Mark Skipper joined Northern Ballet as Deputy Stage Manager in 1987, working his way through the roles of Company Manager and Head of Planning before being appointed Chief Executive in 1996.
Since taking the helm he has persuaded David Nixon OBE to take the role of Artistic Director and supported the creation of more than 20 new productions. He has increased the Company’s overseas touring, taking them as far afield as Beijing and Bangkok.
In 2010 Mark’s extensive work on developing a new purpose-built home for the Company reached a successful conclusion and Northern Ballet took up home in their six-floor powerhouse for dance in Leeds City Centre. The building has gone on to win several awards including the National Lottery Award for Best Arts Project.
Mark is a tireless ambassador for Northern Ballet, Yorkshire and the arts as a whole. In 2006 he was awarded with Manager of the Year at the Theatrical Management Association Management Awards and in 2010 he was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for West Yorkshire. Mark has been actively involved with &Co who specialise in arts communication since its inception. In 2012 he oversaw the rebrand of &Co Communicate and the transfer of the now named Info Display – the charity’s trading subsidiary – to Northern Ballet. In addition to all of this Mark is currently Chair of Young Opera Ventures and Chair of Info Display.
What do you think are the biggest challenges the arts world faces in the future?
The never-ending cuts to arts funding. We aspire to take the arts to as wide an audience as possible but it becomes increasingly difficult. In terms of the 2012/15 spending round, Northern Ballet has been able to weather the storm. I worry that if there are further cuts in 2015, we have already used a lot of opportunities for fundraising and these will be much harder to replicate in 2015.
How did you feel being part of ‘Arts Troubleshooter’, the new BBC2 documentary?
I think we were all slightly apprehensive at the prospect of the filming, particularly given some of the horrific fly on the wall documentaries that have been shown in the past but I felt it was a great opportunity for us to show the quality that is Northern Ballet. Over the 11 months of filming I lost count of the number of filming sessions I was involved in but will never feel nervous again about doing any radio or film work. Even the prospect of appearing on live BBC TV and having to make a speech was somehow less intimidating. Considering the breadth of filming it is a little disappointing that the final documentary focuses on one small aspect of our work and doesn’t show the bigger picture although I am pleased that it shows the quality of our performances and our people. (Arts Troubleshooter is on Sat 24 May 2012, 8.15pm BBC2 and after on iPlayer for 7 days - Ed)
Which Northern Ballet production is your favourite and why?
Madame Butterfly because it was the first production that David Nixon staged for us and was the start of a new, highly successful era for Northern Ballet. That being said, I enjoy watching the majority of our productions and some I have probably seen more than 200 times!
What would you say to people who perhaps haven’t been to the theatre to encourage them to see a Northern Ballet production?
Give us a try. It isn’t what people stereotypically expect ballet to be. We give high quality dance and storytelling equal importance with top production values ensuring an excellent visit to the theatre.
Out of all the opening nights you’ve attended which was the most memorable and why?
Every opening night is hugely exciting with the anticipation of how the audiences are going to respond. The opening night of A Christmas Carol in Bath in 1992 which was attended by Princess Margaret and seeing her dancing till dawn with our dancers at the after show party was particularly memorable. Conversely the opening night of Peter Pan when the revolving stage got stuck and we had to bring down the curtain during the main flight sequence was memorable!
What’s the best advice you could give to people who want to work in the arts?
Take any opportunity you get because you never know where it will end up. I joined Northern Ballet as Deputy Stage Manager in 1987 with no ambition or aspiration other than to tour with a major company and now 25 years later I am running one of the best arts organisations in the country.
Northern Ballet will be producing The Great Gatsby next year. Which other novel, film or play would you like to see adapted next?
Sadly my opinions about such things are always influenced by the financial viability of the subject matter. And if I say too much here it will give away some of the ideas that David Nixon and I are contemplating for the future!
What’s your biggest wish for Northern Ballet in the future?
That Northern Ballet receives the acknowledgement that it deserves in terms of receiving an appropriate level of funding. I want to get to the point where audiences trust our brand to such an extent that we no longer have to worry about the title of a production because we know the audience will come and see us because of who we are and what we stand for.