Oldham Coliseum artistic director Chris Lawson has added a new role to his job description: he is to be the theatre's new chief executive.
The news comes alongside the reveal of the beleagured theatre's new spring and summer season, which includes the premiere production of I, Daniel Blake (June 27-July 8) – based on the hit Ken Loach movie about the iniquities of the Government's "fit for work" policies. The show's script comes from Dave Johns, who played Blake in the 2016 film.
The season also features an Easter family show, The Little Mermaid (March 30-April 16); London Classic Theatre's return in Mike Leigh’s ferocious black comedy Abigail’s Party (May 23-27), and York Theatre Royal’s circus-style production of Jules Verne’s classic adventure, Around the World in 80 Days (July 11-15) - with other short-run shows and activities in the programme as well as a nod to next year's panto, tickets for Sleeping Beauty (November 11-January 6) already being on sale.
Lawson’s appointment and the season announcement follow the recent news that the Coliseum will no longer be part of Arts Council England’s "National Portfolio" from April 2023, for the first time in decades. NPO status guarantees a three-year financial package that allows for theatre development without a yearly scrabble for funds. The theatre continues to function as normally as possible despite this, though it makes the new season one of the most important in years in terms of audience support and ticket sales.
The theatre has in recent years traditionally asked one person to undertake both artistic director and chief executive roles.
Chris Lawson, who joined the theatre in 2015 as associate artistic director under Kevin Shaw, became interim artistic director on Shaw's resignation and took over the role permanently in 2018, and adds the CEO role following the departure of current CEO, Susan Wildman, who steered the theatre through the worst effects of the pandemic. Another board member, Jan O'Connor, has also left the theatre.
The remaining board members continue to examine ways to overcome a funding shortfall over the next three years of around £1.7m.
As well as attractive shows, the spring and summer months come with more opportunities for families to enjoy theatre and dance in Oldham, including Dinosaur World Live (June 2-4); CIRQUE: The Greatest Show (May 31). Fireman Sam Saves the Circus (July 29) and Milkshake! Live (August 26). Northern Ballet returns with a child-friendly production Ugly Duckling (April 29), and Joss Arnott Dance presents a magical retelling of The Wizard of Oz in Tin Man (June 17). There is also a series of musical nights, featuring classic anthems, Beatles music, the Buddy Holly songbook and a tribute to George Michael.
Chris Lawson said: "We have a difficult but exciting job ahead of us, and I’m committed to working with the board and the Coliseum’s amazing staff and volunteers to shape a future for the theatre, for and with the people of Oldham.
"I’m honoured that the Board has expressed its confidence that I can lead the company into its next phase, and I’m proud to take on the combined role.
The new season of work has been planned over the last six months. After an unavoidable delay, it is my pleasure finally be able to share it with our audiences.”
The theatre's board has also released a statement on its hopes for the future: "We have been working hard in recent weeks to ensure the company’s stability following the decision not to include the Coliseum in National Portfolio funding from April 2023.
"While ACE’s decision represents a significant loss of income, we believe there are ways to create an exciting future for the Coliseum, and that now is the right time for Chris Lawson to take on the additional responsibilities of chief executive to lead the company forward.
Chris has excelled as artistic director since taking over from Kevin Shaw, and we have every confidence his appointment as chief executive puts the Coliseum in a strong position to continue bringing exceptional theatre to the people of Oldham and beyond for many years to come.”
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