Hamish Glen is stepping down as Artistic Director of the Belgrade, marking the end of an era for the Theatre. Find out more about his time with us over the last 18 years.
Hamish Glen has been the Artistic Director of the Belgrade since 2003, directing acclaimed productions including One Night in November, We’ll Live and Die in These Towns and The Owl and the Pussycat.
He now steps down after 18 years at the helm of the Theatre, making way for a new leadership team and marking the end of an era for the Belgrade.
He recently told us more about his journey with the Theatre and gave us a few personal highlights from his career.
What made you want to work in the arts?
I was lucky enough to grow up in Edinburgh, so I saw great art coming to my home town every year. So that was a huge initial inspiration. When I was at university, I saw a production of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, which was a central expression of what Scottish Theatre was.
I was a lawyer and took my entire year’s holiday to work as crew at the festival at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. I left the law to become an Assistant Stage Manager there and never looked back. I’ve worked my way up from there.
Who are some of your theatrical heroes/inspirations?
Someone who stands out for me is Sir Michael Boyd. I was his trainee associate at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow, and he taught me everything I knew. His philosophy of what a theatre can be was all instilled in me. At the heart of that philosophy is what a theatre can do to transform its city. I took that forward to Dundee and also here to Coventry.
What did you want to achieve when you first came to the Belgrade?
I wanted to reinvigorate the theatre and restore it to where it belonged. As I grew up, the Belgrade was the theatre south of the boarder that I’d heard most about and was most inspirational – particularly in the context of Theatre in Education.
It was in quite an impoverished state when I arrived. I’ll never forget my first day when I was sitting in the upper foyer and there was a bullet hole through the plate glass window. I couldn’t help but think to myself, “what have I done?!”
It’s been a fantastic 18 year journey and I have done what I set out to do – transform the city, its aspirations, its engagement with audiences. It’s now a beloved part of the life of the city.
Handing over the Keys to the Belgrade, during Coventry’s year as City of Culture, in the midst of a pandemic probably wasn’t how you imagined leaving the Belgrade after 18 years. How does that feel?
It’s been immensely challenging – but that goes for the whole sector, and it hasn’t ended yet. However, I’m more than happy that my final intervention in theatre-making in the country has been successfully achieved. I hope that our Keys project will provide a road map for a level of diversity that is going to be absolutely crucial for the future of British theatre.
Where did the concept of the Keys project come from?
I heard the story of Ira Aldridge, and knew that the premise of City of Culture was to find a local imagination which could be celebrated throughout the year. The idea of handing over the keys just clicked in my head – I knew it would be the great final thing I did for the theatre.
What should other arts organisations learn from the Keys project?
I think the change has to start with leadership. I hope people will see what we’ve done and try to build their own pathway to diversify the leadership of theatres. Out of that comes a whole different repertoire, with a whole set of stories that could never be told otherwise. I think this year’s work has established exactly that.
There’s a new generation of diverse artists who are unbelievably energetic and enthused and are ready to take over and redefine what a British repertoire is.
What have been your favourite shows to work on?
There are so many! I’m very proud of the production of Cabaret I directed in Dundee, and also Mr Puntila and his Man Matti. My work with Michael Boyd was a highlight, including a production of Macbeth which starred my brother, Iain Glen and was a huge hit.
Here at the Belgrade, the local stories are the ones I remember most, particularly One Night in November and We’ll Live and Die in These Towns. I’ve always thought theatre has a local heart, so I’ve always enjoyed creating a local repertoire with local artists. I ended up remounting One Night in November four times!
What are your proudest moments?
I’m proudest of seeing the impact a producing house can have in a city, particularly with the National Theatre of Scotland. I was at the heart creating a cultural quarter in Dundee, which had a huge regeneration effect which still continues. Those along with our Keys project are my proudest achievements.
I think it’s recognised in the city that this is an entirely different theatre from the one I inherited 18 years ago. I’ve always understood my job to be temporary in a sense, because I’m just holding the theatre for the city. I think it’s been a triumph for the work that we do, and the actual building, and the impact that has had on communities and audiences. I’m extraordinarily proud.
What does the future of the Belgrade hold?
I think it’s got a fantastic future. They’ve got two seriously talented executives to lead it into the future. In the shape of Corey Campbell, they’ve got an extraordinary, dynamic creative leader, who will take everything forward into the next century.
Are you looking forward to co-directing Fighting Irish with Corey?
I am! Corey comes from a different tradition to me. He’s very interested in physical theatre and I’m more old school. So it’s going to be interesting – I’ll be learning.