Close this search box.

Worker Bee: Meet Simon Naylor, creative director at 53two and actor

Simon Naylor is an actor and the creative director of popular community theatre hub, 53two

Simon Naylor is one of those people for whom the term ‘multi-task’ was invented.

He has just finished filming playing a mysterious character on Emmerdale and is set to return to the Dales in June.

He is the creative director at 53two, a theatre, pub, café and community hub which showcases new writers’ work. It has grown to become special because it is run with genuine enthusiasm and love for the arts and accessibility.

Simon’s role there involves directing, updating the website, setting up the theatre space, seeking new pieces of writing and so much more, including working with his brilliant and selfless team who, like him, give the place their all.

He is also a member of the brilliant charity 500 Acts of Kindness, is a regular guest speaker at Manchester College and supports students there.

Simon also works very closely with the Arden School of Theatre, as well as the Manchester Actor’s Platform, the education arm of 53two.

Fresh from his success at the I Love Mcr Awards with three nominations, including Community Leader for his selfless work in the city, we caught up with him to find out more about this worker bee.

What got you started in your field of work?

Firstly, I think I need to work out what my ‘field of work’ is.

53two, the theatre, is what I think most people ally me with but, what’s often forgotten is that I’m an actor too.

Let’s settle on the arts. I went to drama school in 2005 after being told I couldn’t join the army. I was incredibly fortunate to gain a place at Italia Conti on the BA Hons Acting course and, although I did learn about acting during my three years of training, it was the following decade of studying to teach and direct that earned me my stripes.

I use everything I learnt in those 13 years today. The transferrable skills we gain whilst training as an actor are often overlooked.

Who have been the biggest influences on your work?

I take inspiration and influence from everywhere. I think as a director I have my tutors at drama school to thank –in particular Chris White who I shadowed whilst learning to teach and direct.

Outside of these formative years, I love new writing and Anna Jordan shaped this for me in an unforgettable way. Yen & Chicken Shop I thought were mind-blowing and something I’d never seen before.

Simon Stephens, Roy Williams, most recently Olivia Mace whose work I get to direct soon. This new work excites me and is so relevant.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Miller – I’d die to play Proctor. Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, August Strindberg – all those brilliant – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed, male, writers – were masters of their time.

Now, those stories are still being told but reimagined.

Every theatre is doing the classics – let’s find the new voices. They inspire me and my influences to date have made that happen.

Simon Naylor - Emmerdale
Simon on Emmerdale

What is your proudest achievement so far?

I think I shy away from admitting what I’m proud of.

There’s always more to do, more to find, something to achieve. However, it has to be 53two, of course. It’s a funny relationship I have with it.

Were it just me and a corporate team then I think I could quite easily grow to hate it. But we’ve created a ‘culture’ in the arches, as the venue is affectionately known, and that culture is the meat that hangs on the skeletal structure of our quintessentially Mancunian brickwork.

I get to work with my best friends every day. We don’t just bob along nicely: everyone who works at 53two pulls with their entire weight and, miraculously, has done so since 2016 when MAP formed the embryonic stages of the theatre.

To find your ‘tribe’ is something we talk about a lot. 53two is a tribe. It’s not exclusive, everyone is welcome, always, but undeniably, at the centre of it, at the beating heart of a core team who are in there, working tirelessly, because they enjoy it. Not always. My word there are days we want to quit. It’s hard! But that’s the best bit.

Overcoming those bits as a team and sharing a pint after it. The building is sensational, we make great theatre and will continue to do so.

But I’m most proud that through the good and the bad, we’ve managed to create our own little family.

How do you relax on your days off?

Usually with fire. It’s such a primal instinct and I’m a very basic man, but I’m probably at my happiest sat around naked flames, with a BBQ, with Paris, my partner and my dog Albi, in the countryside with a beer in my hand.

Simon Naylor
Simon Naylor (centre) with the 53two team

What is the best advice you have been given or can give?

There are so many pieces of advice that I have been given, so many I wish I could remember.

I think what springs to mind most is something I bleat on about far too much – don’t get to 50 or 60 years old having wasted all those years chasing one thing.

Today, we use social media to compare ourselves to everyone else and this means we aim for imaginary goals that are seemingly achievable.

Of course, sometimes these are. I’m not telling anyone to quit anything. But make memories, take time to speak to people about different things (even dogs!), and explore different jobs, hobbies and skills.

You never know what you might discover. To fixate on one thing all your life, to try to achieve goals that you’ve seen on a screen, set out by someone else, can mean you miss the golden stuff lying about you, the wonderful opportunities that may present themselves to you.

Say yes. A side-step isn’t quitting.

Unless it’s parachuting, if it doesn’t work out you can try something else. But say yes, explore the options and see what happens. I never wanted to own a theatre.

Oh and live at least 200 miles away from home for at least 12 months of your life.

If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

Currently, a postman or a gardener are jobs that I think about. I don’t know why. Both outdoors, both quite solitary. A psychologist would have a field day with that answer.

Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear…

I find social situations like a theatre press night quite overwhelming. I guess that’s the solitary thing again.

Red or Blue?

Red. No question.

If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?

All I can think of are those flagstones that squirt water in your trainers after it’s rained. I hate them.

And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?

I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have with 53two in any other city in the world.

It has the most supportive, brilliant and wonderful people who lift each other and share it all.

Of course, it has to be said, ‘We do things differently here’.

Actresses Karen Henthorn and Isobel Ford aka The Two Runnies are raising money for 53two by taking part in the Great Manchester Run. You can sponsor them here.

To find out what’s on, what’s coming up and other ways you can support this vital arts hub in Deansgate, please visit their website by clicking here

Did we miss something? Let us know: [email protected]

Want to be the first to receive all the latest news stories, what’s on and events from the heart of Manchester? Sign up here.


Manchester is a successful city, but there are many people that suffer. The I Love MCR Foundation helps raise vital funds to help improve the lives and prospects of people and communities across Greater Manchester – and we can’t do it without your help. So please donate or fundraise what you can because investing in your local community to help it thrive can be a massively rewarding experience. Thank you in advance!

Got a story worth sharing?

What’s the story? We are all ears when it comes to positive news and inspiring stories. You can send story ideas to [email protected]

Close this search box.