Actor John Bell Is Stepping Down From The Shakespearean Theatre Company He Founded 25 Year Ago

John Bell as King Lear

The artistic director of Bell Shakespeare, John Bell, has announced he’ll step down from the company he founded next year.

Bell, who turns 75 next year, said the 25th anniversary of his company seemed like “the perfect time to step aside and hand over the reins”. It will also be the 50th anniversary of his marriage to fellow actor Anna Volska.

His co-artistic director, Peter Evans, has been anointed as Bell’s successor.

“I have had this strategy in mind for some time, which is why I asked Peter, who first worked with Bell Shakespeare in 1996 and continued to work with us throughout the years, to join me as my co-artistic director,” Bell said.

“After five years of working alongside me and the culmination of his long experience with the company, I am confident Peter is more than
ready to take on the leadership of Bell Shakespeare.”

Bell as Richard III

“I shall miss the Bell Shakespeare family. It has been my great good fortune to spend a third of my life with a bunch of the smartest, funniest, most loyal and creative people I can imagine — I shall miss their comradeship,” Bell said.

Around 2.5 million have been to see the company’s productions over the past quarter-century, along with education and community programs for 80,000 students annually. It’s Australia’s only national touring theatre company and a who’s who of Australian theatre has performed with them. Bell, who 50 years ago worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company returned to Australia and cofounded the Nimrod Theatre in the 1970s. A National Living Treasure whose stage career included Uncle Vanya alongside Cate Blanchett in 2010, Bell founded the theatre troupe that bears his name in 1990 with the help of the late philanthropist Anthony Gilbert.

The company’s chairperson Ilana Atlas paid tribute to Bell, saying he was “the humblest of men”.

“He is always conscious and appreciative of the team around him. That is part of his greatness, and the legacy that he has created,” she said. “John forged a courageous path when he decided to make the works of Shakespeare accessible and meaningful to all Australians.”

Such was his devotion to the stage, one benefit of stepping down is that Bell will appear on the small screen for the first time in four decades a miniseries about Gallipoli with Bryan Brown. He will also direct for Opera Australia in 2016.

While one of Australia’s finest actors, Bell’s choice meant he never banked the cash so many others have. Not that it matters to him.

“If I had my life again, I would choose no other course. I would try to do things better after the lessons I’ve learned, but I can think of no greater privilege than the opportunity to devote one’s life and energy to the works of Shakespeare. And for that I am grateful to all who have made it possible,” he said.

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