A farewell note from Marcus Youssef

Farewell event at PL1422, August 6, 2021. 

Well … it is with equal parts excitement and heavy-heartedness that I write about the end of my tenure as a permanent part of Neworld’s staff. I started collaborating with the company in the late 1990s. I became its leader in 2005. 

Five or six years ago, I thought: I don’t want to run a company for the rest of my working life. The process that has unfolded since then is one I feel very proud of. It wasn’t perfect, but over the last five years, Chelsea and I have had an extraordinary collaboration, one that focused on how we could engineer a transition in which she would feel supported as a new leader, and I would have the time needed to practice letting go. ‘Cause letting go ain’t always easy. Especially if your sense of your own identity has become deeply entwined with an organization that is bigger than you. As mine had.

Two years ago, in the transition’s first stage, Chelsea took over as Artistic Director and I stepped into a new, less full-time role, as the embarrassingly named Senior Artist. Argh – that title was my bright idea. It’s hard letting go! The joke title – Emerging Elder – was way better. And now it’s time for me to step away from that.

Marcus on the left, Chelsea on the right.

There are two reasons this feels right. First, it’s what I want. The brilliant, inspiring thing about Neworld, that has been part of its DNA since Camyar Chai founded the company in the mid-1990s, is that its work responds to the artists and communities around it, kind of by definition. Making work in this way offered me growth and opportunity beyond what I ever could have imagined. And after 15 years, my focus has broadened. That has brought other opportunities, with other theatres and outside of the creative sector, too. For two decades, I have hungered for more time to write, and I am grateful to have opportunities that allow me to do so – at least for now 🙂 For a long time, I have also worked off the side of my desk to advocate for the critical role I believe culture and arts-workers can play in remaking society as a whole. At a time of unprecedented challenge – not to say cataclysm – I am also grateful to have avenues through which I can devote more time to that. (Yeah, politics. And we’ll see…)

The second reason is that it’s what’s best for Neworld. Six months after Chelsea became Artistic Director, Covid hit. Over the last 18 months, her leadership has been forged in a crucible. It has been my privilege to support her, and the Neworld team, through this very challenging period. I’ve often felt very useful, and this period has also made me feel proud of the responsive succession plan that Chelsea and I built together. At the same time, it has also become clear that Chelsea is now truly the company’s leader. She doesn’t need space. She has taken space, in a deeply generous, sincere, and humble way. I feel utterly confident about the ways in which my history of work will continue to be honoured by Neworld. Because it’s already happening. I also feel equally confident in Chelsea’s ability to make company leadership her own, in deep dialogue with the artists and communities around the company. Because that’s already happening, too.

Neworld staff members, past & present (plus a couple of key collaborators!)

At a time when generational transition has been very challenging for any number of arts organizations, I feel very proud of the imperfect, but rigorous work Chelsea and I have done together to model a healthy, succession process, and how close we have remained through it all. If you want to know what we did, hit us up. I also feel proud that I can see the company changing and growing in ways that I could never have predicted, just as it changed and grew through Camyar’s leadership, and Adrienne’s, and mine.
Thanks, everybody, for your support, for coming to the shows, for contributing your expertise and skill. Thanks to Neworld’s many staff members over the last 15 years who played such a critical role in the company’s development. And extra thanks to all the artists and arts-workers – past and present – who are part of Progress Lab 1422. We made a thing! It’s still standing!
With a heart full of love, and …
– Marcus