Steve Winter on how the Kevin Spacey Foundation is 'sending the elevator back down'
We talk to the executive director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation, official charity of the 2016 WhatsOnStage Awards
How did the Kevin Spacey Foundation begin?
I've worked with Kevin for nearly 12 years at the Old Vic. When I started there he had a mission to put the theatre back on its feet creatively and also to nurture the next generation of artists. So we set up Old Vic New Voices, which became hugely successful and made a genuine impact in the industry. About four years ago we began thinking about how we might continue that legacy after Kevin's tenure ended, hence the Kevin Spacey Foundation (KSF).
Our first project was "Richard's Rampage" running alongside the world tour of Richard III, whereby in each of the nine countries visited we discovered emerging actors who got to work with Kevin and get his advice. We also taught hundreds of school children about the production before seeing it for free. It really made it clear how strong Kevin's profile is around the world, which enables us to raise money, create interesting projects and send the elevator back down, which is what we're all about. We now offer scholarships, learning projects in schools and grants to emerging artists.
Tell us more about the KSF Artists Of Choice grants - who do they go to?
They can be for anybody working in the industry that wants to develop their craft or their creative project. There's no age stipulation and they can be for film, music, plays or dance projects. But we recognise there's no point giving money unless you have mentoring running alongside it, as well as connections to senior people in the industry, so we provide those as well. We're focussed on the UK and America currently, with ambitions to grow worldwide. This year we're offering more money to fewer projects that will become the KSF Artists of Choice for 2015.
Is it important that Kevin has a legacy here now that he's leaving the Old Vic?
Absolutely, he loves it in London and many of the artists we've developed still look to us for support. This work is a genuine passion of Kevin's and I can't see a day when he wouldn't do it particularly now he has a mechanism to do so through KSF.
How do you raise funds?
We hold an annual Kevin Spacey Foundation gala, which in the last couple of years has been in Washington DC due to his popularity in House of Cards. Anybody who works with us and supports us gets great value for their money. There's a huge amount of positive energy around Kevin so it's great for him to be able to channel that somewhere, and put it to good use.
What sort of impact does the work of the Foundation have?
I don't think you can underestimate how important it is to have support at the beginning of your career. It's easy to forget what it's like to know nobody. When Kevin works with our emerging artists he's very open about his own journey, and has real examples of how to get on in the business, and that's hugely empowering to an emerging artist.
Recent examples of projects we've supported include the theatre productions Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho, which toured Ireland and moved to Leicester Square Theatre, and Beyond Caring which opened at The Yard in Hackney and is about to move to the National Theatre and dance company MurleyDance whose ballet works, Highgrove Suite, toured The Curve in Leicester and The Shaw Theatre in London. We also support musicals and film.
How did you get your own break in the industry?
I trained and worked as an actor initially and then did another degree in arts practice and cultural policy which meant I could move into producing and commissioning with my own theatre company and at the Tricycle Theatre under Nick Kent, who gave me my own space to programme. That's where Kevin first heard about me. At the Old Vic he encouraged me to create new work and bring in new voices, which resulted in me commissioning some sixty plays and creating and producing five major productions for the stage. I also set up IdeasTap with Peter De Haan, which is soon to no longer exist, which is shameful. I'm also a Master at Drama Centre and advise on casting for TV and theatre independently. All of which gives me an overview of the industry and enables me to see how KSF might help.
How big is the team at KSF?
We've got two full time staff at present because I like to work with freelancers as they have current viewpoint and bring energy and drive. They are often real worker bees and are the unsung heroes in our industry. So I try to work with as many as possible. We've just been in the Middle East working on a project called "Home Grown", for example, which was about developing talent in unusual places. We auditioned across 24 countries throughout the Middle East and found over 30 emerging actors who then worked together on a production that Kevin co-directed. That project was very complex but was almost entirely managed and created by hugely talented freelancers.
What's your vision for the charity for the long term?
We will continue to offer funding, mentoring and learning projects but we're also developing the KSF Future Programme of stand-alone projects that have a global feel to them. But all of the work we support and make has a circular motion that happens when you support the grass roots. By mentoring our artists and forging key relationships with those who are on their journey up, we hope they can then help to send the elevator back down themselves.