Cheryl Martin Joins Red Ladder Theatre Company as New Artistic Director
Red Ladder Theatre Company is pleased to welcome theatre director and writer Cheryl Martin as its new Artistic Director from January 2024, following Rod Dixon’s decision to leave the company after his 17-year tenure as its artistic leader.
Alongside her work writing and directing award-winning theatre productions, Cheryl has also fulfilled a variety of roles including supporting writers and practitioners at Contact Theatre, Traverse Theatre Edinburgh, and Oldham Coliseum. Cheryl has also worked with Community Arts Northwest on a series of community plays, devised with, and starring mostly women refugees and asylum seekers.
In 2015 she co-founded LGBTQ+ Global-Majority performance arts company Black Gold Arts, a celebration in choreography, writing, directing and cabaret, which was part of the Eurovision cultural festival. Black Gold Arts recently won the Best Event category at the Manchester Culture Awards for its free outdoor arts festival at The Whitworth in 2022.
In addition to being an Edinburgh Fringe Total Theatre assessor and judge, Cheryl was also Co-Artistic Director of Manchester’s grassroots Global-Majority-led publisher and writer development company Commonword and is Co-Director of Manchester Pride’s Candlelight Vigil.
Fiona Gell, Co-Chair of Red Ladder’s Board of Trustees said: “This is a historic moment for the company. We could not be more delighted that Cheryl will be joining as our new Artistic Director. We’re excited to see how the company will evolve under her dynamic artistic leadership, as she is an extraordinary practitioner with a great deal of experience and a wealth of ideas. Together with the Red Ladder team, the company will continue to play a leading role in developing compelling productions, with social justice and unheard voices at their heart. We would also like to thank Rod Dixon for his amazing 17-year contribution and wish him well in his new venture.”
Following the announcement of her appointment Cheryl Martin, Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company, said: “For me this is THE dream job! To be able to work with a company with so much history and reach into so many communities, Red Ladder is always shape-shifting, evolving, and changing its approach. A place where all the plays are new ways to connect with a working-class audience, where those connections are cherished, and where every show, the staff and the board, are dedicated to finding and amplifying the voices and stories of people who are so often unsupported.
“I feel incredibly lucky. I get to develop artists, to look for new audiences and the people and shows that will appeal to them, and I get to direct every now and then. I get to work with a team who are passionate about what they believe in and deliver a massive amount of compelling work. Of course, it’s a dream job!”
Emma McDowell, Co-Chair of Red Ladder’s Board of Trustees, said: “The working group managing the recruitment process felt such an incredible amount of responsibility of doing right by this great company and the work of the team past and present.
“Red Ladder has such a rich history of addressing critical social issues, pushing creative boundaries by producing entertaining and engaging theatre, supporting creative practitioners and working with local communities. We’d like to pass on our thanks to all those who applied and who supported the recruitment process from the beginning, and to Arts Council England for their continued support.”
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About Red Ladder Theatre Company
Red Ladder is a radical theatre company with over 50 years of history. The company is acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading national touring companies producing new theatre, contributing to social change and global justice. Red Ladder is an Arts Council England-funded national portfolio organisation, and is supported by Leeds City Council.
Founded in 1968 in London, the company has a colourful history rooted in the radical socialist theatre movement in Britain known as agitprop. Born into an era of riots, demonstrations and revolts, Red Ladder has grown up, kicking, and screaming, into the 21st Century, where it continues to fight, entertain, and agitate in as equal measures as possible.
They make new plays, empowering, supporting and inspiring writers and theatre artists to tell stories that start on their (often northern, often working class) doorsteps and take radical leaps of imagination, challenging the systems that marginalise and oppress and make inclusive, inquisitive, embracing, bracing, laughing, crying, thinking, drinking, dancing, singing theatre.
Red Ladder goes wherever the audience is – to pubs and clubs, to housing estates and to theatres with velvet seats. We’ll meet you there, for a good night out that ends with you stepping back out into a world that now feels different, full of possibility, and capable of transformation. And has you singing all the way home.
About Cheryl Martin
Since her very first theatre job as Writer-in-Residence for community and theatre-in-education company Pit Prop in Leigh, Lancashire, Cheryl Martin has been telling stories not usually heard in theatres.
From her earliest work, writing an award-winning musical set on Oldham’s Tommyfield Market [Heart & Soul, Oldham Coliseum, Manchester Evening News Award for Best Community Play] to creating an early immersive exploration of the Amritsar Massacre [Dhalta Suraj (The Sun Sets), Pit Prop, Bolton], to adapting slave narratives for BBC Radio 4 [Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs] or classics like Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope or James Baldwin’s Amen Corner for BBC World Service, she’s always been drawn to bringing things society wants to bury to the surface. I am because we are, written for Contact Theatre in Manchester  continued this line in Cheryl’s work, delving into the experience of black Africans living with HIV in Manchester, campaigning to lessen stigma. Cheryl’s solo show Alaska was part of A Nation’s Theatre, and the 2019 Wellcome Collection’s Festival of Minds and Bodies and Summerhall Edinburgh Fringe, and the film One Woman [Unlimited Wellcome Partnership commission], based on a solo show, toured festivals including the Unlimited Festival at the Southbank Centre, Barcelona’s L’Altre Festival, and Edinburgh’s 2021 Summerhall Digital Fringe.
As a director, she got her start at Contact Theatre [Manchester] in the Arts Council England’s national programme Live and Direct for emerging black and Asian theatre directors. And she was lucky enough to get a job at Contact a couple of years later, as Associate Director, New Writing/New Work, running that Live and Direct masterclass series for three years, as well as creating a Spoken Word series of labs to help writers create unconventional theatre, running a Young Writers Festival and residencies, incubating new companies, a popular scratch night, Flip the Script, and seed commissions and R&Ds and a lot more.
Contact also looked for new voices not usually heard or seen, from communities still scarce in the theatre world – white working-class, LGBTQ+, Global Majority, women, disabled artists. She also won another Manchester Evening News Award, this time as a director for women-in-prison drama Iron by Rona Munro [Working Girls, Contact; MEN Award for Best Studio Production]. She took all that with her in her work: finding the then-new working-class writer Alan Bissett in his first theatre play, The Ching Room [Oran Mor/Traverse, nominated for Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland]; co-directing a Fringe-First-winning series of breakfast snapshot-of-the-nation plays, The World is Too Much [Traverse].
Back in Manchester, Cheryl spent eight years working with Community Arts Northwest on a series of community plays devised with and starring mostly women refugees and asylum seekers, culminating in the Lloyd’s Bank Regional Theatre Award-winning Rule 35 [CAN], in which the audience became refugees in an immersive show in which the refugee and asylum-seeker women played immigration detention guards.
Her most recent directing work testifies to the wide variety of styles and subjects Cheryl loves to work with: This Town [Contact, Derby Playhouse, touring] by young white working-class writer Rory Aaron; Orpheus & Eurydice [R&D, HOME, Manchester] by young non-binary Global Majority writer Maz Hedgehog and looking at what a butch-femme relationship might feel like if it were happening among gods and nymphs and mortals right now and Dominoes and Dahlias (+ Oware!), [Royal Exchange, touring since May 2022 and still going], devised with and starring Caribbean and African Elders. The latter has just won the award for ‘Best Age-Friendly Outreach’ in the Fantastic for Families Awards run by the Family Arts campaign. They were joint winners with Doncaster Cast in a strong field of six nominees. Cheryl also recently worked on The Walk: A Sleeping Child, the launch of the giant puppet Little Amal [MIF 2021], about the nightmare journey of a refugee child, and made it work even though the puppet wasn’t there!
Cheryl has worked at the Royal Exchange, Oldham Coliseum and the Traverse. In 2015 she founded LGBTQ+ Global-Majority performance arts company and registered charity Black Gold Arts (BGA) with choreographer Darren Pritchard and producer Jayne Compton.