A lot of the work I’ve been doing lately for Pass It On has concentrated on the early years of the Theatre. Founded in the sixties as a theatre for the community, by the community, I like to think that nothing has changed regarding this statement. There is something, for sure, about being a local Cicesterian and feeling tied to the Theatre. This was something that was important to founder, Leslie Evershed-Martin, from the start:
“What else made Chichester the right place for this idea? Naturally, I favoured Chichester because I live there. Few could live in such a city for long without loving its unique atmosphere, and I had always wondered how we could preserve its importance.” The Impossible Theatre (1971, page 9)*.
Rachael: Many interesting memories and stories were collected on Saturday 5 April when myself and a team of Memory Collection volunteers from the Youth Theatre attended a reunion for Youth Theatre alumni. Armed with Dictaphones and clipboards, our aim was to try and capture some of the memories of CFYT.
Although a little timid at first, it didn’t take us long to begin approaching people. We went into the hallways to conduct the interviews as the main hall was full of the sounds of old friends reuniting, chatting about their lives and reminiscing while sharing a drink (or two). The interviews were around ten minutes long, with an objective of collecting as much detail as possible and hearing all of the stories they had from being in the Youth Theatre.
Although we started with the same question for each interview, “So, could you tell me about your time in the Youth Theatre?” the stories and memories that we collected really varied from person to person, as everyone we asked remembered different things from their time. I got a lot out of this day personally, as I learned how much the Youth Theatre and CFT itself has changed over time.
What do an estate agent, a filmmaker, an office manager, a comedian and an actor have in common? Not much. Yet one evening this winter, a group such as this came together in a London pub; some of us had not seen each other for decades. To us the common factor was clear – we had all been members of the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre together. The bond we formed then was still as strong after a quarter of a century.
But why now? Why had we rekindled that bond? What had changed?
To answer this I need to take you back to one afternoon the previous October. As I was about to leave my office for a meeting, the phone rang. “Rob, it’s the police?!” said my colleague. I never made it to that meeting.
My younger brother Phil, another old Youth Theatre member, had passed away suddenly at his home, and a concerned neighbour raised the alarm after he’d not been seen for several days.
Thanks to Facebook the news spread like wildfire. Instinctively, I wrote on Phil’s wall “I love you, Phil.” Fairly ambiguous in itself, but my best mate, another CFYT alumnus, Dan, who knew what had happened, also put a message. “Rest in Power, buddy.” Soon messages of sympathy, bewilderment and shock started to arrive. I realised many of these messages were from CFYT people that I hadn’t heard from for many years, sharing fantastic memories of Phil, offering support and sending Facebook friend requests as though I had seen them yesterday.