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‘There will be positives’: artistic directors on theatre’s terrible year

The Observer revisits six theatre bosses appointed in 2019 to discuss the existential threat to their industry, and the fightbackLast summer, the Obse

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The Observer revisits six theatre bosses appointed in 2019 to discuss the existential threat to their industry, and the fightback

Last summer, the Observer profiled a group of newly-appointed artistic directors – a fresh surge of talent taking its place at the top of six of our best-loved theatre companies. A notably diverse cohort, they were bursting with optimism and ideas for shaking up the industry. Our theatre critic Susannah Clapp, introducing the new talent, looked forward to seeing how they would transform the theatrical landscape – with the caveat that “it is hard, though, to guess what changes will be wrought”.

No one predicted the cataclysmic changes they would all have to reckon with in their first year. “Everyone would like to go back to ‘precedented’ times, wouldn’t they?” says Sean Foley, artistic director for Birmingham Rep, who had arrived full time at the theatre in February – only to shut it within a month. The job, he says, is certainly “not what I bargained for”; no one dreams of overseeing redundancies, after all.

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