Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

Fixed-term contracts in the arts

The Stage posted a poll on twitter today asking whether Theatre’s Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. It’s one of those notions I find really interesting, and also a question that I don’t think should be, necessarily, linked to just the Artistic Director (but that’s for another time).

I am also fully aware that I write this while wearing a metaphorical flak jacket. To answer your comments in advance.

  • Yes I’m wrong.
  • Yes you’re right.
  • Certainly that’s ridiculous
  • Absolutely, it’s an opinion and nothing more so ultimately doesn’t matter.

To answer the question posed to start. Yes I think that Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. I think that to keep arts organisations fresh the rejuvenation at the top should happen relatively regularly (across all the management team, ideally in rotation). It means that fresh thinking can be brought in, doctrine can be challenged and audiences can experience something new through the choices of what is, or is not programmed.

The trickier question becomes “how long”?

Well, I don’t know (I never claimed to have all the answers). We could all argue it depends on the person, the organisation and the location.

What about nine years? Is that a fair crack at it?
Let me break it down.

  • One year finding out about where you are and learning about your team
  • Two years finding out about where you want to be and what your team can do
  • Two years planting seeds
  • Four years of unprecedented success – Blooming amazing success…

I mean that feels fair? Doesn’t it?

You’re right, it’s ridiculous and doesn’t see the variation in the work that all the theatre’s do and the differing needs of them all. It also doesn’t recognise how the world doesn’t stay the same, how stability can be a very good thing or indeed how audiences are creatures of habit. Artistic Directors put up with all sorts of crap that most of us never see – adding job insecurity and an arbitrary timeline is not a helpful thing. So what’s the alternative?

  • Hand to hand combat: AD’s must kill a series of pretenders to the throne over a period of years until they themselves are slain. Imagine Rufus Norris standing over the slain body of Nick Hytner, clutching the all areas pass to the National Theatre in one hand and a bloodied copy of Assassins in the other. Also the first rule of Artistic Director Club is don’t talk about Artistic Director Club…
  • Reviews aggregatoring: Longevity is decided on the number of five star reviews received. For every 20 five star reviews another year is granted. Five stars from anything online only is a 1 month deduction while an appearance on the One Show is an extra four years. Critics become the most bribed people in the UK for giving both positive and negative reviews.
  • Hamlet Off: Every 5 years everyone who wants to be the Artistic Director must produce a one-woman version of Hamlet. If the show is staged in Manchester it must feature Maxine Peake and if it’s in London then it must be played by David Suchet (playing a double bluff). Each one will be watched by a school and the winner will be decided by the kids.

I wonder if The Stage would put that in a poll…