Creative leadership – learning on the job

Creative leadership – learning on the job


Sue Emmas, Artistic Director, Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) explains their work addressing the needs of directors from backgrounds currently under-represented in UK theatre.

The Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) leads the way in addressing the needs of directors from backgrounds currently under-represented in UK theatre because of social, gender, financial, ethnic, cultural, geographic or educational disadvantage or disability.

Our aim is to change the face of British theatre, increasing the representation of voices on and of those running our stages.

Our work benefits individual participants, theatres companies and the UK theatre industry as a whole.

We have become the UK’s pre-eminent programme of paid professional development for theatre directors. Working in partnership with theatres and companies outside London across England, we offer bespoke development opportunities to artists from the earliest stages of their career right up to leadership development.


We were formed as a charity in 2014 and became an Arts Council SSO in 2018. But our roots go back much further with the original RTYDS established almost 60 years ago. Our alumni are pretty impressive therefore and include Ken Loach, Trevor Nunn, Roger Michell, John Tiffany, Vicky Featherstone, Rupert Goold, James Dacre, Lorne Campbell, Elizabeth Newman, Nikolai Foster, to name but a few.

Coming through is a younger cohort of artistic leaders including Rebecca Frecknall, and present artistic directors like Matthew Xia, Corey Campbell, and Natalie Ibu.

Success so far

The last few years have been very successful. In total:

  • 95% of RTYDS participants were from under-represented groups
  • 47% identified socio-economic barriers (class) as the reason for lack of access to career development
  • 41% were people of colour
  • 23% identified as D/deaf or disabled.

This is a good start, but there is still much work to do.

Overcoming challenges

Pursuing a career as a theatre director and progressing through to leadership is particularly challenging. The career path is unclear; it is highly competitive, isolated and hard to get opportunities to make your own work.

Traditionally, without personal connections to the industry and the ability to work unpaid it has often been tough to get a foot in the door.

For a director from a background or place presently under-represented in theatre, the challenge is immeasurably greater.  Also for those with access requirements early stage opportunities to make work on the fringe are close to non-existent.

Rebalancing these odds is where our work comes in.

Necessity for change

If we continue to limit who can be an artist, we limit the work that is made and the offer to audiences.  An industry that has been overwhelmingly led by those who reflect these privileged characteristics is only now becoming alert to the necessity of change.  We recognise directors as the most vital theatre artists and the key drivers of future change: artistic directors lead the evolution of the art form, companies and major organisations.

Today, this is far wider agenda than making work on stage. It is clear that what is being asked of artistic leaders in theatres today is huge; an artistic director needs entrepreneurial spirit, ability to inspire a board and staff, create a dialogue with audiences, think about signage for the toilets and at the same time make, curate and facilitate exceptional art.   All at a time of great social, political challenges and precarious funding.


There are a number of brilliant artist development opportunities for artists at an early stage of their career – and RTYDS provides some of them through our present schemes – but there is a limited offer for more experienced directors to enrich and develop both their craft and leaderships skills.

Also not only is the role of artistic director a challenging one but the progression route is far from simple or clear.  With diminishing opportunities to work as an associate embedded in an organisation, there are fewer chances to establish an ongoing conversation with an audience and direct work on our larger stages.

We recognised this need, and so we are now expanding our offer with a new RTYDS Associate Artistic Director residency. This is an opportunity for a director/ theatre maker who has a body of experience and work and are excited by the chance to develop leaderships skills so that they can have an impact in the wider industry and who wish to deepen and expand their craft.

By spending eighteen-months immersed in a theatre, the Associate Artistic Director will learn about the challenges and demands of the role of artistic director:

  • how to balance the art and the business
  • the intricacies and strategic challenges of running a building
  • relationship with an audience
  • raising funds and managing budgets
  • support the next generation of artists
  • manage multiple and complex relationships and partnerships.

Basically, everything that is invisible to the audience when they turn up to see a show at 7.30pm but vital to their ultimate experience of spending an evening in a theatre.

Developing these skills and experiences will also go hand in hand with the Associate Artistic Director - expanding the scale of work they make to fully stretch and realise their artistic capabilities.  A chance to make work that is a step change; whether this is characterised by the size of the stage, production values and resources, cast size, the stature of the actors, the complexity of the design, prominence within a programme or season.

Artists are makers of change and inherent problem solvers - they innovate, create worlds that challenge and re-imagine the present and the future.

We need artists to be leaders, to harness their imagination to make sure our cultural organisations are fit for our fast-changing world.

We want to provide a tailored, structured opportunity for an artist to learn on the job while being paid for it!

The scheme opened in July 2019 and we have been having informal conversations with theatres who might be interested in hosting the Associate Artistic Director to talk through the aims of the scheme and answer any questions.

Sue Emmas, Artistic Director, Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS)

© Jonathan Keenan

The deadline for completed applications from theatres is noon on 30 September 2019 and information is available on our website

More information for directors, including how to apply, will be available in November 2019.

Resource type: Articles | Published: 2019