The RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award is designed to provide an up-and-coming director with a first-time, career-breakthrough opportunity to originate and direct, as sole director, a fully-funded, full-scale production as part of a main season of plays at a mid-scale British regional theatre, and to tour that production to other regional mid-scale theatres. The name of the Award honours the memory of the RTST’s co-founder Sir Peter Hall.

The award is made to an up-and-coming director who demonstrates exceptional directing skills and a passion for regional theatre through a rigorous competitive process.

The RTST was delighted to run its RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award 2021 with English Touring Theatre (ETT). Denzel Westley-Sanderson was announced as the winner of the 2021 Award on 18 November 2021. Denzel won the opportunity to originate and direct a play in a co-production between ETT, Rose Theatre and Leeds Playhouse in 2022. The play chosen was The Importance of Being Earnest, which was staged at Leeds Playhouse, and subsequently went on a national tour of theatres arranged by ETT. The RTST made a grant of £50,000 to be applied towards the costs of the winner’s production. The runner-up was Nathan Crossan-Smith, who received mentoring and professional support from ETT.

The other shortlisted finalists for the 2021 Award were Tanuja Amarasuriya, Tom Bellerby, Katherine Nesbitt, Tess Seddon, Josh Seymour, Anthony Simpson-Pike and Lilac Yosiphon.

Sir Geoffrey Cass, Chairman, and Mark Hawes, Director of the RTST said, “Our Award scheme has become a unique gauge of up-and-coming directing talent in British theatre — this year the reading is higher than ever. We received a surfeit of high-calibre entries from experienced directors eager to seize this rare career-transformative opportunity to progress to mid-scale tour directing -doubtless aspirations were pent-up over the pandemic. Winner: Denzel Westley-Sanderson and runner-up Nathan Crossan-Smith will be exciting directors to watch. 

“Denzel’s production will be the fourth regional mid-scale touring co-production, and the fifth regional production in total, to be catalysed by our RTST Award and production grant. We’re thrilled to be working with our 2021Award partners ETT and Leeds Playhouse to bring this about next Autumn. Taking a wider view: we’re enormously proud that our Award is continuing to propel fresh and diverse talent into the mid-scale while providing meaningful support to regional British theatre companies, especially in these trying times for the industry.”

Winner Denzel Westley-Sanderson

Richard Twyman, Artistic Director, and Sophie Scull, Executive Producer of ETT, also commented, “It’s a great pleasure to announce this year’s winner of the 2021 RTST Sir Peter Hall Directors Award, Denzel Westley-Sandersonand runner-up, Nathan Crossan-Smith. The award is unique in its ambition and scope, opening up the nation’s stages to an exceptional new artist each year, and allowing them to make work for audiences across the country. Denzel is a dynamic, intuitive director and we can’t wait to work with him to make a show in Autumn 2022, that will open in Leeds and tour nationally. We also look forward to offering mentoring support for Nathan to develop his craft over the coming year. 

We’d like to thank the panellists and workshop actors, for all the care and talent that they gave to the selection process this year and to all the directors that took the time to apply and be part of the process. The quality of entrants was extremely high and we only wish that we could offer all of the directors that applied this opportunity.”

James Brining, Artistic Director of Leeds Playhouse, said: “Massive congratulations to Denzel on winning this award, which gives up-and-coming theatre practitioners a valuable opportunity to take their work to the next level, developing the scale and ambition of what they can achieve and giving them the support they need to move forward with confidence. 

“We can’t wait to work with him on what promises to be an exciting addition to our 2022 programme. At Leeds Playhouse, we pride ourselves on supporting visionary artists at all stages of their career as part of our pioneering Furnace artistic development programme. We feel honoured to be able to work with Denzel, to help him develop his practice and to support him as he reaches a pivotal point in what looks set to be a stellar career.”

Denzel was given his Award at a special ceremony on Sunday 13 May 2022 in London, attended – among other guests – by trustees Ian McKellen and Noma Dumezweni.

The Importance of Being Earnest toured from 5th Sept to 12th November 2022 across six regional theatres. Abiola Owokoniran won the Ian Charleson Award 2023, for his performance in The Importance of Being Earnest. The annual awards celebrate actors under 30 who have performed in a classical role.

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo by Mark Senior.
Denzel Westley Sanderson and Sir Ian McKellen at The RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award ceremony. Photo: Roy J Baron.
Denzel Westley Sanderson, winner and RTST Director Mark Hawes at The RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award ceremony. Photo: Roy J Baron.

The Importance of Being Earnest was nominated in five categories at the 2023 British Black Theatre Awards:  Best Production, Best Director, Best Movement Director, Best Non-Binary Performer in a Play (won by Phoebe Campbell) and LGBTQIA+ Champion. Denzel was also nominated for Best Director in The Stage Debut Awards 2023.

How did the Award work?

The RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award Scheme opened for entries on Wednesday, 25 August, 2021 and closed on Monday 4 October 2021.

Candidates were invited to pitch their ideas for directing a production that will bring together a range of exciting practitioners to create an imaginative, surprising and engaging production for the widest possible audiences on a regional tour in the UK.  Candidates could have chosen a classic or modern play (in English or otherwise), or an adaptation of a novel or film. The candidate’s ideas for their chosen play had to demonstrate their artistic potential and the potential of their production to cultivate new and existing audiences.  

In the case of a proposed adaptation, a candidate had to specify their ideal choice of (living) writer to undertake the adaptation.

While it is intended that the play directed by the Award winner will be the play that is the subject of their entry, this outcome cannot be guaranteed owing to a variety of factors, such as:  availability of rights; pre-arranged or historical programming at the participating theatres and tour venues; and/or new ideas arising from the creative relationship struck between the winning director, ETT and Leeds Playhouse.  In previous years, the play ultimately directed by the winner has been different from the one featured in their entry, and, in every case, the play ultimately directed has been chosen by mutual agreement between the winner and the co-producers.  

The Selection Panel

A large number of entries were received – many of the highest calibre. A Longlist of entries has been selected. These Longlisted entries are now being considered by a Selection Panel comprising Chair, Richard Twyman; Artistic Director of ETT; JameBrining, Artistic Director of Leeds Playhouse; Dominic Cooke, Director; Paapa Essiedu, Actor; Haydn Gwynne, Actor; Shelley Maxwell, Movement Director; Nickie Miles-Wildin, Co-Artistic Director & CEO of DaDaFest and (former) Associate Director of Graeae, and Sirine Saba, Actor.

The Selection Panel selected a short-list.

Short-listed candidates were invited to workshops on the weekend of Saturday, 13 and Sunday, 14 November 2021, at which they were required to demonstrate their skills by directing actors in a text-based scene of a play, after which they were interviewed by the Selection Panel. Candidates were notified of the particular scene by the RTST in advance of the workshop. The Selection Panel observed the workshops. On the second day of the workshops, up to four finalists were selected for a further interview, this being the final stage in the selection process.

The Selection Panel chose the ultimate Award winner (Denzel Westley-Sanderson) and official Runner-up (Nathan Crossan-Smith), who were publicly announced on 18 November.

Although there can only be one Award-winner and one official Runner-up, the Award scheme is designed to provide a positive and meaningful professional experience for all the (up to eight) candidates who are selected for participation in the workshops. They will all receive constructive feedback from the Selection Panel after the winner of the Award is announced.

It is intended that the Award winner will benefit from the spotlight of publicity generated by the promotional activities of the RTST, ETT and Leeds Playhouse in relation to the Award and the Production.

The winner’s success will be celebrated at an Award ceremony organised by the RTST, to which leading theatre practitioners will be invited.

The RTST has agreed to make a grant of £50,000 to ETT to be applied towards its costs of staging the Production. It is a condition of the grant that ETT participates in the Award scheme and facilitates the Production. The Award winner will not be required to seek funding for the Production.

The Award winner will be the sole director of the Production and will be paid a fee of £6000 for undertaking the role in this co-production between ETT and Leeds Playhouse. The Production’s cast and stage crew will be paid at the prevailing UK Theatre rates or higher.

The official Runner-up will receive mentoring and professional support from ETT.

Sir Geoffrey Cass, Chairman, and Mark Hawes, Director of the RTST, commented:

“After a year’s hiatus, we’re overjoyed to be running our RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award scheme once more —this year with ETT, which is set to co-produce the winner’s production with Leeds Playhouse. This will be the fourth regional mid-scale touring co-production (and the fifth regional production in total) to be catalysed by our RTST Award and production grant — again providing a career-transformative experience for the winning director, work for multiple theatre practitioners, and high-quality drama for audiences around the country. In a regional industry recovering from the desolating effects of the pandemic, this RTST Award stands for opportunity, excellence and hope.”

Richard Twyman, Artistic Director, and Sophie Scull, Executive Producer of ETT, also commented: 

“This is ETT’s fourth year partnering with the RTST Sir Peter Hall Directors Award and it represents one of the most important things we do as company; opening up the stages of cities and towns throughout the UK to artists that haven’t had the chance to work on them before. The opportunity to make work on a larger scale that tours to audiences nationwide, in a fully resourced and supported production, can be a watershed moment in a director’s career and feels all the more significant after the last 18 months. We’re ever grateful to the RTST for their continued commitment to raising significant funding for new talent and delighted, this year, to be partnering with Leeds Playhouse to co-produce the production. We look forward to introducing the work of a visionary director to audiences across the UK in Autumn 2022.”

JameBrining, Artistic Director of Leeds Playhouse, added:

“We’re delighted to be working with RTST and English Touring Theatre to support up-and-coming theatre practitioners to develop the scale and ambition of their work. Supporting theatre practitioners at all stages of their career is a key part of the Leeds Playhouse mission. As part of our pioneering Furnace artistic development programme, we work year-round to develop audacious creative voices and vital new theatre for the stage. The step from small to middle scale presents particular challenges. This award has a terrific reputation for enabling visionary directors to make that step with confidence, knowing they have the support of an established producing theatre. We can’t wait to meet the selected candidates and to work on realising the production in the autumn of 2022.”  

Previous award winners and official runners-up of the RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award include Kate Hewitt and Rebecca Frecknall (2016); and Chelsea Walker and Tinuke Craig (2017); Nancy Medina and Josh Seymour (2018) and Anthony Almeida and Maria Crocker (2019).

The RTST is a registered charity and runs the Sir Peter Hall Director Award scheme in fulfilment of its charitable objects. All of the RTST’s work in setting up and running the Award scheme to provide this unique career opportunity for directors and the associated catalytic production grant to a theatre company – in this case, ETT, supported by Leeds Playhouse – is undertaken by the RTST Director and the other Trustees and volunteers for no remuneration. The members of the Award Selection Panel also provide their services on a voluntary basis, other than those representing the co-producers of the winner’s production for whom this is part of their paid roles with those co-producers, which are exclusively charitable/non-profit theatre companies. The production grant made by the RTST pursuant to the Award scheme is provided out of its charitable funds, which derive wholly from donations to the RTST.