As the new chief executive of York Theatre Royal, Dan Bates faces several challenges, but he's ready to tackle them head-on, he tells Steve Pratt.

FOUR days into his new job and Dan Bates has already had three "good meetings" with the council. This is the time of year when funding is under discussion and already there have been hints that York Theatre Royal might not receive as much local authority grant as expected.

The York theatre is not alone in anticipating money worries. With the Arts Council receiving a standstill amount from the Government, theatres all over the country are likely to face cash shortfalls in the coming year.

As the Theatre Royal's new chief executive, Bates is the man with his hand on the purse strings. Clearly, he doesn't see this as a crisis, more a slight inconvenience that can be worked around.

The powers-that-be at the council have been waiting for him to take up his post before debating the issue. He works in partnership with artistic director Damian Cruden, but obviously for him, the key challenge is always financial.

"We are still in discussion with the council over funding for next year. There are a number of talks ahead," he says. "The aim is to try to make sure we can grow when there's that financial challenge, because it's very easy just to stand still."

If the theatre does face a funding cut it will be a pity as it's made great strides in the past few years under now-departed chief executive Ludo Keston, in raising both its profile, locally and nationally, and audience attendance.

Bates comes to York from being executive director of West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, sometimes called the National Theatre of the North and certainly one of the region's leading repertory theatres. Before that, he was general manager, company manager and director of corporate affairs at the Playhouse over a six-year period.

There have been links between the York and Leeds theatres over the years, so his move has not been as traumatic as going to somewhere totally alien.

"It's an exciting opportunity for me personally," he says, "and there's been a real period of renaissance at the Theatre Royal in the last three or four years. It's somewhere I have wanted to work and kept my eye on," says Bates, who lives in Tadcaster.

"The work attracts me, the challenges of the building attract me, and the keenness of the staff attracts me."

The York theatre set-up is smaller than the Playhouse but the problems - and the pleasures - are much the same. He sees his role as trying to steer the theatre on its course. "Although it's already on its course, so just to push it in the right direction," he adds.

He wants everyone, whether a member of the audience or a funder, to understand the breadth of the theatre's activities. It's not just about pantomime at Christmas - when Dame Berwick Kaler's annual show attracts huge audiences and press attention - but the massive amount of work being done throughout the year in the theatre, schools and the community. As well as the professional in-house shows, there are amateur productions, a youth theatre with a waiting list and a full programme of work in the 100-seat Studio theatre. He defies anyone to say that they're not coming to the Theatre Royal because "they're not doing anything for me". The phrase "something for everyone" may be overused, but he believes the theatre is really providing that.

Born in East London, his first experience of York was working as a stage manager at the Riding Lights Theatre Company shortly after studying stage management at the Central School of Speech and Drama. He later worked in the same capacity at Windsor Theatre Royal.

The move into theatre administration was not as strange as it may seem to some. "To be a good stage manager, you have to be a good organiser," he says. "I moved into other organisational areas - project management, general management and then into a kind of fund-raising role. Every one of those experiences relates to stage management. It was a good grounding," says Bates.

"Working with people like Jude Kelly and Ian Brown at West Yorkshire Playhouse has been exciting, challenging and rewarding."

There are still more ways to make the Theatre Royal busier, he believes. He knows that physical access to the building can be a challenge to some people - that and the fact that people are working more and have less free time for visits to the theatre and suchlike. "Time is at a premium and I think we have to remove any barriers the theatre is presenting for certain people," says Bates.

He also wants to find ways of exploiting the work they're doing, including its potential for further life in other theatres and co-productions with other theatres and other arts communities within the city.

Tours not only generate revenue but build up the reputation of a theatre, they're a valuable way of spreading the word about the York venue.

"Things will take time. It will be the end of 2006 and 2007 before we see the results," says Bates.