DAMIAN Cruden may be leaving York Theatre Royal this summer but he is not leaving York.

He will be signing off from his 22-year tenure as artistic director by co-directing Arthur Ransome's Swallows And Amazons's run from July 26 to August 24, while assuming the reins at the expanding Shakespeare's Rose Theatre.

Scotsman Damian, 53, is leaving for various reasons, both professional and personal. In particular, at the invitation of Lunchbox Theatrical Productions' chief executive, James Cundall, he is taking on the role of artistic director of the Shakespeare's Rose Theatre project, having directed Macbeth at Europe's first ever pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park in York last summer.

The project is doubling in size, with Damian overseeing four plays in York and four more at the new site at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire.

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Rose blooming: Damian Cruden, right, at the grand opening of Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York last summer. Picture: Frank Dwyer

What's more, he will continue to live in York, with his mother moving to the city: "I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family, something that has been lacking in years past."

Looking back on more than two decades at the Theatre Royal, he says: "When you start, no-one trains you for being an artistic director, and if I do think back to when I started, I think I was the youngest artistic director of a theatre in the country.

"There was only a main house and we produced maybe six or seven of our own shows a year; we'd always be dark in the summer with no shows in July and August, picking up again in September with shows through to the pantomime at Christmas; another season up to March and April, and then through to June.

"It was a very traditional pattern with a very traditional audience, who came and watched a play and then went home and that was that."

Damian's first progression was to establish partnerships, initially with Pilot Theatre, previously based in Castleford, who became a resident company at the Theatre Royal. "Working with a multitude of companies then allowed us to serve a broader community." he says.

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Full steam ahead: Martin Barrass in E Nesbit's The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum

"I realised we needed multiple audiences and you can't do that on your own, and I also realised we needed a Studio space as York Arts Centre had closed.

"It was all about bringing a far wider range of voices into the Theatre Royal, both professional and from the community. Then it came down to thinking about the 'ownership' of culture in York and how could we diversify that ownership. That came about through the community plays, which we started in 2007."

Further innovation came with a repertory season of plays in the main house, converted into a theatre in the round for such plays as Arthur Miller's The Crucible and The Wind In The Willows.

"We were trying to find a better environment in that space, to make it more appropriate for the future," says Damian. This was to prove to be the forerunner of the £6.1 million refurbishment of the Theatre Royal that included the reconfiguration of the main house.

"It was always an evolution that was driven by practical factors, such as ensuring children could see the stage from the stalls, making going to the theatre a better experience for the community," says Damian.

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It's a Mystery: Ferdinand Kingsley as Jesus Christ in the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens

"All this was done while public investment in the arts has been in decline. We did it within what were quite difficult times financially, and it was never easy, but the team here has always worked hard to ensure the ethos of having arts for the community.

"It's important that this community is valued, so you need not only to bring in voices but to have voices from within the community. It's a balance of the two."

Among his achievements. Damian directed the Theatre Royal's groundbreaking production of E Nesbit's The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum and co-directed the 2012 York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens.

He oversaw the increasing importance of young people in the company’s work and the establishing of a youth theatre and the much emulated TakeOver project for under 26 year olds. International partnerships and touring in Germany, Canada and Japan were introduced; a wide variety of co-producing partnerships developed, and long- term partnerships/residencies forged with the aforementioned Pilot Theatre and Leeds children's theatre company Tutti Frutti.

National tours have been undertaken of productions such as Brideshead Revisited, Brassed Off and To Kill A Mockingbird. The Railway Children has enjoyed a four-year London run, winning an Olivier Award, as well as being staged in Toronto, Canada. All the while, the notoriety of dame Berwick Kaler's anarchic pantomimes spread beyond York to receiving national and international coverage.

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Richard Standing as Macbeth in Damian Cruden's production for Shakespeare's Rose Theatre last summer

"I'm not going to pretend that there isn't a part of me that is sad to be leaving the Theatre Royal, especially leaving people here that I have a great deal of respect for," says Damian. "As with all things in life, it's a mixed bag. Sometimes I feel up about it, sometimes I feel melancholic and blue.

"But the great thing about now going to the Rose Theatre as artistic director is that its future is very clear and dynamic. We'll be employing 76 actors for the season, with seven directors on the team."

Damian confirms that he will be directing Hamlet and Theatre Royal associate director Juliet Forster will be at the helm for Romeo And Juliet, two of the four productions in York this summer. "Now I'm artistic director as well, it feels good to be moving into a creative focus that is more concentrated," he says.

"The remit is clear in terms of what we know we're trying to build with this project, taking on Blenheim Palace as well.

"A lot of the skills I have are in event theatre, like The Railway Children at the National Railway Museum and the York Mystery Plays in the Museum Gardens, and the first year of Shakespeare's Rose Theatre.

"It's very different to being artistic director of a building like the Theatre Royal. There's a focus on the pop-up Elizabethan theatre and on one playwright's work. Our audiences are national and international, as well as local, and the shift is to a very bespoke form of theatre-making."