Speaking at today’s press conference to announce his inaugural season as artistic director of the Old Vic (See Today’s Other News), Kevin Spacey echoed recent pleas from the Society of London Theatre (SOLT) and other industry figures in calling on Arts Council England to assist in maintaining the Grade II-listed building.

Funding for Infrastructure

Through private backers, the company has raised the £2 million necessary to stage the four productions in the first season – British premieres of Cloaca and National Anthems, a new version of Christmas panto Aladdin and a revival of Broadway comedy The Philadelphia Story.

“This is a commercial operation and it’s our responsibility to raise that money,” Spacey said. However, he would like to see ACE contribute money “not for the productions but for the infrastructure of the building” because there is extensive – and expensive - “work to be done”.

Despite its history (See Features, 10 Feb 2003), the Old Vic has not received any government subsidy since the 1970s when the National Theatre used it as a temporary home before moving into its purpose-built South Bank complex. Spacey said, “We would like to make a reasonable argument as to why they should help us in the adventure to keep it (the Old Vic) going.”

The problem of maintaining the West End’s 40 commercial theatres is one that has been debated at length over the past year. A recent report from the Theatres Trust estimated that, over the next 15 years, some £250 million will need to be spent to save many of the Victorian venues for future generations (See News, 28 Oct 2003).

New Work vs Shakespeare

Although the emphasis on the initial programming has been on new work – which he described as the “responsibility of a theatre company to seek out” - with another nod to the Old Vic’s past, Spacey said that, “mindful of the historic traditions of this theatre, classics will also take their place. In due course, I intend to tackle Shakespeare and some of the great roles that have made this theatre’s reputation such a remarkable one.”

The classics will begin to be incorporated into the Old Vic programming “in our second, our third, our fourth and all the seasons beyond”, said Spacey. But before deciding which pieces from the canon, he was keen to hear which roles people would most like to see him play.

While no arrangements have yet been set for the inaugural schedule, Spacey also hopes to transfer Old Vic productions to Broadway and elsewhere.

Star Casting vs Company Ethos

Many of Spacey’s Hollywood peers – including Cameron Diaz, Gwyneth Paltrow and Heath Ledger - have been mentioned as candidates to tread the boards at the Old Vic. The new artistic director did not rule out any of these possibilities, which, he said would also be in keeping with the Old Vic’s traditions and its “great glamorous history”.

By mid-summer 2004, Spacey said, there would be a further casting announcement, which was likely to include some “big names”. He acknowledged that, although he had no intention of engaging in “stunt casting”, high-profile stars were important for luring capacity audiences and “getting bums on seats is without question a duty that we have here.”

Further down the line, after a few years of working with different actors, directors and other creatives, Spacey hopes to develop a more permanent, cross-casting core of artists at the Old Vic. “It is entirely our intention to have a full company and ensemble of actors,” he said. He does not, however, plan to appoint associate directors.

Another key component of the Old Vic’s plans is attracting younger audiences. Towards this end, 100 of the best seats in the house will be set aside for each performance and sold to under-25’s for just £12. Other seats will follow standard West End pricing, ranging from £10 to £40. The exception to this discount approach will be Aladdin, when two special performances will be staged for the local community at reduced prices.

A Real Commitment

At several points during today’s press conference, Spacey reiterated his devotion both to the Old Vic and to theatre in general, which he referred to as his “first allegiance” in life, and the medium in which he worked most often prior to the past nine years during which he’s become famous for screen roles in the likes of LA Confidential, The Usual Suspects and American Beauty.

He confirmed that he has now moved from his home in New York City to live full-time in London, and that his “primary” professional focus is now on the Old Vic and his own Los Angeles-based film production company. After he completes his current project - Beyond the Sea, a biopic of 1950s singer Bobby Darin, which he’s produced, directed and stars in and which will be released in November 2004 – he has no further screen commitments.

Nevertheless, he said today, “I don’t view this (running the Old Vic) as walking away from anything” but rather as “walking towards” something that will give him “great happiness”. “My commitment (to the theatre) is real,” Spacey assured, later adding, “It’s worth the risk.”

- by Terri Paddock

For more information on Kevin Spacey’s appointment, the Old Vic & the inaugural season, please see the following:

  • "Two Premieres, Twankey McKellen, Story at Old Vic" (See Today’s Other News)
  • "Spacey Announces Inaugural Old Vic Season Today" (See Today’s Other News)
  • "Tabloids Dog Spacey at Old Vic Event???" (See Today’s Goss)
  • "Abbott & Other TV Writers Take to Stage???" (See Today’s Goss)
  • "Spacey Mugged by Mirror Report???" (See The Goss, 19 Apr 2004)

  • "The World’s Most Famous Theatre?" (See Features, 10 Feb 2003)
  • "Spacey Pledges Old Vic Stars, Shakespeare & More" (See News, 5 Feb 2003)
  • "Hollywood's Spacey Confirms Old Vic Directorship" (See News, 5 Feb 2003)