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We’ve Announced Our New Creative Director and Joint Chief Executive Leadership 

(Left to right) Kelly Johnson, a middle aged woman with light brown hair, wearing a black, orange and white floral patterned jacket; Emma Stephenson, a middle aged woman wearing a black shirt; Martin Berry, a middle aged man wearing a light blue shirt. All three people are facing towards the camera and smiling. They are stood on the Barnfield Theatre auditorium stage in front of rows of theatre seats that are lit with orange light.

We’ve announced the appointment of Martin Berry as our new Creative Director and Joint Chief Executive, from 20 November 2023.

Martin’s appointment coincides with us adopting a new senior leadership structure, in which three people will take the shared role of Joint Chief Executive.

With us now managing two venues, including the Exeter city-centre Barnfield Theatre, Martin joins at a pivotal time for our organisation as we drive forward our aim to provide more creative opportunities for a greater range of people.

Martin will lead our creative strategy, with responsibility for programming, producing and creative engagement. He will share the role of Chief Executive, responsible for overall strategy and general operations at our theatre, with Kelly Johnson, Development & Marketing Director, and Emma Stephenson, Finance & Operations Director.

Martin brings extensive community engagement and senior management experience to our theatre. In his current role as Director of Participation at Nottingham Playhouse, Martin created multiple performing arts groups for under-represented voices in Nottinghamshire. His notable achievements include establishing new groups for disabled adults and children, the award-winning Nottingham Queer Arts Collective, and Rootz Theatre Company for young people in care. Additionally, Martin has directed forty-nine productions, including seven new children and family productions for the Playhouse, performed for local libraries and outdoor spaces, and developed thriving partnerships with a wide range of regional and national organisations, such as the National Theatre and Nottinghamshire universities.

I am absolutely delighted to join Emma, Kelly and all of the Exeter Northcott team at such a crucial and exciting time. There is massive potential here to diversify and develop the programme, to unearth and support artists and to create dynamic community hubs for the people of Exeter and beyond. Having grown up in the South West, I feel honoured and excited to co-lead the Exeter Northcott charity, in a city and region so steeped in history, innovation and wonderful stories.

Martin Berry, Creative Director and Joint Chief Executive of Exeter Northcott

Our senior leadership re-structure follows a series of strategic developments at our theatre over the past few years. In 2021, a significant drive to diversify the board led to the appointment of six new trustees, with two people sharing the position of Chair. In 2022, we took over the management of the Barnfield Theatre in Exeter’s city centre to expand our work with young people, emerging artists and local communities, and offer a creative platform for more people in the South West.

Embracing this new senior leadership structure is another transformative moment for our theatre. This model will enable us to reduce senior workload pressures, diversify decision-making processes, and further innovate our programming and community engagement activities, enriching Exeter’s cultural landscape.

The appointment of Co-Chairs was driven by a desire to be led by a conversation rather than an individual. It emphasised the core values of listening and dialogue – the coming together of different perspectives to drive good decisions. Exeter Northcott is an organisation working with many different communities at the Northcott Theatre, the Barnfield Theatre and in other locations in Devon. Our role is to make accessible spaces where dialogue can happen with everyone, and that requires new ways of thinking.

Becky Chapman, Co-Chair of the Exeter Northcott board

Having taken the first step towards a more discursive leadership culture, we recognised that a sole leader carries a lot of weight, and it is better for the wellbeing of the individual and the organisation if this is distributed. Research tells us that burn-out rates are soaring, so our sector urgently needs to find better structures that inspire the next generation of creative leaders and offer them broader career pathways.

The trustees agreed that the introduction of Joint Chief Executives marks an exciting step change – a change that recognises different areas of expertise and lived experiences, puts collaboration at the centre of the organisation and demonstrates a more robust and resilient example of sector leadership.

David Balcombe, Co-Chair of the Exeter Northcott board


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