Bristol Old Vic

The Oldest Continuously Working Theatre In The English-Speaking World

Built-in 1766, Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world. In 2018, our theatre fundamentally shifted its relationship with Bristol as we heralded in a new era.

Our historic playhouse aims to inspire audiences with original productions, whilst nurturing the next generation of artists, whether that be through our 350-strong Young Company, our many outreach and education projects, or our trailblazing artist development programme, Bristol Ferment. We use our funding to support experiment and innovation, to allow access to our programme for people who would not otherwise encounter it, or be able to afford it, and to keep our extraordinary heritage alive and animated. As a theatre we have spearheaded some of the UK’s most iconic productions, from Sally Cookson’s Jane Eyre to Tom Morris’ Touching the Void, making Bristol’s reputation for unique creativity known across the country.

The new exterior of Bristol Old Vic on King Street, by Philip Vile

In September 2018, we unveiled a brand new building to transform the front of house space into a welcoming place for the city to come together, launched a new heritage experience interpreting the theatre’s 252-year old history, and opened a new Studio theatre built to support and inspire the theatre-makers of the future. It was crucial for us to create a public venue that felt welcoming, accessible, and a home from home. Steve Tompkins’ award-winning architectural design achieved that in spectacular fashion, completely transforming Bristol Old Vic with a perfect blend of old and new, uncovering our theatre’s original 1766 wall for the first time and creating event spaces to generate additional income streams.

Our new business model is unique to UK regional theatre, utilising our unprecedented archives to create a new tourist destination for Bristol, whilst running a successful retail and events business, in tandem with our expectation-busting programme of work on our stages.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex visiting a Young Company member in Bristol Old Vic’s ‘Noises Off’ corridor, exploring 250 years of sound technology, by Jonathan Rowley

"Channelling the energy you have into the creative arts and theatre is important. You can know that there’s a place here (at Bristol Old Vic) where you can find community and explore self-discovery. It’s more than just a hobby.”

- The Duchess of Sussex, speaking to young people at Bristol Old Vic

As a key cultural destination in Bristol, we look to explore the way a theatre can bring people from across social, political, and cultural divides into the same room to share a moment together. It’s no longer enough to be a place of entertainment when we’re seeing the creativity of young people being cut from the education system and disenfranchised individuals having no creative voice. We believe a unique part of our role as a subsidised theatre is to ensure we reflect and represent the rich diversity of stories from every part of Bristol, while also bringing people together to discuss the important issues of today. This ambition of ours has been reflected in this year’s Bristol Life Awards, where we won not only the Arts Award for our profound Year of Change but also the final Platinum Award, commending us for underlining our position as a cultural space which takes its civic responsibilities seriously. Our new building and our work with young people was even given the Royal seal of approval in February 2019 after a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex themselves.

Two Young Company members testing out ‘A Window to the Past’, an AR experience enabling users to see what the theatre looked like 250 years ago, by Chelsey Cliff

It is ingrained within our company ethos to be at the forefront of theatrical innovation—whether that be by putting the Peruvian Andes onstage in Touching the Void, by recording the entirety of The Grinning Man using motion-capture technology, or by introducing an immersive augmented reality experience into our theatre’s heritage offer, enabling visitors to explore the building’s many iterations, from its Georgian origins straight through to Peter Moro’s divisive 1970s design. Most importantly, however, we also actively encourage and enable home-grown artists around us to be their most innovative. Our bi-annual Ferment Fortnight gives emerging South West–based creatives a chance to showcase their work-in-progress on our stage, encouraging audiences to offer feedback and shape the development of the pieces, whilst our new heritage installations have seen Bristolian artists collaborate on beautiful and exciting illustrations of our theatre’s rich history. Investing in the creatives of tomorrow is at the core of what we do.

The new interior of Bristol Old Vic’s front of house space revealing the theatre’s original 1766 wall with busy crowds, by Philp Vile

Josh Williams playing Joe Simpson in Tom Morris’ Touching the Void, by Geraint Lewis

"Bristol Old Vic has been at the forefront of driving new conversations. A number of original funders made their wealth from the transatlantic slave trade. In trying to reconcile this fact, and the ongoing support from historic institutions with links to the slave trade, while making a commitment to inclusion and diversity, the theatre has undergone significant soul-searching. The result of which has been the ambitiously titled Year of Change programme which has consisted of productions and initiatives signalling a new approach. “Culture can’t force government policy, create jobs, or reduce reliance on benefits, but it can help a city, a nation, to reimagine itself. Bristol is a whole made splendid by its parts. When those parts work together, sparks fly.”

- Edson Burton, Bristol writer and historian

Bristol Ferment Producer Ben Atterbury (pictured standing) in discussion with South West–based artists during Ferment Fortnight, by Chelsey Cliff

Bristol Old Vic

bristololdvic.org.uk
0117 987 7872
King Street,
BS1 4ED

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