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Jake Smith is the incoming Artistic Director and CEO of Eastern Angles, the touring company that has been blazing a trail across East Anglia for nearly 40 years. Here he pays tribute to the people who gave him opportunities as a young man.

Headshot of Jake Smith

I think young people have the power to shape the future and need to be taken seriously. In my work, I hope to have the courage to take chances to nurture the artists, thinkers and creators of tomorrow. These are ones who nurtured my career.

Nigel Williams, Laura Parker, Laura Patterson, Sarah Dabell - Drama Teachers

My drama teachers had extraordinary, imaginative minds. They expanded my horizons and tastes by introducing me to theatre makers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the National Theatre of Scotland, showing me how stories bring people together.

Nigel inspired me to pursue directing, both from watching him create worlds on stage and from him giving me the opportunity to direct in my final year. 

Andrew Smaje - Hull Truck Theatre

Hull Truck gave me my first employment in theatre when I graduated from the University of Hull ten years ago. From starting as a front of house usher, to plucking up the courage to knock on the door of Andrew Smaje - the then Chief Executive – to directing a play.

In between, I was the Creative Learning Facilitator, running the community outreach and participation programmes for young people and adults. It was Andrew, now Chief Executive of Actors Touring Company, who I turned to when applying for my current job. His advice is always gentle, thorough and encouraging. 

Jonathan Church - Chichester Festival Theatre 

Chichester Festival Theatre provided me with a strong foundation as a Director. I began as Trainee Assistant for a few years on a range of productions with high profile professionals. There I developed my experience of directing at scale and learned how to produce a regional theatre season. 

On my first day, the then Artistic Director, Jonathan Church said: “Don’t be afraid of me, always come into my office.” He allowed me to prepare seasons for the both the theatres as if I were the Artistic Director. Having secured the rights to a play, and armed with a newfound belief that I knew what I was doing, he commissioned one of my ideas. 

Jonathan also gave me the opportunity to co-direct A Christmas Carol for the Youth Theatre with the the full resources and budgets of any other production. It was incredible to see this commitment and investment for young people. Jonathan is a fantastic director and producer with a real understanding of giving an audience what they want. Having someone like him backing you is invaluable in this industry. 

Eastern Angles Hampton Festival, Peterborough. Photo: Eastern Angles

Lorne Campbell and Natalie Ibu - Northern Stage

I was directing a production of Andy Capp - The Musical at the Finborough Theatre in London. Lorne Campbell wanted to bring it to Northern Stage asking: “Why aren’t you working in the North East?” He subsequently asked me to be his Associate Director on The Last Ship Musical for Northern Stage and UK Tour. 

It was a turning point for me allowing me to return to the North East and create in my own region. There I took productions on tour to rural villages and regional theatres and am about to co-direct their Christmas production, Cinderella: A Fairytale. 

I am also grateful for the inspiring leadership of Natalie Ibu, Northern Stage’s current Artistic Director who offered me a chance to grow in practice collaboratively and inclusively, and to re-discover that theatre can be activism.

Ray Spencer and Fiona Martin - The Customs House, South Shields

The Customs House gave me the opportunity to harness my directing and passion for community projects with and for young people. I saw first-hand the transformative power of giving young people a voice through the annual Take Over Festival, a season of work programmed and managed by and for young people. 

I premiered new plays via the Regional Young Writers award and directed an open-air community production for the 1,900 years of Hadrian’s Wall celebrations. 

Joining the board of trustees, I gained experience in how to run a theatre and a charity. Ray Spencer and Fiona Martin show the power of caring and investing in arts and culture locally and how opportunities lead to legacies. 

Simon Stephens – Playwright, National Theatre Directors’ Programme 

I met Simon Stephens on the National Theatre Directors’ Programme in 2017. During his workshop I got frustrated as I struggled to describe in prose or speech my practice. 

Simon stopped me and reassuringly said: “It isn’t that you don’t know what to say, you struggle to articulate what is intuitive.” I have taken this lesson to heart and sought to always create opportunities that align with my intuition: to trust my gut.

We are all working with our intuition and the more we understand how to articulate it, the better we become. There are no divine directing powers. He gave me the courage to find my voice and speak up on issues I care about.

He also said I could have the rights to any of his plays, which reminds me….

Jake Smith is Artistic Director and CEO of Eastern Angles.


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Headshot of Jake Smith