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Producer Paul Jellis Dishes on The Old Vic Bicentenary

20 April 2018 by Emily Moulder
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One of London’s most iconic venues, The Old Vic, is soon to celebrate its 200th birthday. To find out more about the special events surrounding the venue’s landmark age, we sent TodayTix Social Ambassador and playwright, Yolanda Mercy, to speak to the man behind it all, producer Paul Jellis.

How did your relationship with The Old Vic begin?

I was on The Old Vic 12, the first year that it existed, and it was a really cool scheme that has developed and gone from strength to strength. It has directors, writers, producers and people from different disciplines and has them collaborate. That was a really great way to start getting involved with the theatre itself, and it’s been really great to come back and work on an amazing project like this. I think it’s proof of a great scheme that that relationship can continue.

Would you say for people looking to build a career in theatre that having a strong relationship with a venue is key?

I wouldn’t say necessarily that it needs to be a building, but a company, or an individual practitioner maybe, but it’s really all about building the relationships and getting your foot in the door. I found that, for me, that came from lots of different areas, like producing a show for a company, that show is in a venue that you can build something with. Even down to going to a show and connecting with the people who made it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be directly through a formal programme or scheme, although those things are amazing, it can be from as little as a bit of interaction on social media.

The bicentenary weekend is fast approaching, what can we expect to see from The Old Vic?

It all starts on Friday 11th May with a free performance of “Mood Music”, which is the show that’s on at that time, and it’s a world premiere by Joe Penhall, starring Ben Chaplin. That performance will be exactly 200 years since the first ever performance on the stage, so we are giving away every ticket in the house for free. Back in October, we started a 200-day countdown to 11th May, to celebrate the 200 years since the first performance on the stage. Every day since then, we’ve done a variety of different things, and the people who have engaged with that content online have been entered into a ballot to win tickets to the free performance.

We’ll also have a procession on Saturday 12th May, beginning at midday from the National Theatre to The Old Vic, and that’s about celebrating the different organisations we have a shared heritage with. That will be with the National Theatre, who are originally based here, the English National Opera and Sadler’s Wells, who have a shared history through Lilian Baylis, and Morley College, which also was originally housed at The Old Vic. So, it’s about celebrating the relationships that we have and what an important part of London’s cultural history The Old Vic has been. During the procession, there will be performance moments to reflect those relationships. Then, when the procession arrives at the building, it will in turn kick off a street party and open house event all afternoon, with food and drink vendors, street performers from Covent Garden and live music. In addition to that, there will be workshops with puppets, stage makeup workshops, poetry and more!

Wow, it sounds like so much fun. There’s so much to see and do!

Yeah there really is, and the idea is that we’re trying to get a) as many people involved as possible over the weekend, and b) to keep it free or as cheap as possible. People who have got kids and families, we really want them to come along as well during the day on Saturday. We want to also show how much variety there is to what we do.

To let people see that they’re welcome and they can come in and participate in it all.

Yeah exactly that. The Old Vic is London’s theatre, and it doesn’t receive any state subsidy. The Bicentenary Variety Night on the evening of Saturday 12th May is also a fundraiser, and will feature comedy, music and theatre from names including The Horne Section, Silvia Pavone, Tim Key, and a brand new collaboration especially for our bicentenary from Sheila Atim and Arthur Darvill.

How long did it take to plan the bicentenary?

Just over a year. There’s so much happening around the bicentenary. We’re doing an exhibition at the National Theatre, another at the V&A featuring archive stuff from recent productions, and the 200-day project, so there’s a lot to it outside of the actual weekend.

You can find out more about the bicentenary celebrations here, and get your tickets to “Mood Music” here.

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