I examine the governance of a local London theatre (charity) and make a suggestion on Board entrenchment based on public company practice. On the subject of artistic decision to change its name, I stand with the Artistic Director and note interference from previous managements on current managements is generally poor practice in public company world.
The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, NW London, has undergone a refurbishment and has re-opened under a new name, Kiln. It’s a significant part of the UK and London theatre ecosystem and has had an increasingly influential artistic voice (first under Nicholas’ Kent artistic leadership and for the last several years under Indhu Rubasingham - one of the only female directors of colour leading a UK theatre). It’s also a local focal point.
I was intrigued to see a letter signed by many former Tricycle, now Kiln, Board members, and two former artistic directors appealing against the name change.
There’s an adage in business that “No one likes change”. Change gives something for everyone to talk about and gripe about.
It is also notable that it is rare for current CEOs to move on to the Board, or where they are already on the Board when they step down, it is typical for them to leave. Investors scrutinise hard (or should do) when this does not occur.
If you speak to CEOs, it is clear that no one likes having an old boss looking over your shoulder. You can’t embrace change, or new directions as easily when the instigator of old traditions is sitting at your side.
For similar reasons, when CEOs move on, it is very rare for them to stage an intervention or comment - perhaps if they are still major shareholders and they observe egregious problems.
On the letter, I observe Nicholas Kent - brilliant AD he may have been in his time - moved on 6 years ago. The founder of the Tricycle which had its name shortened from Wakefield Tricycle, and has according to Wiki been living in Canada for the last 2 decades.
They will be attached to what they knew.
I also note many of the board members past, several of them have close associations with the Tricycle past. One Tim Foster, from a reknowned architect firm involved in earlier refurbishments of the theatre. (of note, this appointment would be scrutinised by avid investors, if this was owned by governance minded shareholders - conflicts of interest might occur).
As to the arguments around a name change, yes presumably there is some brand value associated with a name, although I do think outside of Kilburn and outside of theatre circles the vast majority of people would struggle to name or know the Tricycle.
To my mind, the major value (especially after a break in time) has to be in its current artistic leadership and the work, education and services they provide now and into the future.
To this end, we should look to the current AD. Her track record is strong. She leads the organisation hopefully with thoughtful challenge and guidance from her Board and team.
She needs to be allowed to make this change and move on. She will have considered the factors and options. She also carries weight for the lack of women, for the lack of people of colour.
Sure. Names are important. Sure. It is important to maintain links with the past. And learn from the past, so that the future is better. The physical presence of the theatre building provides that link - maybe more than a name. It might even be the wrong decision, but in matters of creative policy, this type of decision is seldom-to-never a catastrophe or company-ending event.
As an outsider, if I were to be critical, I would look to the length of time some current members of the Board have been on the board and compare it to what we might see on public companies - then I’d highlight the chair and vice-chair as potentially entrenched. A board needs a vibrant mix of old and new as well and a diversity of thinking.
My length of time on the Board of Talawa Theatre company was the primary driver of myself stepping down.
That said it continues to be hard to find good people to commit to Boards of small charities, yet expertise is in demand.
To sum, there are some challenges to the Tricyle, now Kiln, board over entrenchment (current and previous) and diversity of skills and thinking is always in demand. However, on the subject of artistic choice, I stand with Indu, it’s her decision to make and now we should support the work and artistic programme and re-birth of the future.
I’ve recently seen some similar points being made forcefully by Fergus Morgan in Exuent.
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