Old Vic artistic director Matthew Warchus has claimed the social value of theatre has been restored as crucial to the industry’s overall purpose, following decades in which it was unfashionable to promote community work.
Warchus said he hoped his tenure at the London theatre would be characterised both by the work on its stages but also by its support for the community around it.
He told The Stage: “Socially, people are much less embarrassed to talk about the value of the arts, and specifically the value of theatre in the community.
“You used to be thought of as a weird old hippy if you used phrases like the healing power of the performance arts and theatre. I’ve been wandering round using phrases like that all my life, and maybe pre-Thatcher theatre was unembarrassed to have these conversations, but for a lot of my adult professional life, that wasn’t fashionable.”
He said there is now an appreciation of how powerful theatre is to society.
“People realise that it’s kind of crucial now. Maybe it has become more crucial as society changes,” he said, highlighting the “fracturing and diminishing of community spaces”.
“The reason theatre evolved in the first place has returned – as being crucial for our times, and I am happy people talk about it now. It’s not impossible to hope that governments will really radically change their funding policy in the next 10 years,” he said.
Warchus was speaking at an event launching the second phase of its capital project, the creation of an education and community hub, which will be built adjacent to the Old Vic.
Named the Annex, the five-storey building will enable the Old Vic to host its outreach work on site, as well as double the number of young people it works with each year to 20,000.
It will also feature a studio space, allowing the Old Vic to stage small-scale work for the first time, a free-to-access play text library and a cafe-workspace.
Planned community initiatives include a crime-reduction programme, a singing group for outpatients, social workers and charities connected to Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and engaging a tutor to host after school homework clubs at the theatre.
Old Vic executive director Kate Varah added: “It is really grassroots things like that which will embed us in the community.”
The majority of the £12 million annexe – with a projected completion date of 2022 – is being funded by a cross-borough agreement from both Lambeth and Southwark councils.