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New Artistic Director announced for Bristol Old Vic

Nancy Medina

Bristol Old Vic today announces that Nancy Medina is appointed as the company’s new Artistic Director. Medina takes up the role full-time in spring 2023 and follows Tom Morris who is stepping down after 12 years in the role.

As a director, her recent credits include Moreno (Theatre503), Trouble in Mind (National Theatre), Two Trains Running (Royal & Derngate/ETT), Strange Fruit (Bush Theatre), The Half God of Rainfall (Kiln Theatre/Fuel/Birmingham Rep), and Yellowman (Young Vic). Her forthcoming production of the world première of The Darkest Part of the Night by Zodwa Nyoni opens at Kiln Theatre on 14 July.

Nancy Medina said today, “I feel a great sense of awe and excitement to be embarking on a journey that will contribute to the great legacy of leading England’s oldest working theatre. I feel gratitude to be joining the amazing team at Bristol Old Vic and to further the outstanding work that Tom and Charlotte have initiated for excellence in creativity, innovation, artist development and engagement with the wider city of Bristol.

“I have lived in Bristol for 14 years, have grown as a person, as an artist, and I am happily raising my children here. It will be a great honour to listen, reflect, and engage with the people of Bristol and together imagine what the future of theatre and the arts can be in this shining city of the South West.”

Bernard Donoghue, Chair, Bristol Old Vic, commented, “I am absolutely delighted that Nancy Medina will be joining Bristol Old Vic as our next Artistic Director and Joint CEO.

“We were humbled to have had an astonishing calibre of candidates apply for this role, which reflects the strength of Bristol Old Vic, its place in UK and international theatre, and the legacy and achievements of Tom Morris over the last 12 years.

“Nancy is an inspiring visionary, a highly accomplished and award-winning director, and a passionate advocate for Bristol. Her commitment to our ambitions for Bristol Old Vic to be a producing powerhouse, an important civic space for Bristol and the region, and being an accomplice in the work on social justice, diversity, inclusion and equality is clear in everything she does.

“The Board, the executive team, our partners, stakeholders and I look forward to working with her in this next exciting chapter of the theatre’s life.”

Sado Jirde, Vice Chair, Bristol Old Vic, added, “I am delighted that we have appointed Nancy to the role of Artistic Director at Bristol Old Vic. She has worked nationally and internationally to produce plays that engage and enthral audiences from all walks of society. She is passionate about producing accessible and truthful theatre and we are extremely excited to be working with her.

“At a time in which institutions across the country are looking at the challenging legacies of our history, for Bristol Old Vic to appoint a highly talented Black Latinx woman as Artistic Director provides a real opportunity to effect real change in how we express the multiplicity of British identities, experiences, and histories. This is a significant moment in the story of the organisation and of Bristol’s cultural sector and Bristol Old Vic is delighted to be at the forefront of this work.”

Tom Morris, outgoing Artistic Director, Bristol Old Vic, stated, “This is a brilliant appointment made by an outstanding board through a groundbreaking and incisive process. Nancy is a landmark director at the height of her powers and a visionary creative leader. Through her own rehearsal rooms and the extraordinary achievement of setting up the Bristol School of Acting, she has established an unmatched reputation in combining radical change with artistic excellence. This combination is precious and rare.

“To survive and flourish over the next decades, British theatre is going to have to change and that will need outstanding leadership. Through this appointment, Bristol Old Vic has put itself in the best possible position to be in the vanguard of that process.”

Nancy Medina is the recipient of the following awards – 2020/2021 Peter Hall Bursary (National Theatre), 2018 RTST Sir Peter Hall Director Award (Royal & Derngate/English Touring Theatre), 2017 Genesis Future Director Award (Young Vic) and 2014 Emerging Director’s Prize (Tobacco Factory Theatres).

Her credits include Moreno (Theatre503), Trouble in Mind (National Theatre), The Half God Of Rainfall (Fuel/Birmingham Rep/Kiln Theatre) The Laramie Project (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School), Two Trains Running (Royal & Derngate/ETT/RTST), Strange Fruit (Bush Theatre), Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), When They Go Low (NT Connections/Sherman Theatre), Yellowman (Young Vic), Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It (GB Theatre), Curried Goat And Fish Fingers (Bristol Old Vic), Dogtag (Theatre West), Strawberry & Chocolate, Dutchman (Tobacco Factory Theatres) and Persistence Of Memory (Rondo Theatre).

She is a visiting director at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and Joint Artistic Director of the Bristol School of Acting.

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Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris: “We have to seize whatever freedom we can find amid all of this confusion and terror.”

Tom Morris
Tom Morris

Tom Morris

“Sometimes I feel like I am married to this building,” Tom Morris says, laughing.

Behind him in shot is the beautiful, slightly darkened auditorium of the Bristol Old Vic: the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world.

Morris gleams out of my screen over Zoom, bright in all senses. He is determined to ensure that the Bristol theatre, where he has been artistic director for more than a decade, survives these dark times.

“There are all sorts of possibilities. It is my job to do whatever I can to help extraordinary artists share their work with the public. Last week as part of a Bristol Ferment commission in the Courtyard space, we projected Saikat Ahamed’s epic poem onto the theatre wall. It seemed to catch the mood.”

Emma Rice’s musical Romantics Anonymous was originally set for an 11 week US tour, but, because of Covid-19 is being performed in Bristol Old Vic’s empty auditorium and streamed to theatres across the UK and internationally as part of an innovative ‘digital tour’.

It has been six months since any actor trod the boards of the theatre but finally the curtains are ready to go up: A sold out one-off socially distanced performance of Rice’s musical is scheduled for this Sunday.

“This week’s live streaming of Romantics Anonymous is a freestanding, astounding and pioneering event dreamed up by the wild imagations of our associate company Wise Children,” Morris says.

Romantics Anonymous

 “And for us, it’s a brilliant kick start to rebuilding our relationship with our audiences as we prepare an Autumn season which has to play to two audiences at once; some live in the theatre; others live at home, watching on line and getting as much as we can deliver of the thrill of being there.”

The performing arts has been one of the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic, with thousands of jobs already lost and unions warning of a “tsunami” to come. Morris, like many other regional theatre executives is awaiting the outcome of their recent submission to the cultural rescue fund courtesy of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

“Theatre buildings are pieces of technology that have evolved to do two very different things simultaneously: on the one hand, a theatre is apiece of kit that holds a sacred relationship which connects with ritual in the way Peter Brook and others have described; on the other, it is a piece of technology which puts walls around a performance space in order to gather box office income.   Theatres have always needed to have a foot in business reality and a heart of wild inspiration both at the same time.”

For most theatres, opening to reduced audiences only brings bigger financial problems. The government has indicated that a decision if or when to allow full audiences will not be taken before November.

Dress Rehearsal for Romantics Anonymous

“It has been such a long time coming through austerity and all provincial theatres have had to operate within the margins of viability for some time now.  But right now, I’m absolutely determined that we can find a way through the business side of things.”

“However hard it is, there is something exciting in working out how we can rebuild our creative economy,” says Morris.

“Part of our plan has been a slow rebuild, and that might be interrupted at any time and we may have to stop. But but as we set off on the journey, I am excited by the current radicalism on display from artists and audiences. The challenge is to rebuild something that maintains the business resilience we have learned through austerity with the vision for a fairer, more inclusive and more representative theatre articulated in the best bits of the Arts Council’s plan Let’s Create.”

I bring up Cameron Mackintosh who claimed that more government support should be made available for the large-scale west end theatres and that this would be more beneficial for the sector’s recovery rather than rescuing organisations that are struggling. Any comment?

“Ha Ha,” he replies, adding Mackintosh, could have submitted an application for a huge loan from the recent £1.5bn culture support package fund. “I really hope he did,” says Morris, smiling

“We all know about the terrible impact of missing the freelance workforce out of the Cultural Recovery Fund.  And I am still hopeful that something can be done to remedy that.  But in other respects, such as the provision of loans for commercial organisations alongside grants for others, structure of the fund is very clever.”

Which brings us to the role of large institutions in a Covid-19 era. What, I ask, would a reimagined funding system that prioritised communities instead of large institutions look like? “I think that the building vs people argument is nonsense – predictable nonsense,” he says.  “It’s absolutely clear that you need both.”

 “There just isn’t enough resource within the sector to create radical change by a redistribution of existing resources,” says Morris.

David Jubb, former artistic director of Battersea Art Centre touched on this in a series of blogs over lockdown  which are truly inspiring and would create a fantastic template for a regional theatre to try, ideally under Jubb’s leadership.  But  I do not think that they form the basis of a viable national policy which risks dismantling the infrastructure which has worked so hard and offered so much economically as well as socially over the last ten years.

“The best way to achieve some of those aims is to use the infrastructure and resources,” he says. “To learn from communities surrounding buildings, in a meaningful way. Especially if we want a talent pipeline and a sense of any substantial  progressions.”

Any final thoughts? 

He pauses.

 “Look.  As of now, we don’t even know whether we can stay half-open until Christmas” he says.

“Never mind whether we will be here in order to rebuild in the new year.  And the consequences of that uncertainty for our staff, our artists, and our audiences are really severe: just as they are for many many parts of the economy.”

He continues. “But as creative leader, however difficult it is, our job is clear:  We have to seize whatever freedom we can find amid all of this confusion and terror, and use it to imagine a better world.”

Romantics Anonymous runs online from Tues 22 – Sat 26 Sep