Joanna Reid is stepping down as Executive Director of the Belgrade, marking the end of an era for the Theatre. Find out more about her time with us over the last 18 years.
Joanna Reid has been the Executive Director of the Belgrade since 2003, leading the Theatre through two major redevelopments, Coventry’s year as UK City of Culture, and a global pandemic.
She 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.
She recently told us more about her journey with the Theatre and gave us a few personal highlights from her career.
What made you want to work in the arts?
I was really lucky to grow up in London, in a family who were very engaged in arts and culture, so I was exposed to a lot of theatre early on. It wasn’t until I watched the RSC’s production of Nicholas Nickleby for the third time that I knew I needed to be part of this industry. I knew I didn’t want to act or direct, so I thought instead I would sell the ice cream, because that was the only other job I could see anybody doing. I’m really passionate about theatre, and although I’m on the business side, it’s very much the theatre that makes me want to keep working in it.
Who are some of your theatrical inspirations?
There are specific productions and companies I have loved, like the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby and the Histories Cycle under Michael Boyd, and the National Theatre’s promenade production of the Mystery Plays, which was such a different way of seeing theatre.
I really enjoy Hamish’s work as an artist – his pieces are really powerful and full of meaning, and they’re rooted locally so they have huge resonance. My highlight of working with him at Dundee Rep was a glorious production of Cabaret. At the Belgrade, we’ve had wonderful plays set in Coventry like One Night in November, Too Much Pressure and We’ll Live and Die in These Towns, and I’m really looking forward to Fighting Irish.
It’s also about who’s on the stage – I think Simon Russell Beale is a fabulous classical actor, so I’ll go to see anything he does! It’s also a privilege to see international film stars on the London stage.
What did you want to achieve when you first came to the Belgrade?
One thing that really attracted me was two auditoria. To have an 850 seat main auditorium, plus a more intimate 200 seat auditorium which we built, was very exciting. The variety of programme we’ve been able to have because of those two spaces has been really interesting.
It was also fabulous to be able to continue working with Hamish, following eight and a half years together at Dundee Rep. We have a very special working relationship, and it’s very powerful when it’s right. It’s a real mixing together of two disciplines which has allowed us to achieve something great.
How much has the Belgrade changed since you started here?
It’s unrecognisable! It was always a beautiful building, but it’s been fantastic to expand it with really complimentary and modern architecture. We’ve now go B2 at one and end Nineteen 58 and the new café at the other end.
The work we’re putting on has also changed massively, with much more of a focus on our produced programme. The community activity has always been at the heart of the Belgrade, but it’s always been growing and has become much more diverse.
It’s a transformed organisation but very much harking back to its original roots of doing radical work and being a theatre for the people.
How important is it to be part of a producing house?
The reason I want to be in theatre is to make work, so it’s really important for me to have a personal engagement in making shows happen. I can’t imagine working in a presenting house!
What shows have been your favourites to work on from throughout your career?
During my first job, which was General Manager of Actors Touring Company, we did a magical production of Doctor Faustus. There were three actors on stage doing a theatrically inventive, interesting production which was so eye opening.
At Dundee Rep, we set up an ensemble company, and seeing them do lots of different shows, including that gritty, seedy, stunning production of Cabaret, was glorious.
And here at the Belgrade, One Night in November made me viscerally, emotionally understand the importance of the story of the Coventry Blitz to the city.
What are your proudest moments?
I’m really proud of where we are now, despite the pandemic. We’ve got a beautiful building, and I’m also really proud of the work we do and the level of engagement we have with diverse audiences. The Belgrade is a community resource where people come to share stories which is so exciting. We make a really positive difference to people’s lives.
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 was always going to be really difficult for me to leave the Belgrade. The pandemic has actually made leaving easier, because running the theatre through this time has been so painful that in order to survive that, I had to let go. It’s a positive opportunity for the organisation with fresh leadership, and it’s also positive for me to have the possibility of new opportunities.
What are your next steps?
More theatre! I’ve also learned from the pandemic that I really like down time and I need to protect that. My immediate plans involve lots of outdoor activity. I’ll also be on the lookout for what job comes next.