Brunswick Review Issue 4

Kevin Spacey In The Round

The Oscar-Winning Actor and Artistic Director of London’s Old Vic Theater talks to Brunswick’s Annita Bennett

“We need to recognize that arts and culture are the magic of our experience, that we need them and thirst for them as human beings. These are the things that fill our lives, that allow us to learn about ourselves.”

“I want to give people a great night out, and if they haven’t been to the theater before – particularly young kids – give them an experience they won’t forget. And maybe the next time someone invites them to a play, they won’t make a face.”

“At The Old Vic we have an ethos and trust is a huge part of it. We have such happy families when we are doing productions. This is an actors’ theater. The spirit backstage is seductive, infectious.”

“The breath that you feel between an audience and a performance is totally mysterious, completely ephemeral: brilliantly tangible and then it is gone.”

“I have tried over these eight years to choose work that was challenging. I’m constantly going off to fringe productions because you never, never know where you’re going to find the next really remarkable piece of writing. There is a wonderful plethora of work and imagination and you have to go seek it out.”

“I spent 12 years focused on developing a film career and then came to London and signed up for 12 years committed to theater at The Old Vic.”

“I have found wonderful relationships with banks, particularly at a time when bankers were getting a really bad reputation. The truth is, if it weren’t for Bank of America we couldn’t have done the Bridge Project – our transatlantic partnership uniting The Old Vic with the Brooklyn Academy of Music – over the last three seasons. I wouldn’t be doing Richard III either.”

“In the theater, there are moments. There are performances. There are seconds. There is silence. There is laughter. There is thunderous applause and there is absolute quiet.”

“If it weren’t for Barclays and their CEO Bob Diamond and my relationship with him, if it weren’t for all of the banks that have stepped forward and supported the work that we’ve done, if it weren’t for American Airlines, for drinks companies... The list goes on of the kind of relationships we’ve nurtured in order to be able to stand on our own two feet and survive as a major theater.”

“A work of art does not know when it has crossed a border.”

“I’ve gone to see work in other countries where it wasn’t in my language and still felt incredibly moved – touched by it – engaged by it – and felt that it has something to do with my life.”

“Right now we are going through enormous changes where people are fighting for their freedom. One of the ways in which we can do that – to fight back and stand up – is through our art and our literature and our music and our dance and our song.”

“At The Old Vic, we don’t receive public subsidy and we function in the commercial world. But in many ways we behave like a subsidized house because of our vast educational and community program. That work is a huge part of who we are as a company... and a challenging hybrid to describe when we’re trying to fundraise.”

“If you look at any revolution, why are the playwrights, the poets, the actors, the directors and the intellectuals rounded up, jailed, beaten, tortured and silenced? It’s because even dictators know that it is the artists who can speak best for a country’s future and dreams and hopes. We use art. We use it to survive.”

"Through our Old Vic New Voices program we watch young writers begin to emerge. It’s incredible to see what young people want to write about, the issues they want to deal with.”

“We had to get an audience back and to reach out to a younger, wider, more diverse audience than maybe The Old Vic had ever experienced before. That audience came early, they came often, they supported the idea and they’re still coming. That’s absolutely incredibly satisfying.”

“I had to return The Old Vic to being a destination theater because it had been pretty much off the map for 30 years. Not because there hadn’t been a good production here and there, but it was essentially a booking house. There was no theater company, there was no artistic director, there was no education program, there was nothing but a place you could rent.”

“For kids under 25, 10 per cent of our seats every night are £12 – that’s just under $20 – paid for by Aditya Mittal of ArcelorMittal. Because of that, 75,000 young people have seen our productions. That’s been our policy from day one. Every performance of every show we do.”

“From a corporate point of view, sponsorship is about the benefits to a company’s branding, to their profile, to the relationship they have with their clients, to the kind of experiences that their employees can share. And the connection they can have to being a part of something that is going to reach a large number of people.”

“Even if not a lot happens in the course of a play, the emotions have to be epic.”

“The tax laws in the US are favorable and incentivizing to people who might want to donate to the arts. If they changed the tax rules in the UK, there would be a flood of funding into arts and culture in this country.”

“I do recognize that I’m in a position where people will have lunch or dinner with me to talk about fundraising and giving money that they might not with someone else.”

“I have sat down with several other artistic directors around town and we all agree that we should try to help other arts organizations [hit by funding cuts] as much as we can.”

Q: For a role such as Richard III, which leaders or politicians do you turn to for inspiration?

“None of them are alive. Winston Churchill... Robert Kennedy...and Abraham Lincoln. He was a man who thirsted for poetry and drama. He understood that he needed to get outside of himself to do his work to best effect. Few people are aware of the extraordinary amount of theater he went to as President. Henry IV, Hamlet… It was his way of replenishing himself.”

Kevin Spacey is Artistic Director of The Old Vic theater company and directed its inaugural production Cloaca and most recently Complicit. At The Old Vic he has appeared in National Anthems, The Philadelphia Story, Richard II, A Moon for the Misbegotten (which transferred to Broadway), Speed-the-Plow and most recently Inherit the Wind. Previous theater includes The Iceman Cometh (Evening Standard and Olivier Awards for Best Actor) at the Almeida, The Old Vic and on Broadway. His film company, Trigger Street, produced The Social Network about the creation of Facebook. Spacey’s film work as an actor includes The Usual Suspects and American Beauty (for both of which he received Academy Awards), LA Confidential, Glengarry Glen Ross, and Casino Jack. He has two upcoming movies: Margin Call, about the collapse of the banking industry, and Horrible Bosses.

Annita Bennett is Chairman of Trinity Management Communications, part of the Brunswick Group. Trinity focuses on communications coaching and helps clients engage with their stakeholders internally and externally around the world.

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