The Belgrade Theatre Coventry is delighted to announce the appointment of Corey Campbell, Balisha Karra and Justine Themen as the three Creative Leads who will oversee its producing programme for Coventry’s year as City of Culture in 2021.

The recruitment follows a call-out for two theatre-makers to join the Belgrade’s Deputy Artistic Director Justine Themen in taking over the planning and programming of the Belgrade’s home-produced work for 2021, with the aim of introducing fresh perspectives and working towards lasting change across the theatre industry.

Through collaborative creation with emerging artists, diverse talent and local communities, the three leads will deliver a bold and ambitious produced programme for the year, to sit alongside the Theatre’s usual variety of presented work, which includes a wide range of touring musicals, classic drama, live music and family shows.

Belgrade Theatre Artistic Director Hamish Glen said: “Coventry has a long history of innovation, inclusivity and championing often unheard voices. The idea to recruit these Creative Leads for 2021 was inspired by the story of the African-American actor Ira Aldridge, who, at the age of 21, became the first person of colour to manage a British theatre, taking over the Coventry Theatre in 1828. At the time, slavery was still legal throughout the British Empire.

“Today, Coventry is one of the UK’s youngest and most diverse cities, so it felt fitting to honour Aldridge’s legacy by ensuring that we continue to amplify marginalised voices, providing an opportunity for a new generation of creative talent to explore their own ideas about how to take the industry forward. We look forward to building our relationship with them, and to seeing how their vision develops alongside our existing programme, helping us to evolve our longer-term approach as a theatre.”

Corey Campbell is Artistic Director of Strictly Arts Theatre Company, formerly supported by the Belgrade’s Springboard talent development programme. Through productions such as Green Leaves Fall and the critically acclaimed, Edinburgh sell-out show Freeman, Strictly Arts have used their collaborative, devising process to bring stories from real people to the stage, building long-lasting relationships with audiences through targeted workshop and outreach programmes, with a particular focus on African and Caribbean communities.

Balisha Karra is currently Director in Residence at the Old Vic Theatre. Working with organisations such as Kali Theatre and Tamasha, she has developed a strong network of creatives of South Asian heritage, working towards a more open and inclusive theatre culture. As well as collaborating with Corey Campbell as Assistant Director on the award-winning Freeman, she has also developed an understanding of the Midlands’ diverse communities through her directing and producing work with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and BE Festival.

Appointed Associate Director of the Belgrade Theatre in 2003, Justine Themen has 16 years’ experience working with Coventry’s communities, and played an instrumental role in securing the Belgrade’s UK Theatre Award for the Promotion of Diversity in 2016. During her tenure, she has built a small participatory programme into a broad-reaching ethos for Community Engagement, embedding the Creative Case for Diversity and Talent Development across the work of the building. Her directing work focuses on new writing from women and writers of colour, work co-created with communities, and Theatre in Education.

Coventry City of Culture Trust Creative Director Chenine Bhathena said: “Since the beginning of the bidding process, our strategy has always been to develop the City of Culture programme through a devolved delivery model. We are committed to working with arts organisations in the city to test new ways of working and connecting with communities, so that our creative partners can deliver ambitious and exemplary programmes during and long after 2021.

“We are a creative city, and the Trust is committed to building a programme for 2021 that is co-created, supporting and investing in people from many different communities across the city to develop imaginative events and activities. We are delighted that the new artistic team at the Belgrade are also committed to testing how they co-create new programmes, working with local communities of all ages, abilities and backgrounds and to really understand the role of the theatre in our 21st century city.”

Coventry City of Culture Trust is delighted to be supporting the Belgrade Theatre and is grateful to its major funding partners Coventry City Council and Arts Council England as well principal partners, sponsors and donors for making this possible.