Innovative approach is key to York theatre's continued success

One of the consequences of the cuts to the arts is that theatres are having to be more inventive in the way they spend their ever-decreasing funding.

Leading the way in invention is Damian Cruden, artistic director of York Theatre Royal.

For the past few years Cruden has been attempting ever more ambitious schemes for his theatre shows – in 2008 he staged The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum, a show which transferred to Waterloo train station this summer and then earlier this year he reconfigured the stage of the 250-year-old theatre.

A traditional proscenium arch, Cruden built a whole new stage 10ft above the stalls and turned the mainstage into an in-the-round. The success of the project convinced Cruden he could fulfil a long held ambition.

"It all stems from the fact that I have wanted to direct The Crucible for the past 20 years," says Cruden. "It's no coincidence that the play is named after a circular object in which you melt things down into their component parts. I felt that a pros' arch was not the right place to stage the play. You need to have people close to the action, inside it even. Transforming the stage again allows us to do that."

So this season, up once again will go the stage – but not just for one show – this time it will remain in place for seven months. "We decided to do it for Wind in the Willows this summer almost as an experiment to see if it would work," says Cruden. "It was a fantastic success which convinced me this was something we could do again."

Cruden believes that turning the theatre into an in-the-round – another example of which in Yorkshire is Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre – is a way to ensure that York Theatre Royal, built in 1744, continues to have a long history.

"For this building to have a future, it needs to have a dynamic space, a flexible space which can do lots of different things and provide an audience with lots of different experiences," says Cruden.

Not only will the new stage be in place from May to November, but appearing on it for the first time will be an ensemble of actors.

The idea of an ensemble – a single cast which performs across a season's shows – is not one that happens much in theatre today where the tradition is to hire different casts for each new production.

In the coming season Cruden will be working with a core of actors on a wide variety of plays, from The Crucible, to Anthony Minghella's Two Planks and a Passion and Alan Bennett's Forty Years On.

Cruden says: "The ensemble is valuable for a variety of reasons, the audience get to see actors play several different roles, the joy in seeing actors transform themselves from role to role is part of the theatre experience.

"The shared understanding of the style of performance, how it evolves from production to production gives us the opportunity to extend the language of the play both in rehearsal and perhaps more importantly in performance. It's healthy because it will give actors an extended work period which is in this day and age is slightly unusual."

With other shows including another big summer show – Peter Pan – necessity being the mother of invention could bring out the best of York Theatre Royal.