Editor’s View: Why does Sally Greene losing her Old Vic job title matter?
Saviour of the Old Vic, chief executive, owner – Sally Greene has been referred to in many ways over the years. It turns out only one of these has ever really been entirely accurate. Greene was the key figure in the founding of the Old Vic Theatre Trust in 1998, a charity set up to save the historic building from closure. It was an important moment in the history of one of our great theatres and Greene’s role should not be underestimated.
Somehow, though, the perception persisted that Greene owned and operated the building. A quick internet search will furnish you with umpteen references to her as owner of the Old Vic, including a 2003 interview in the Guardian. But she is not and never has been.
Greene’s website does little to dispel the myth: “Her career began when she bought the lease of the Richmond Theatre from her father, Basil Greene, in 1986. She went on to acquire several key London theatres and her business portfolio now includes the Criterion Theatre in London’s West End, the Old Vic Theatre, Greene Light Stage, Greene Light Films, Ronnie Scott’s and the Cheyne Walk Brasserie.”
This is confusing. The Old Vic and the Criterion are both operated by charitable trusts of which Greene is a trustee. The other organisations are commercial entities. Even more confusingly, Greene owns and operates a company once called Old Vic Productions – a commercial venture separate from the Old Vic but bearing the same name. It has since been renamed Greene Light Stage.
Meanwhile, Bourne Capital, operated by Greene’s husband Robert Bourne, lists the Old Vic among the portfolio of companies it “owns and operate[s]” on its website.
Why does any of this matter?
A key shortcoming laid bare by the Old Vic’s investigation into a string of disturbing allegations of misconduct against its former artistic director Kevin Spacey was a historic failure of governance within the organisation.
At this time, it’s important to know where the buck stops. Many would have thought that would have been with its chief executive, Greene. But then we learned that her title was “honorary and unpaid”. How can you have an honorary chief executive? It is an oxymoron.
It is absolutely right that Greene loses this title as part of the modernisations put forward by the Old Vic this week. The only question is whether the changes go far enough to fix a governance structure that was confusing, antiquated and clearly not fit for purpose.
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