Kevin Spacey today announced his appointment as director of the newly formed Old Vic Theatre Company, which will begin programming in autumn 2004. The full text of his statement follows.

For more reporting from today's press conference, click here.

Speaking at today's press conference, Spacey said:

"I am delighted to be taking on the challenge of running a new production company at the Old Vic theatre beginning in 2004-2005.

"My commitment to this theatre began when I performed Howard Davies' production of The Iceman Cometh on stage at the Vic in 1998. As an actor I have never had quite the dynamic between the audience and performer as the one our company experienced in Eugene O'Neill's classic play. We actors tend to search for places where the effort of performance is minimal but the reward immeasurable; both of these realities exist within the walls of the Old Vic, which Laurence Olivier used to call his favourite theatre.

"In contrast to some theatres where actors often feel they are throwing their performance out into a black void, Olivier identified the "sweet spot" at the Old Vic where an actor can stand downstage centre and simply place their performance where they want it. The truth of this observation has been proved decade after decade when one looks at the performers and directors who have called the Old Vic their home; John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Vivian Leigh, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, Judi Dench, Peggy Ashcroft, Joan Plowright, Sybil Thorndike, Tom Courtenay, Michael Redgrave, Michael Gambon, Sir Peter Hall, Jonathan Miller and many, many others - right straight through to the performance I witnessed on Saturday night at the Old Vic - Derek Jacobi in Michael Grandage's wonderful production of The Tempest.

"My introduction to the Old Vic began much earlier than 1998 when I was a small boy. My parents took theatre trips from America to London starting when I was around seven years old. I remember seeing Shakespeare and other productions on the Old Vic stage. Some of my earliest memories of the theatre experience itself surround these family trips to England. To have grown up to act on the stage itself was a dream come true. To find myself in the role of director of the Old Vic theatre is beyond my wildest imaginings.

"Now we are in a new time; a time of significant change in many of the theatres in this country. With new directors taking their place at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Almeida, the Donmar and the continuing accomplishment of the work at the Globe - it seems a good moment for the Old Vic to take its place once again as a producing theatre alongside these exciting advancements within the theatre community.

"I am thrilled that the Old Vic's Board of Directors has given me their confidence to take on such a challenging role. My affection for (impresario) Sally Greene and her unwavering love for the future of this grand old building cannot fully be expressed. I adore Sally's drive and exhaustive efforts toward bringing the Old Vic its well-deserved place.

"I also must express how delighted I am to have joining us such a well-experienced and dedicated admirer of new material and daring work as our producer David Liddiment. This is indeed a new adventure for him and I am confident and excited about what he and I and Sally are going to accomplish in the years ahead.

"We will be announcing our first season in due course and hope to draw some of the most exciting talent working in Britain, the United States as well as other countries. We will also dedicate ourselves to the thrill that comes from helping to shape and discover new talents - on both sides of the footlights - as we create a new Old Vic Theatre Company into a place we can all call our home.

"One of our priorities for the new Old Vic Theatre Company will be to continue our outreach to new audiences - particularly younger theatregoers - creating educational programs, children's series and a vision for a season of plays which will attract audiences from all parts. It will be my personal commitment to appear in at least two productions a season. I also intend to direct.

"I would not want to make this announcement without saying something about my own country. I am sure there will be those who ask, why isn't this American actor creating a theatre company in his own country, and I would like the opportunity to answer that question in advance. The theatrical tradition in Britain is longer than it is in America and most American actors worth their salt want to come here and prove themselves and face the challenge that the British stage offers. Equally, for British actors, there is something very dazzling and romantic about travelling to New York and playing on Broadway. So it seems the compliment is repaid every time a British citizen gets to tread the boards in Manhattan and an American is given the chance to come here and tackle a rake stage. Just as we experienced with our production of The Iceman Cometh, it will be our hope to travel with productions from The Old Vic to the United States and back.

"So in no way should this decision be viewed as abandonment of my own country. The truth is I hope this new venture will help continue to strengthen the cultural bridge between our two countries - for there could not be greater allies than the relationship enjoyed between the United States and the United Kingdom.

"In addition to the theatre being my primary allegiance, I am a film actor as well and I intend to remain a film actor, as well as the head of a production company. However, I do not underestimate the level of commitment this project is going to require of me. It is something that I feel deeply about, have put over two years of thought toward and, frankly, is something I am utterly overjoyed at having reached a decision upon.

"My passion for this project and my excitement at what I believe this new company can achieve toward the revitalisation of the Old Vic theatre is focused and clear. I can only hope that the community will urge us on and that audiences who don't know about what's happening over on Waterloo will come down to The Cut and check us out."