshire Playhouse Executive Director Robin Hawkes reflects on a busy first month at West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.
Robin Hawkes (left) with Artistic Director James Brining (right)
I’m now one month into my new role as Executive Director & Joint Chief Executive at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Whilst my time here so far has flown by in a mostly very enjoyable blur, it’s also quite hard for me to believe all that has happened since I left my last job at the National Theatre in London, just a month ago. And there’s such a huge amount to look forward to here at the Playhouse in the coming months, too… So here’s a snapshot of where I am right now.
Moving home with a young baby and a cat in tow has its challenges! But we’re already all appreciating the improved quality of life outside of the capital – a home with a flight of stairs, a garden with grass, and a 10-minute commute to work are all wonderful novelties after a decade in London. We’ve found people in Leeds to be refreshingly warm and welcoming, too – and we’re very much enjoying exploring our new local neighbourhood “Chapel A”, as the natives call it…
Turning to the job – this is my first Executive Director role. My background is in producing and planning, and whilst working in a large venue is not new to me, the challenge of looking across all aspects of the theatre’s business and working with James Brining (Artistic Director) to draw it together in one coherent direction is hugely exciting.
There’s also been a vast amount of activity here in my first three weeks. The theatre’s Open Season is in full swing throughout July. It has been a great opportunity for me to get a picture of the amazingly diverse and vibrant range of programmes through which our Creative Engagement team work with a vast array of people in Leeds, both here at home base at First Floor, and out and around the city. In addition to the volume and diversity of their work, the quality of the performances has also been extraordinary.
As those of you who’ve visited the Playhouse in the last couple of weeks will have spotted, we’ve also just been through the launch of a new brand and logo, which is tied into a new website and box office system. The rebrand provides a refreshing new look for our building and our programme, which aims to represent more closely the spirit and objectives of the organisation. The new website gives audiences a more user-friendly interface, whether they are looking to find out more information about what we do, or simply book some tickets.
We somehow managed to achieve this relaunch on the same day as announcing our Autumn/Winter season (I told you it’s been busy…). Obviously I can’t take much credit for the contents of the season given that it was all planned before my arrival. But it’s a programme which I’m immensely proud to be a part of delivering, as it offers a great variety of high quality productions ranging from the large-scale, such as the arrival of a brand new production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang into the Quarry Theatre this Christmas, through to the novel combination of Hip Hop, Beatboxing and the poetry of William Blake which you can encounter in Blake Remixed in the Courtyard Theatre in October. This season the Playhouse’s work will also be travelling the length and breadth of the country, with productions such as Beryl and Sweeney Todd also touring out of the theatre, in addition to Chitty and Blake Remixed out and about on the road, and our co-productions will be popping up in Liverpool, Edinburgh, Bradford and Brussels. In total, the shows in the season will be playing a whopping 62 venues outside of Leeds. With a growing emphasis nationally on the cultural importance of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ for the UK, it’s great to know that we are making a genuine contribution to that idea.
The other major area of focus for my first few weeks has been our plans for a potential redevelopment of the Playhouse building. The venue is now 25 years old, and – as well as looking a little tired around the edges – it no longer provides the kind of environment for audiences and participants which a 21st Century theatre should. We’re keen to open up the building, making it a home for the arts in the city which is more accessible, and turn its entrance to face towards the centre of town – particularly given the changing urban landscape on our doorstep. The updated building would also be more environmentally and financially sustainable, and have room for a new additional performance space. We’ve just recently received the City Council’s backing for these plans, which is obviously a vital step. However there is still a long road ahead of us to make this dream a reality… I better get back to it!
To find out more about what’s planned for the Autumn/Winter season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, check out this piece on The State of The Arts. To book or for further info, visit the West Yorkshire Playhouse website. We can’t wait to see the fantastic upcoming shows!
Filed under: Theatre & DanceTagged with: West Yorkshire Playhouse; Leeds; theatre; Robin Hawkes; blog