As a 12-year-old growing up, Kate’s visits to the National Theatre began a life-long passion for theatre and the performing arts. Her passion for theatre continued into university as she becamePresident of the Drama Society: “I have always cared deeply about opening up access to the arts. I was fortunate enough to have been taken to the theatre by my mother as a child and it opened my eyes to another world – and is the root of my conviction that it’s vital we make theatre available to as many young people as possible.”
Work experience in the arts seemed like the natural next step so she was surprised when the Secretary General of the Arts Council advised her to pass on a role opportunity at the Arts Council at the end of a summer internship there. Kate was given some advice that would be fundamental in her career journey: “the arts need people with business acumen – go away, work in business, and come back.” Kate followed this advice, continued her studies, and worked as an employment lawyer during her twenties.
Six years into her law career, Kate decided that she needed to be true to her original intent. She secured a job at Chickenshed, a theatre company based in North London known for their blend of inclusive practice with entertainment and art: “diversity and inclusion in the arts was not on people’s mind at the time and Chickenshed lead the field.” Her City experience helped her secure this move in to theatre – “I think transferable skills are incredible useful in this sector. We’re all running large scale businesses so having a business background teamed with a love for the arts is an incredibly potent combination.”
After a one-year break as she became the mother of twins, she segued into the Old Vic where she then worked for over twelve years. Looking back on her time there, Kate expresses that “a part of my heart will always be at The Old Vic. It was twelve incredibly fulfilling years and a brilliant training ground: it taught me how to be entrepreneurial, agile, and scrappy! The Old Vic treads a careful line between art and commerce, so I learned how to be true to an artistic and social mission in an organisation that had to have a keen eye on its commercial success alongside its commitment to new work, audience development and participation in arts education. The pandemic came towards the end of my time there and was for us, as for the whole sector, incredibly challenging. It was a turbo-charged bootcamp on crisis management and how to continue to care deeply and serve an audience and a team you couldn’t physically access.”
In April 2022, Kate fulfilled her dream as she joined the National Theatre as Executive Director. She describes working in the heart of British theatre as a privilege and massive responsibility: “The National had, pre pandemic, a circa £100 million turnover with just under 1,000 permanent staff, around 2,000 freelancers within our community at any one time and operates as the largest factory in central London”. Part of the uniqueness of the National is that all their workshops are on site (including prop-making, costume making, armoury, and carpentry) next to the rehearsal rooms: “all these resources are part of the reason we attract the best collaborators and ensure the National remains world leading.” Kate works closely with Director & CEO Rufus Norris, and they have created a dynamic partnership: “I knew he was a man of integrity as well as huge skill and genius creatively even before I joined: it felt exciting to be part of his tenure”. As Rufus recently announced his departure from the National Theatre, Kate notes: “I’m excited to see what we can achieve together in the remaining two years. Rufus inherited a different world from his predecessors. He has put improving representation, promoting sustainable practice, ensuring the National’s survival, and widening access and reach for writers at the forefront of his mission here. Post-Covid we have new headwinds that the following Artistic Director will have to address. But the mission, vision, and DNA of the National Theatre as a theatre that entertains and inspires using our creativity, expertise and unique reach will remain a constant.”
As Kate describes her “early start and late finish” role, her day-to-day responsibilities are varied. One of the perks of the job is seeing the shows in the rehearsal room. “There is something about that moment when they’re offering the outcome of that rehearsal process to you which feels intimate and precious. That’s the moment of magic for me and gives me the oxygen to drive the organisation forward. Because above all, it’s about the work. Whatever else that comes into view, the distractions and the complications of running any large organisation, we can’t go too far wrong if we place audiences and artists front and centre and celebrate the alchemy that happens when the work ignites their creative imagination.”
Kate finishes by highlighting the importance of philanthropy in difficult times: “philanthropy and our supporters are of fundamental importance to the National Theatre. The Huo Family Foundation was one of the most generous organisations during the pandemic – its support was transformational. It allowed the theatre to continue to create despite closure, innovate new ways of reaching our audiences digitally, support our workforce, and ensure that theatre was here to greet people when the lockdown lifted. Post-pandemic, our sector is being hit by new headwinds causing financial jeopardy – cost of living, material and energy price hikes, skills gaps, the repayment of our COVID loans, cuts in ACE funding, the new volatility of audience booking patterns, significant capital infrastructure needs. But buoyed by the knowledge that we have supporters like the Huo Family Foundation walking in step with us, we remain optimistic as a team and excited about what we can continue to create together in the future.”
The Huo Family Foundation currently supports the National Theatre with a grant of £400,000 towards its productions.