Leeds 2023 Executive Producer Emma Beverley’s career has come full circle from working with the people she loves to working for them.
Having set up as a freelancer early in my career, none of my past experience seems linear – I haven’t progressed clearly from one role to the next. Instead it’s more a mishmash of Arts Council bids and walking headfirst into unknown territory hoping I won’t make a complete mess of it! So, here is my best recollection:
2009 – 2012: Edinburgh Education
When I was at the University of Sheffield studying English Literature and Theatre, I saved up enough money working in pubs to take a strange bathroom show set to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with a group of friends. I remember handing out flyers on the Royal Mile sat in a bathtub dressed in a towel thinking, ‘so this is how I’m going to get a career in theatre?’
2012 – 2014: Learning on the job
Armed with a degree and a post-Edinburgh Fringe overdraft I set out to find work.
My first year was peppered with a random selection of paid and unpaid jobs, which included a stint greeting terrified children for photos as Upsy Daisy from In The Night Garden Live. I moved to Peterborough for six months to be a marketing intern and work in a pub every evening. Finally, I returned to glorious Yorkshire for a second internship.
In Leeds, I started working with Selina Thompson, who I’d gone to university with. When we got our first Arts Council England bid together to tour Chewing the Fat and make Dark & Lovely I left the internship early and set up as a freelance producer.
Over three years I worked on amazing projects in Leeds: an outdoor walking show on Roseville Road, a giant dress made out of cake in Leeds Corn Exchange, a labyrinth inside Leeds Central Library, and a theatre show inside a ball of hair in a Chapeltown Road barbershop. I was also stretching my tour booking skills – I booked shows at hundreds of city centre and rural venues across the UK. I had the absolute privilege of working with incredible artists like Ellie Harrison, Hannah Butterfield, Katy Baird and many more.
It was the generosity of Leeds that got me through these first few years of freelancing/Peter Reed offered me work supporting artists he was producing. Red Ladder invited me to do some marketing and tour planning, and East Street Arts gave Selina and I an unreal amount of support getting a studio there.
2014 – 2017: ‘There is no such thing as an arts emergency’
Things stepped up a notch when Eclipse Theatre CEO and Artistic Director Dawn Walton asked me if I’d like to come and work with her in Sheffield. Over time my role at Eclipse grew into Executive Producer. I learned so much there; it was the first National Portfolio Organisation I’d worked for, the first that toured on the middle scale, and my first charity. It was a serious challenge for me. I had to learn quickly and on the job – and I loved it.
Selina’s work was ramping up too. salt. sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the British Council Showcase, we won three awards and started touring internationally. This was a big learning curve on all fronts. Luckily, I was working with two of the best possible people in Selina and Dawn, who put a lot of trust and faith into me.
2017 – 2019: Leeds, Leeds, Leeds
When Leeds said it was going to bid to become European Capital of Culture, I knew I wanted to be involved. I applied with fellow producers Matt Burman and Jenny Harris to job share the programming role for developing the bid book. We were successful, and spent a year working with artists and organisations to dream up ambitious and exciting projects for the programme.
It felt like a massive loss when we could no longer participate in the competition due to Brexit. Then the city announced it would do a year-long celebration of culture in 2023 anyway, and I remembered why I love Leeds so much. There is no other city I can think of that would make that commitment to culture.
2019 – 2021: Coming full circle
It was around 2019 that I started to think about what might be next for me. I loved my freelance work. It had taken me all over the world working with people I love but I was beginning to feel like I needed to make a change. Working on the Leeds 2023 project introduced me to programming and I definitely got the itch!
When Karen, Jon and Nicola at East Street Arts asked if I’d like to come and work with them, I couldn’t believe my luck. The company had been a major supporter of mine throughout my time in the city, so it felt like coming home.
There I got to branch out. Programming and producing at a visual arts organisation is so different to the performing arts sector, and I loved it. I’ve learnt about meanwhile space models, sustainability in the artist-led sector, programming in the public-realm, and the power of art and culture in regeneration.
If I’m honest, I thought I’d be with East Street Arts for much longer. They are an incredible company working with amazing artists, doing some of the best work – and all with a sense of humour! But when I saw the advert for Executive Producer at Leeds 2023, I knew I had to apply. It felt like the job spec was written for me and, having been involved at the start, I really want to see the programme through.
It is the biggest privilege to know that I’ll spend the next three years working with East Street, the breadth of organisations and institutions in this city, and the incredible artists who call Leeds their home. 2023 marks 10 years in Leeds for me. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that milestone.