This month we have been sharing our archive with local primary school teachers and asking how this could help them in the classroom across the full breadth of subjects they teach. Chichester Festival Youth Theatre Director, Dale Rooks, describes the process so far and tells us how it feels for her own work to become a teaching resource:
As part of Pass It On and in partnership with our partner primary schools we have set out to create three ‘playboxes’. One to focus on past performances at the Theatre, one to look at the spaces of the Theatre including the important thrust stage, and the third to focus on individuals and the contribution they have made to CFT.
By the beginning of May we had three different cardboard boxes full of material from the archive that could go into these playboxes, ready to share with the teachers from our partner schools. They then told us more about the curriculum requirements and how the items we shared with them might help with curriculum outcomes. Based on what they’ve told us, we’ve selected some things from our cardboard boxes and brought more items from the archive to put in – and in some cases we have asked our colleagues at the Theatre to make new things for us. Each time we’ve met we’ve introduced the teachers to more materials and more detail about how life at the Theatre works.
The Pass It On project is reaching a really exciting stage. Several of our different project strands, such as the Archiving and Oral History are slowly coming together, providing us with a range of different material that when combined, create a bigger picture, revealing the hidden histories of Chichester Festival Theatre (perfectly timed for Festival 2014’s ‘Hidden Histories’ Season). Each archive document, each recorded interview, each photograph and written account are like individual jigsaw pieces of a puzzle that has no definitive final image. The rest of this blog post outlines the ways in which some of these pieces are coming together, with snippets from an exclusive interview with current Stevie cast member, Chris Larkin.
We recently took our trained Memory Collectors to a Youth Theatre reunion (featured in the Chichester Observer). Many of the alumni’s stories surrounded the temporary studio space known as The Tent. When I first started working on the project, I had never heard of The Tent – it seemed a mythical creation that only a select few really knew about. Tracking down any information about it proved difficult, and even harder was just trying to find a picture of it.
The wonderful thing about my job is that I get to see all these individual jigsaw pieces the project creates, and start to build them as a whole. I’m pleased to say that for me, The Tent is no longer a mysterious black hole in the history of Chichester Festival Theatre – far from it. Our ever-growing archive (listed by dedicated volunteers) has provided a resource that can be used extensively by other members of the community. Through this, one of our volunteers, Amelia Mlynowska, has been able to undertake a research project for our website, using the archive to draw up individual summaries of the history of The Tent and its gradual transition into the Minerva.
My memories of the summer of 1989 are of a summer of firsts. It was CFT’s first season in the new Minerva Theatre and it was the first time the Youth Theatre was officially in the season programme. It was my first main part in a Youth Theatre show and it was my first kiss, (albeit courtesy of the stage directions of the play). The shows were Lords of Creation by John Wiles, a stage version of DH Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner (my show) and A Mad World my Masters by Barrie Keefe. If the Tent had lent its atmosphere to creating the world of the play, the Minerva gave its essence to the world of the professional theatre. For of course, that is what it was. The resources we had (technical, stage management, dressing rooms and acting space) were those also used by the Festival Theatre professionals. Speaking for myself at least, I didn’t realise until later how lucky we were.
I am part of a group of volunteers involved in oral history interviewing for the Pass It On project. My most recent interviewee was John Gale OBE, who was involved with Chichester Festival Theatre from 1983 and was Artistic Director from 1985 to 1989.
His enthusiasm and affection for the Theatre was typical of our interviewees. They all continue to care for the Theatre and their generous sharing of knowledge and experiences is giving the Pass It On Project an immense wealth of fascinating information.
We met at his house and having set up the recording equipment and tested the sound levels the process began, as usual, with recording the date, place and our names and then asking the interviewee to spell their name, and give the place and date of their birth.
“Very few of us had done any archiving before and I had always thought of it as a rather dry and tedious activity. How wrong can one be?” – Liz Juniper, Heritage Volunteer Representative for the Lavant Valley Decorative and Fine Arts Society
For the last three months, our NADFAS volunteers have been working their way through piles and piles of press cuttings, listing them onto a database in detail so we can gain a clear overview of what press cuttings our archive holds – what productions are reviewed, what news is covered, who was visiting, when and why. This is particularly important for future researchers interested in the Theatre’s history, who will be able to search the database by year, by production and using key names.