For Jim Beirne, MBE, April 2021 marks a 21 year career milestone as he steps down as Chief Executive of Live Theatre.
Back in 1973, Live Theatre were a touring company presenting new material to new audiences in non-theatre venues. They toured the North East performing in social clubs, community venues and schools and offered what Emeritus Creative Director Max Roberts describes as “an authentic working-class experience that [he’d] never encountered in the theatre before”. A shift towards new writing started in the early to mid-70s when the company moved from its initial home in Gateshead to join Amber Films on the Quayside. Around this time, they started working with writers like Tom Hadaway, a fish-merchant and writer, from North Shields who started to write plays for the Company. Live Theatre moved away from creating their own work and became writer-led in their approach to theatre. Tom Hadaway was the first of many esteemed writers to become a Writer in Residence at Live Theatre, the ranks of which include C.P. Taylor, Lee Hall, Julia Darling and Sean O’Brien.
By 2000, Live Theatre excelled in supporting new writers, but its financial future was uncertain. Jim Beirne joined the company in 2000, and his time as Chief Executive saw him develop a ‘new vision, new direction and a new business model’ for the theatre, and oversee ‘an outstanding programme of work that celebrates and is dedicated to presenting new stories with a strong social and political focus’ (https://www.live.org.uk/blogs-resources/jim-beirne-steps-down-live-theatre-chief-executive-after-21-years-helm). Beirne saw the theatre undergo a full refurbishment which was completed in 2007, and the opening of a series of new developments including St Vincent’s café and The Broad Chare pub, as well as The Schoolhouse, Live Works, Live Tales and Live Garden to create the Live Quarter in Newcastle Quayside. In 2011, Jim received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Northumbria University and in 2012 he was awarded an MBE for his service to theatre. This month, Jim Beirne leaves Live Theatre as a cultural institution with an international reputation as a new writing theatre; known for producing new plays and nurturing creative talent.
More details on our Live Theatre archive, which includes play scripts, photographs, correspondence, and papers relating to the growth and development of the Theatre at their Quayside location, can be found here.