Chief executive behind Playhouse success moves on

Sheena Wrigley, outgoing chief executive of  West Yorkshire Playhouse with artistic director James Brining.
Sheena Wrigley, outgoing chief executive of West Yorkshire Playhouse with artistic director James Brining.
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For almost twenty years Sheena Wrigley has been both behind the curtain and at the forefront of Yorkshire’s cultural life.

As chief executive of Harrogate Theatres from 1997 to 2003, head of Theatres, Arts and Festivals for Bradford from 2003 to 
2007 and finally as chief executive of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, she has played an incredibly significant part in the cultural lives of many across the region.

And now she’s moving on.

Tonight Wrigley will say goodbye after seven years as the woman in charge of the business side of one of the county’s leading cultural houses.

“I’m not big on leaving dos – if it wasn’t for my 13-year-old daughter I wouldn’t be doing anything. She convinced me that people would want to have an opportunity to say goodbye – I’m girding myself for a bit of a rollercoaster tonight.”

What Wrigley doesn’t say is that people tonight will want to say goodbye – and thank you.

She has undoubtedly been a powerhouse behind the scenes in changing the fortunes of the Playhouse – which is a good job, given 
that it was exactly what she was charged with when she arrived at the theatre in 2008.

“I arrived with an agenda of change – which was really clearly signposted and handed to me by both major funders,” says Wrigley.

“They were not happy (the Arts Council and Leeds City Council), there was a deficit of shocking amounts.

“The funders’ issue was that the building wasn’t artistically viable and was a bit insular, not engaging with the public, the city or the city’s agenda. It was all a bit self-referential, essentially the funders were not getting enough bang for their buck was how it was put to me.

“We all knew exactly where the Playhouse ought to be and I really do think we’re getting there.”

It’s easy to agree. With 
the appointment two and a half years ago of James Brining as artistic director – something which Wrigley insists could only have happened thanks to a changing of the previous board – the Playhouse has found a new energy.

It is currently undergoing the preparation for a major redevelopment – details of which will be made public soon. It seems like an odd time for Wrigley to be leaving.

She’ll be crossing the border to Manchester to run a new venue called HOME, a merger of Cornerhouse and Library Theatre Company.

“HOME is a really exciting venture and opportunity. 
I do feel very mixed about leaving the Playhouse. I think I’m constantly aware of all the things we haven’t achieved alongside great pride in some of the things we have.

“The job is never finished and it’s the moment you leave that you start to think that with a couple more years we could have done this or got this thing in place,” she says.

“But I am a big believer in organisations renewing themselves and their leadership, both artistically and at an executive level. It’s really important we keep fresh energy coming in at the top of the organisation.”