The last year or so has seen a number of women coming to the fore to take over the leadership of major venues, including the Donmar Warehouse (Josie Rourke), Tricycle (Indhu Rubasingham) and Royal Court (Vicky Featherstone, who succeeds Dominic Cooke next April).
But the surprise announcement last week of a brand-new role being created at the RSC by incoming artistic director Gregory Doran of a deputy artistic director — and the appointment of Erica Whyman to it — is significant for a number of reasons.
Not only is there the obvious point that Whyman is a woman — though many women directors currently work regularly for the RSC, including Roxana Silbert, Maria Aberg, Nancy Meckler and Lucy Bailey, this is the first time there’s one at the top of the artistic side of the organisation.
It also signals a restructuring of the artistic running of the company in a major way: while there have been joint artistic directorships in the past (Trevor Nunn and Terry Hands job-shared), Doran himself became only chief associate director when he was pipped to the post in the last artistic directorship round when lost he job to Michael Boyd. He was therefore given some additional status, but not a defined, full-time role in the organisation in the same way that Whyman is going to have.
But it is also interesting that Doran has gone beyond the company’s current roster of Boyd appointed associates that include David Farr, Roxana Silbert and Rupert Goold to find a trusted deputy. Whyman joins the RSC after a 7-year tenure as artistic director and chief executive at Northern Stage, but now she’s going to be on a national stage.
The role of artistic director and/or executive director at the helm of the major companies is inevitably a huge one, and Doran — who is also losing Boyd’s long-serving executive director Vikki Heywood, who presided so brilliantly over the Stratford refurbishment — clearly craves more artistic support. He previously said in an interview in The Times when he first got the job, “There’s that ancient Greek saying, ‘A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing’. Well, I’m more of a hedgehog, but I know a lot of foxes who will widen the scope of our work.”
The RSC’s achilles heel has long been in the area of new writing, and Doran has already stated, “Erica will play a key part in developing new work and new artistic collaborations, as well as directing for us. She will contribute to our future creative strategy and will deputise for me on artistic matters.” According to the press release, she is going to have particular responsibility for redeveloping the RSC’s experimental studio space,The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon — lost when the Courtyard took its place, but now obviously soon to be reinstated.
At the National, too, Kate Horton has joined Nick Starr at the administrative top table, becoming the theatre’s deputy executive director. This no doubt reflects an ever-expanding template of responsibilities there, from producing the NT’s own transfers to the West End, Broadway and elsewhere (like the currrent War Horse and One Man Two Guvnors to the NT’s own imminent refurb.
And just as Horton helped Dominic Cooke to stretch the Royal Court’s reach far beyond its Sloane Square home to Elephant and Castle, Peckham, the West End and Broadway, so the National is on a major roll-out of its brand both nationally and internationally.