James Dacre to step down as Artistic Director of Royal & Derngate Theatres

James Dacre_photo by Marc Brenner

James Dacre has announced he will step down after a decade as Artistic Director at Royal & Derngate at the completion of the venue’s 2022/23 Made in Northampton season next year – its most ambitious and far reaching programme to date. 

During his years at Royal & Derngate he has premiered some of the most critically acclaimed work that the company has seen, radically diversified its repertoire and further developed the venue as a major creative and educational force in UK Theatre, described recently as an “artistic powerhouse” (The Independent) and an “essential destination” (The Observer) and celebrated for its “reputation for adventurous commissioning which few British Theatres can match” (BBC Arts).  

In his 10 years, Dacre has produced more than 120 shows of which 60 have toured both nationally and internationally and 42 have transferred to London and been recognised with Olivier, Evening Standard, WhatsOnStage and The Stage awards. During this time the venue has seen a marked development of its artistic activities, its audiences across the UK and standing within the region and sector. Royal & Derngate has welcomed over two and a half million audience members in Northampton across the decade and been twice shortlisted for Regional Theatre of the Year by The Stage (2022 and 2016) and chosen as 2020 Outstanding Theatre of the Year by Michael Billington. 

Touring Made in Northampton productions have been seen by a further 1 million audience members nationwide and made over 500 venue visits across the UK and abroad, winning three UK Theatre Awards. They have been broadcast to many more audiences on Sky Arts, BBC, On Demand and in cinemas. 

In the past decade the team at Royal & Derngate has welcomed over 165,000 children and young people through its extensive Creative Learning Programmes and been nominated for the UK Theatre Award for Excellence in Inclusivity. During this period they have delivered gender parity across all new commissions and the diversity of artists appearing across the venue’s Made in Northampton seasons has quadrupled since 2012. The venue has established a flagship training residency with the National Youth Theatre for 500 young people a year. It has led a UK wide consortium in developing and touring original musical theatre productions by over 150 artists and launched Generate as a talent development scheme which has championed original work by over 700 East Midlands artists. It has also spearheaded a region-wide Creative Education strategy for 25,000 young people per year across Northamptonshire, helped convene an East Midlands wide consortium to provide opportunities for d/Deaf and disabled artists and pioneered ensemble theatre making, enabling 16 emerging companies to make their main stage debuts. 

James Dacre, says:

“As I reach my 10th year, the culmination of several major strategic projects, the successful completion of our current funding term and the launch of our most far-reaching season yet, it seems like the right time to embark upon a new chapter in my career. Leaving next Spring also provides plenty of time to begin the careful process of handing the artistic reins of these very special theatres to a new Artistic Director. 

Our industry has been through seismic challenges and changes over the past few years but Royal & Derngate is thriving. It truly is a community venue, a centre of artistic excellence and ambition and a home for exceptional educational and social opportunities for young people. Over the past decade it has been an enormous privilege to create and champion such a wide range of work for Royal & Derngate’s three stages but also for Northampton’s civic spaces, from football stadiums, cathedrals and high streets to car parks, castles, and waterways. It has also been thrilling to see so much of this work go on to tour the country and the world. And I know Royal & Derngate will always shout from the rooftops that regional theatres do so much more than simply put on shows. They nourish civic life and serve local communities, promoting cultural exchange through creativity. 

There’s still much good work to do before I leave Northampton next Spring but, for my part, I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude to our Trustees for their wisdom, to our remarkable, kind, and inspiring Chief Executive Jo Gordon and all the magnificent, talented and passionate colleagues and theatre practitioners I have been lucky enough to work with. For the future, I’m looking forward to building upon my relationships across the sector by directing and producing new theatre, opera, film and music projects across the UK both as an independent artist and through my new production company – Living Theatre Productions – which launches in the New Year.”

Simon Antrobus, Chair of the Board of Trustees says:

“A hugely creative, hardworking and passionate artistic leader, I can think of few others across the country as committed to the importance, vitality and benefit of regional theatre as James. Together with Chief Executive Jo Gordon, he was instrumental in keeping Royal & Derngate thriving through the challenges of the pandemic and taking a leading role nationally in the championing of the value, variety and scale of theatre being made around the UK. To conclude his brilliant tenure he has now curated an exceptional last season that exemplifies all that he has achieved across the last decade – an unwavering commitment to new work, new voices and untold stories, a step change in our digital work, and an imaginative, diverse and popular range of shows that once again welcome some of the country’s most exciting artists to Northampton. Characteristic of all his work, it is a programme that deepens connections within our local communities, whilst also enriching audiences and theatres across the UK.”

Jo Gordon, Chief Executive says:

“The quality, care and integrity that James has brought to all his work for Royal & Derngate is evident both in the beautiful shows he’s created for our stages and town, and in his commitment to Northampton’s many communities. From championing the next generation of theatremakers to ensuring that unique opportunities for children and young people lie at the heart of all that we do, the investment made into the future over the last 10 years means we will continue to see their legacy on our stages and in our communities for years to come. Whoever takes up the baton will find an exciting richness in Northampton’s talent and audiences fostered through that work. James has always been so generous with his time and his expertise and will be sorely missed by his colleagues, audiences and artists alike.”

Recruitment for new Artistic Leadership at Royal & Derngate will begin later this month with more details to be announced soon.