Ma Rainey at the National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Founded in

1963

Artistic Director

Rufus Norris

Since 2015

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Profile

At the National, we make world-class theatre that is entertaining, challenging and inspiring. And we make it for everyone.

The work we stage at our South Bank home each year ranges from re-imagined classics – such as Greek tragedy and Shakespeare – to modern masterpieces and new work by contemporary writers and theatre-makers. The work we make strives to be as open, as diverse, as collaborative and as national as possible. Much of that new work is researched and developed at the New Work Department: we are committed to nurturing innovative work from new writers, directors, creative artists and performers. Equally, we are committed to education, with a wide-ranging Learning programme for all ages in our new Clore Learning Centre and in schools and communities right across the UK.

The National’s work is also seen on tour throughout the UK and internationally, and in collaborations and co-productions with regional theatres. Popular shows transfer to the West End and occasionally to Broadway; and through the National Theatre Live programme, we broadcast live performances to over 2,000 cinemas in 55 countries around the world. Through National Theatre: On Demand in Schools three acclaimed, curriculum-linked productions free to stream on demand in every secondary school in the country. Online, the NT offers a rich variety or innovative digital content on every aspect of theatre.

We do all we can to keep ticket prices affordable and to reach a wide audience, and use our public funding to maintain artistic risk-taking, accessibility and diversity.

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Building based, four auditoriums

Company Type

Building based

Building based with touring and broadcast programmes.

Olivier Theatre (1100 capacity),
Lyttelton Theatre (890 capacity),
Dorfman Theatre (400 capacity),
Temporary Theatre (225 capacity, closed July 2016).

National Theatre - Total subsidy from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year

Public Funding

£17.5m

£17.2m total NPO funding from Arts Council England in the 2015/16 financial year (and a £250k strategic touring grant for War Horse China)

London, England

Location

London

Productions

34

Staged in our building in the 2015/16 financial year. Also:

  • 3 international tours of War Horse
  • 3 productions of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: in the West End, UK tour and on Broadway
  • 79 productions during River Stage Festival, our free outdoor festival programme

Staff

Staff - National Theatre

Our Question

What about how we currently communicate within the NT supports our aspiration to work more effectively with women and what could stand in our way? How can the NT, in line with its mission to make outstanding theatre, ensure a full range of voices and perspectives are both heard and supported within our organisation and are given full opportunity to be expressed in the work we make?

We had already set some organisational targets around gender parity in terms of the artistic work that we create. To sit alongside that very public commitment, we were also keen to look more deeply at our embedded working culture, to explore whether the way we conduct our everyday business might be holding up some deep-rooted unconscious gender biases. As industry influencers, we wanted to make sure that our own behaviours weren’t going unchecked. It felt particularly fascinating to use the opportunity to do some exploration with Tonic around gender-based inequalities (traditionally masculine and feminine traits), rather than binary sexual inequality (male and female).

What We Did

Tonic suggested that focusing in a particular aspect of our internal communications might reveal a lot, and meetings sprang out as an interesting thing to dissect – the NT has a large staff and works with a lot of freelance artists, so much of our work happens in meetings.

We took a sweep of the different regular meetings – artistic, operational, departmental etc. – and asked Tonic to sit in on them and make forensic notes about our behaviours. Tonic also conducted interviews with a range of staff from across the organisation to hear how they experience and perceive meetings at the NT.

What We Learned

The way we run meetings – who speaks and when, how decisions are made, how we discuss problems – often go unquestioned. Big groups of people working to tight deadlines need to ‘get stuff done’ and quickly, and this seemed to result in a particular way of running a meeting. We began to question whether this tendency towards speed of thought meant we were giving more airtime to authoritative, decisive voices. We noticed that those authoritative voices often carry perceived male behaviours – louder, more confident, invoking action rather than discussion, more about talking than listening. It was particularly fascinating to consider the way we communicate through a gender lens.

What We’re Doing in Response to What We Learned

We’re at the very beginning of this research, and so the initial actions and outcomes are only just emerging. We want to dig a bit deeper, extending this research into more departments. It will be interesting to observe whether there are different patterns in our different fields of work – in Technical, or Production, or Commercial Operations for example. We’d also like to look at how we communicate with freelancers. As a result, Our Senior Management Team are undertaking training into meeting facilitation, and we’re looking into how other cultural leaders run their internal communications. In beginning to analyse our meetings and how we communicate in them, we’re becoming more mindful that the meetings structure and culture that we currently work to is a construct that is open to being questioned and evolved. It’s not an orthodoxy, and that feels very freeing.

Is This Work a Step Towards a Bigger Goal?

This work with Tonic has made us realise that for a creative organisation, we haven’t been thinking particularly creatively about how we conduct meetings. Over the coming year we will be dedicating proper resource to scoping out, innovating, and trialing alternatives. In particular we want to consider how the creativity, playfulness, and attention to detail with which we make our productions can be applied to how we run our meetings. In part this work will be focused on understanding how the NT can get better at hearing from a range of voices, by being more open to and supportive of the different ways that people communicate. It’s also about us developing a variety of ‘settings’ that we can operate on and switch between deftly so that we have a wider palate of meeting structures and styles to work from, and which will better underpin the broadness of our outputs. We know, for instance, that historically we’ve been good at being swift, decisive, and forthright and in regards to certain aspects of what we do that has been absolutely appropriate. But we’re now recognising that some ideas and projects require a longer germination period, or mature more gradually, and that we therefore need to also develop a slower, more contemplative approach to discussing these things in meetings.

And of course, how we conduct the business of the organisation – and meetings are perhaps the primary structure through which we do this – has a direct relationship with the work we produce on stage. It informs the stories we want to tell, who tells them, and how.

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