During the course of Chichester Festival Theatre’s Community Heritage project, Pass It On, a group of ladies from the Lavant Valley DFAS volunteered their Monday mornings to the theatre. Working in pairs, the ladies spent their time sorting and listing press cuttings of CFT productions, starting from the very first season in 1962. The work they completed provides researchers and academics an invaluable resource to use when delving into the CFT archive. During their time volunteering on the project the DFAS volunteers contributed just short of 1200 working hours, which totals almost 150 working days’ worth of time which we are exceptionally grateful for.
The work of the Lavant Valley group has recently been featured on the NADFAS website as part of National Volunteers week. A link to the article can be found here.
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 5, My work with Children’s Theatre
In 1978 I was approached by Peter Dews, the newly appointed Artistic Director at Chichester Festival Theatre, with a view to providing a Christmas production.
Peter was a celebrated theatre and television director. As it turned out, thanks to Peter, Chichester Festival Theatre became the venue for the 10th anniversary production of The Owl and the Pussycat Went to See… based on the verses and stories of Edward Lear. This was the show, co-written with Sheila Ruskin, that had convinced me, when I saw a week of performances at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, that children’s theatre was something I wanted to concentrate on. The first production of Owl at Worcester was directed by Mick Hughes, who not only became a famous lighting designer, but supervised the lighting for many Chichester productions. He did a great job on Owl, and the audience reaction from the children was passionate and heart-warming.
A year after its premiere, I persuaded my colleagues John Gould and Bob Scott to let me use our small production company to produce OWL in London. It opened successfully at the Jeannetta Cochrane theatre, was snapped up for publication by Samuel French, and for a few years became a Christmas fixture in London and in repertory theatres up and down the country. Cameron Mackintosh became involved, and together we toured the production a couple of times. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 5”→
Volunteer Janet Green has worked with Pass It On on our exhibition Parklands to Performance, we’ve also been able to inveigle her in to be a project photographer documenting various achievements throughout the project. Janet recently visited John Napier’s exhibition Stages: Beyond the Fourth Wall at the Towner Art Gallery and was so inspired that she wanted to share her experience with us.
I found this such an inspiring exhibition and urge you to visit the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne before the exhibition closes on 31st January, 2016. John Napier has a long career as an artist and theatre designer. He describes this exhibition as coming from ‘a passion for art and creativity….with pieces that are between performance and sculpture’. The list of his theatre designs is very, very long, and more information can be viewed on www.johnnapierstages.com Continue reading “STAGES: BEYOND THE FOURTH WALL”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 4, A Leading Role, 1980
In 1980, Peter Dews offered me the role of Birdie Bowers in Terra Nova, a play about Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic. This truly epic play was remarkable in that it was written for only seven actors. The playwright was a young Canadian called Ted Tally, who later achieved fame for his screenplay of the film Silence of the Lambs.
My agent, John Miller, told me, with a note of surprise in his voice, that I didn’t have to audition for the role of Birdie – it was an offer. I picked up the script from the Festival Theatre Londonoffice above the Queen’s Theatre and read it with increasing excitement. Birdie was an endearing character, arguably the most good-humoured of the five who reached the South Pole after an arduous journey, only to find that Amundsen had beaten them to it. The journey home proved impossible and all died tragically in their tent, apart from Oates, who had walked out with the immortal lines, ‘I may be some time’. Ted Tally had introduced some brilliant theatrical moments. At the beginning of the second act, we all celebrated our successful venture at a special London hotel dinner party which, of course, turned out to be imaginary. The journey itself was intercut with flashback scenes featuring Scott and his wife. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 4”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 3, Life off stage – 1963
Our dressing room was a small hut behind the theatre, also used as a store for crates of beer bottles, and also the headquarters of the wig department. We had regular enjoyable conversations with Rosemary Harris, who had taken over from Joan Greenwood in Uncle Vanya, which had proved so successful in the first season that Olivier revived it.
Few people realised at this time that Olivier was using, in the nicest possible way, Chichester to prepare for his subsequent directorship of the National Theatre. Apart from the major stars he attracted to Chichester were younger actors who were to become the nucleus of his National company. Derek Jacobi, Robert Lang and Robert Stephens were playing relatively small roles at Chichester, but would become stars of the Old Vic and eventually the brand new complex on the South Bank. To be amongst this rich array of talent, as well as familiar faces from television, was the most exciting experience I could have wished for. Being an extra was a magical opportunity to see these people working, and to feel part of it all. Even our costume fittings felt special, supervised by Ivan Alderman and his chief cutter Stephen Skaptason, who later both ran the National Theatre wardrobe. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 3”→
Extracts from Chi and I by acclaimed actor, director and playwright, David Wood : Part 2, Life as an extra, 1963
Soon after I had gained a place at Worcester College, Oxford, I was asked to be an extra in the second season – a soldier in Saint Joan and a policeman in The Workhouse Donkey. As a summer job before going to university, this proved to be a fantastic and eye-opening experience.
As extras we were introduced into the productions in the final days of rehearsal. First, we were shown the set of Saint Joan with its two sets of steps descending from the back wall down into the Dauphin’s court scene. We five, plus professional John Rogers, came on three from each side, carrying a tall pike topped with a sharp-looking metal spear. The director, the no-nonsense, sharp-tongued John Dexter gave us the cues and told us where to stand absolutely still for much of the scene. Not long after, we were plunged into the first dress rehearsal. Wearing our breast-plates, helmets and woollen leggings, we made our entrance. Continue reading “Chi and I… Part 2”→
On 30 September, in an effort to find out more about CFT’s standing within the architectural world Becky (Heritage Activities Officer), Katie (Community Apprentice) and I went on a very special tour of several buildings on the Southbank.
The Southbank Centre and the National Trust ran a week of Brutal Utopias tours which took visitors around the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery all of which are, like CFT, 1960s Brutalist buildings. These three spaces are now entering the process of being restored and refurbished, much like our own Theatre building through the RENEW project, and lay dormant the week of the tours before building work got started. With the spaces empty the two organisations came together to give exclusive tours of areas of the buildings never before open to the public, and other parts that will change in the process of the site’s two-year refurbishment. Continue reading “Brutal Utopias”→
David Wood acclaimed playwright, actor, director has had an extensive relationship with Chichester and the Festival Theatre. Wood has documented this relationship in his memoir Chi and I…, which he has been kind enough to share with us at Pass It On through a series of extracts we will be posting as blogs.
The process of curating our touring exhibition Parkland to Performancebegan in August 2014; in September 2015 this process is only now slowly coming to an end.
Our team of eight volunteer curators decided on the content of the exhibition at the end of 2014, with focus on the founding of the Theatre and the technical elements of some of CFTs notable productions. But their work was by no means over as the exhibition has visited a range of venues across Sussex and Hampshire that vary in shape and size and have different audiences. Consequently the volunteers have returned to the Theatre throughout the year to decide how to display the exhibition and what should be added or taken away in each venue.
From the start of the curation process we have documented the development of the exhibition in a number of ways including blogs on subjects such as our initial meeting and the volunteers’ experiences with the project, and also through the numerous photographs taken before, during and after the installations.
Part of my job involves a fair amount of detective work (sadly no deerstalker and pipe needed – although working in a theatre means props are never far away if dressing up is called for, which of course it always is). I was recently asked to track down some press cuttings regarding a production of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads performed in the Minerva in 1991. This production saw the playwright himself reading through his own monologues and pieces of prose alongside CFT stalwart, Patricia Routledge. All our press cuttings from 1970 onwards are currently organised by years (albeit non-chronological) into File Express boxes which are kept at a secure warehouse where we can recall them if we need to take a look at what’s inside.
I managed to find the cuttings relatively quickly which revealed a great critical reverence to the playwright and his brave decision to perform his own work. Not only do press cuttings allow for an understanding of critical reception, but also show the breadth of press past CFT productions have attracted. Tracking which publications have reviewed shows is very interesting, particularly in terms of the reach of a regional theatre over London venues, as is looking at the social history whereby writing styles and presentation vary year to year. As lovely as these press cuttings were (and at which point I could have hung up my metaphorical deerstalker) something else in the box caught my eye. The press cuttings are generally all gathered into plastic wallets; amongst these was a rather tatty looking ring-binder folder labelled ‘PRESS CUTTINGS: 1980’. Now it’s inevitable that with the sort of work that we do, certain productions stick out for certain reasons and a play called Terra Nova is one such production – mainly because it sticks out for lots of other people. Continue reading “Surprise finds from the archive”→
In January 2015, we were contacted by the National Theatre who were in the process of putting together an exhibition all about the architecture of the NT building on London’s South Bank. Some of our archive digitisation work had caught their eye and enquiries were made about using some of this work in their exhibition.
The exhibition Concrete Realityopened in May 2015 in the Wolfson Gallery at the National, taking into account the initial idea, beginning stages and follow-through of the building project that is now home to the biggest theatrical producing house in the UK. Sir Laurence Olivier, Chichester Festival Theatre’s first Artistic Director was also appointed Artistic Director of the National Theatre in the same year CFT opened in 1962; as well as this direct connection, CFT, amongst other regional theatres at the time, was used as a reference point throughout the design process. Continue reading “Concrete Reality – sharing stories with the National Theatre”→
CFT and Pass It On regularly run events and talks intent on exploring and sharing the Theatre and its rich history. These events are for all kinds of audiences and it is fantastic to see how they inspire people in lots of different ways. One of our volunteers, Corinne Nash, attended the Open Day in 2014 and was inspired not only to join the Pass It On project but also attend more events and productions. Corinne tells us about her journey with the theatre and her impressions on one of the most recent Pass It On events.
One of our favourite things about the Pass It On project is working with a team of volunteers who all have a myriad of different skills; one of our volunteers, Janet Green, tells us how she became involved with the project and how she has brought her talents in photography to the project:
It all started for me when Chichester Festival Theatre had an Open Day on a Sunday in September 2014. I had taken my visiting Australian relatives to see Guys and Dolls a few days before. We were all enchanted by our theatrical experience, and I was so proud to share Chichester Festival Theatre with them. To go back stage a few days’ later on the Open Day totally captured my imagination. I have a particular interest in photography so of course I had a camera with me and having sought permission captured a few amazing shots jostling with the crowds enjoying this wonderful opportunity. The way props were arranged backstage really fascinated me. The experience made me more aware of the people behind production who make it happen and the processes involved.
This week marks a very exciting and important step in the Pass It On project and for Chichester Festival Theatre. Our new online digital archive is now live – meaning you can browse through heritage material and content from the Theatre’s past. This is a huge achievement as for two years now, volunteers have been scanning and editing items from our paper archive and memorabilia collection. This has allowed for greater public access to the Chichester Festival Theatre archive as we can share digital content in a manner of ways, including our website and Twitter and Pinterest accounts. The idea is that the digital version of the item looks as accurate and realistic as its physical counter-part, so you don’t necessarily need to visit the Record Office for research.
We’ve been working really hard to update the online archive which now allows for a much better experience when browsing through our heritage content.
In 1986 Chichester Festival Theatre celebrated its 25th Festival season. To mark this anniversary and celebrate the city of Chichester, a production was put together telling some of the famous and infamous stories of the city. The play took its audience on a physical journey through the streets of Chichester lead by its narrator James Spershott, a joiner and diarist who lived his whole life in the area during the 18th century.
The Spershott Version was written to mark the 25th anniversary season by a handful of local authors and personalities including Joan Aiken, Rosemary Sutcliffe and former CFT artistic director Patrick Garland. The promenade piece featured stories on John Keates and William Blake and their appearances in Chichester, as well as a scene on Mary Bedell a Cicistarian wrongly accused of stealing linen from her mistress and punished with transportation.
We work with the Youth Theatre each year using heritage content to inspire and develop their work. In 2013 we presented Pass It Onthe play and got the whole of the Youth Theatre using the archive for thier heritage sharings; in 2014 we welcomed Young Playwrights to produce work for Out of the Archive and this year sees the development and broadcast of ten short radio plays. Written by playwright and oral historian Rib Davis, these plays will draw on content from our growing oral history collection. Working with the Youth Theatre, we asked them to listen to clips from the collection and explore the things they found interesting. On 2 May we held a collaborative workshop to start the process inviting Rib, Jake Smith (Trainee Director at CFT), Hana Walker-Brown (radio producer and sound engineer) and Hannah Hogg (Youth Theatre Intern at CFT) to lead exercises and share their expertise. Hannah talks about the day here:
What an inspiring and creative day we all had. I never really knew anything about radio drama and I was keen to get involved when I found out we were running a radio play workshop. We asked a group of Youth Theatre and members of our 19+ group to come and get involved. We started the day with some bonding exercises which we all know you need to do before working intimately with other people. We had a really good group of people who all worked wonderfully together.
Staples, paperclips, string, plastic document wallets and cardboard folders.
All those tiny decisions CFT staff have been making over the years as to how to hold together their documents have now become part of the archive conservation process – one that is taking on the qualities of a medical triage process.Metal staples eventually corrode through the paper they are in contact with. But while a few hundred could be removed without too much trouble, the thousands of staples found in a collection as large as CFT’s archive is a different matter. For now we have decided to keep those that are not corroding and only remove those eating through the corner of the documents. It is time consuming and difficult work.
Reel to Reel. Revox transfer. Phrases I never thought I’d be familiar with but the Pass It On project just keeps on surprising us in terms of what kind of heritage content we have to deal with.
Two small plastic bags were handed to me a couple of weeks ago. Inside were yellowing plastic reels, all wrapped up with thin, brown tape. You may know these as reel to reel tapes; before cassettes, magnetic audio tape was wound up on reels, very similar to film stock. There’s no way of listening to these reels without the aid of a Revox machine, a clunky looking device that enables the audio tape to be wound from one reel onto another, whilst passing through a system of rollers and headers that read the magnetic content on the tape, turning it into sound. Easy, right? Not when the machine is older than you are and needs specialist parts to make it work. Luckily, with the help of our Deputy Head of Sound, Alex Green, we’ve succeeded in not only getting the machine going, but using it to digitise old analogue content.
Volunteers are crucial to the success of Pass It On, they’re creative, organised and passionate about the Theatre. One of our current volunteers is Alex Wilcox whose first introduction to the project was through our Out Of the Archive performances in October 2014. This sparked an interest for him in the burgeoning CFT archive and Alex has been gaining in work experience with us since January 2015
I started volunteering on the Pass It On project at CFT in January of this year, and have been working primarily with the Oral Histories strand of the project. Trained volunteers and some members of the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre have been interviewing people with close ties to CFT about their experiences and memories of the Theatre. Clips from the interviews can be found here.
As I have been working, it has been impossible not to be engrossed by the rich lives of the interviewees, but what I’ve found truly amazing is how the Theatre has acted as a catalyst to create these memories. Chris Larkin, an actor who started out as a stage hand in the tent where the Minerva is now, says “you think gosh yes, I’ve come back here again . . . and it’s a really nice feeling. It [CFT] will always be here . . . and that grounding never goes away, and there’s something really nice in your life, to come back to where you started.” You can hear more from Chris Larkin here.
As our project has progressed over the years, we have had more and more interest from researchers and the general public about our growing archive. I have received many an interesting email or phone call from a variety of people wanting answers to a question we may or may not be able to help with. It is such a joy to explore these requests; there’s a serious amount of detective work involved which brings great satisfaction. Even if an answer remains elusive, interesting things are always discovered along the way.
Requests come in all shapes and sizes. Some people simply want to know “Can you remember who played so-and-so in this production from 1968?” whilst others want specific archive content to assist with dissertations and research projects.
Pass It On has a spectacular team of volunteers who work on a myriad of different tasks, whether they are individuals working independently from home or groups working at the theatre. One of our volunteers, Charlotte Murgatroyd, tells us about her experiences as part of the Pass It On team.
It’s Monday morning. I am off to the theatre. No, not to see a play but to take part in an archiving project. The Festival Theatre (CFT), has many scrapbooks, filled with press cuttings relating to CFT as it was in the sixties and seventies. There are two teams of volunteers from Lavant Valley DFAS (Decorative and Fine Arts Society), one works in the morning and the other one in the afternoon.
We work in pairs putting data from the cutting in to an EXCEL Spreadsheet. Typical entries include the date and title of the publication from which the cutting comes, the particular production and the people concerned, followed by a précis of the whole cutting. Cuttings range from a few sentences to articles covering a page and more.
As I was working my way through press cuttings released by the Chichester Festival Theatre in 1985, an odd request appeared. The producers of Cavalcade were looking for authenticity on stage. In going the extra mile so to speak, an Edwardian street scene required not only the actors of the human nature but also a monkey. Preferably alive and able to sit on top of a barrel organ in front of a live audience. I was a little taken aback by that revelation as I was unsure how many monkeys still performed this kind of work in 1980’s Britain, let alone if one was available to perform on a daily basis. However, the theatre was determined to find one. If indeed they did, I’d love to know.
It is this kind of weird and wonderful information that can be found within the CFT archive held at West Sussex Record Office, which I have been cataloguing since the beginning of October. The material is held in many boxes, through which I am now spending time going through in detail.
A variety of material has been found in the theatre collection including programmes, posters, newspaper articles, prompt scripts and photographs. All tell the vibrant story of productions and those who performed within them. Laurence Olivier, Derek Jacobi, Alistair Sim, Joan Plowright,Christopher Timothy, Peter Egan, Richard Briers Patricia Hodge, Patricia Routledge and so many others.
How do you make an exhibition based around archival material stand out and engage an audience? You have a tea party of course! Parkland to Performance, our volunteer led exhibition, called in the help of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre’s tech team to recreate the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Youth Theatre’s production of Alice in Wonderland. Their recreation brings colour, character and lots of cakes into the exhibition.
In the 2010 production the Tea Party scene along with the rest of the props in the show were all made by CFYT’s tech members and the Pass It On exhibition wanted to incorporate some of the skills and talent that the Youth Theatre helps to support.
Find out about the process of recreating the Tea Party scene and Tech Youth Theatre from one of its members, Joe Jenner.
Thanks to the hard work of an invaluable team of volunteers Pass It On will soon be exhibiting a collection of documents, photographs and objects from the Theatre’s archive. Parkland to Performance will open at The Capitol in Horsham on 17 February and then travel around different venues in West Sussex and east Hampshire during 2015 and into 2016. Curated by a group of eight volunteers, the exhibition has evolved from an archive of 300 boxes, including 1800 folders and countless pieces of paper, into a collection of carefully chosen items that show highlights of the founding of the Theatre and of a number of productions performed at CFT.
Three of our volunteers have shared with us how they became involved in the exhibition strand of Pass It On and their experiences during the process of creating this exhibition.
When architectural duo Powell and Moya designed Chichester Festival Theatre in the early ‘60s they brought in Structural Engineer Charles Weiss. Weiss had previously worked with them on the Skylon Folly for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Weiss’ daughter, Emma Cole, has given Pass It On an account of his life and career that helped to build Chichester Festival Theatre and its pioneering suspension roof.
Charles Weiss (1914 – 1985)
My father Charles was born in Budapest in 1914 to Jewish parents. His life as an émigré started early in the 1930s when he was forced through the numerus clausus to go to university in Brno, Czechoslovakia where he studied architecture. He completed his doctorate of architecture in 1936 in Florence where he also worked before moving to Milan.
In 1939 as the European scene worsened, he was offered a passage to Shanghai and managed to secure refuge in Singapore along the way. He worked there as a structural and architectural designer until 1942, escaping on 13 February 1942 just before Singapore was captured by the Japanese. He reached Bombay in March 1942 where he joined the British Army and gained a commission to the Corps of the Royal Engineers. He served mainly in Assam and Burma, eventually commanding an Indian Sapper Company as a Major.
One of the most exciting and unique strands of the Pass It On project are our Playboxes. These are a multi-usage teaching resource that we have been developing with local partner schools, using the Festival Theatre’s archive to support key-curricular learning in class. Our three boxes, ‘Performance’, ‘Construction’ and ‘People’ can be used to cover a whole range of subject areas, from English to Drama and even Maths and Science. We’ve focused on Key Stage 2 at primary school level, but as the Playboxes have been used in their ‘proto-type’ phase, some teachers have liked them so much they’ve used them with a whole range of different ages and abilities.
In July 2014, we sent our Performance Box out to all of our schools. Last term, our ‘Construction’ Box, all about the founding and building of the Festival Theatre, went out to our new partner school, The March. The class’ curricular module was ‘Mighty Metals’; we took this as a great opportunity to show off all the building materials that were used both in 1962 and as part of the RENEW project. The architecture of the Grade II* listed Theatre is extremely important to share, so as part of the work that the class was doing with the artefacts we gave them, they also came along to see them in practice at the Theatre.
Listen to Its All In The Telling, our thought-provoking panel discussion with writer and oral historian Rib Davis, writer of Taken at Midnight Mark Hayhurst and Kate Wheeler from the Archiving the Arts initiative with the National Archives, all chaired by author Kate Mosse.
Why do some stories fall out of history? What makes them so fascinating to theatre makers and audiences? In 2014 Pass It On brought together a panel from the worlds of theatre, heritage and oral history to explore these themes. Inspired by the little known true stories behind some of Chichester Festival Theatres 2014 productions Pressure, Pitcairn and Taken at Midnight.
We’re coming to the end of another year of the Pass It On project, and where are we? Much further than we thought we would be! The number of interviews conducted is well past what we had planned (over 40) and many of them have already been transcribed. The quality of the interviews has also been getting better and better. This isn’t because we have found better interviewees – we have had tremendously interesting people talking to us from the start – but because the interviewing technique has gradually improved. The Pass It On team of interviewers have been prepared to get together to listen to each other’s interviews not just for the content but also to examine together their interview technique. This is a rather brave thing to do, as it really is exposing to have your interview played back in front of other people to be analysed and learned from, but this is what has happened, and the results are very clear.
The interviewees have been of all sorts, from one-time visitors to the long-time Director of the Youth Theatre, from people working Front of House to those who were at the heart of the organisation when it first started. There have been stories of great productions and dismal ones, of backstage support and dressing room rancour, of the town becoming tremendously proud of its theatre and at the same time the unmistakable whiff of class in some of the involvement. What emerges is a spoken history of the theatre, certainly, but we also see strong elements of a social history of the town.
Over 190 audience members attended our recent performance of Out of the Archive; it was fantastic to see so many faces and share our archive with them in such a creative way. As the process began in 2013 with sharings from the Youth Theatre, it’s been a long journey to get there. Our Young Playwrights, mentored by writer, Greg Mosse, worked for a couple of months on their scripts. These were then brought to life with Youth Theatre members at several read-throughs. Once finalised, page turned to stage and director Megan Purdie led a cast of seven young performers along with a technical team to create the final pieces. Performed in the Minerva Theatre on Saturday 25 October 2014, the three final plays made us laugh, stirred our hearts and chilled our spines. After the show, we asked cast and audience members what they thought of the process and the performance:
We’ve been showing it off for months now; public and private tours for members of the public to experience and explore backstage areas, and the Open Day where we threw open every single door for visitors to find out more about what happens behind the scenes. But this week we have been able to properly enjoy our renewed and refreshed Theatre from a rather special vantage point.
As I write this, I can turn to the right and ahead, and see green parkland space. The Director’s Office is a mere few metres away, and to the left is our brand new meeting room. Yes, we have finally packed up out of our temporary office in the Stephen Pimlott building and officially moved into the Festival Theatre!
The office is housed in the new extension added to the back of the Theatre. A huge lightwell that spills outside light down into this office space also connects the upstairs dressing room area with admin. Everything is open plan and we are all on an equal footing. This is a design feature that you will find in all areas of the Theatre, from the entrance foyer, a space with no ‘VIP’ areas which every single ticket holder can enjoy, to the 12 dressing rooms in the new extension, that all provide the same facilities for each performer – no matter what the name. This sense of democratic space not only enhances the feeling of community within the building (between both cast, crew and admin) but is also an important and original feature of Powell and Moya’s 1962 vision.
It is with great excitement that Pass It On can introduce, not one, but two new members of our team. Harriet Rose will be joining us as the third Trainee working on the project, and Nick Corbo-Stewart will be based at the Record Office as our official Chichester Festival Theatre Archivist.
As the Heritage Activities Team doubles its numbers to the grand total of four, I have the honour of becoming the third Heritage Activities Trainee. My predecessor, Becky, has risen to the position of Heritage Activities Officer and I’m sure will be keeping a watchful eye over me to ensure I maintain her high standards!
Having previously worked with the National Trust creating school courses and family events, I am passionate about helping people access and learn more about our Great British Heritage. I have studied Drama at the University of Winchester and Design for Performance and Events at the University for the Creative Arts, and therefore working with Chichester Festival Theatre on the Pass It On project indulges all my interests.
As I write this I am ending my second day in this role and feel I have only just witnessed the tip of the iceberg of this huge and exciting project. Over the next year I will be working in this newly formed quartet along with all the other members of staff at Chichester Festival Theatre and of course all the great volunteers who help make this project possible. Time to get stuck in.
“Have you noticed this new, surging life in the theatre world?”
So begins Richard Findlater’s article (see image to the right), published in the Evening Standard on Monday 14th November, 1960. This particular article captures the excitement and indeed, need, for a new kind of theatre in Britain. As the television set found its way into more and more homes, something needed to change within the world of the theatre to entice the public through auditorium doors. This change is aptly described by Findlater, who writes,
“Into the British theatre of the 1960’s – prematurely looped with crepe by ever-ready mourners – come new bewitching sounds…The sound of unfurling blueprints for new buildings. The sound of men talking about new buildings. And even the sound of buildings being built…TV is supposed to be killing off the live theatre. Yet suddenly there is the stir of new life – not only in plays and players but in bricks and mortar, too.”
Chichester Festival Theatre truly was an exceptional feat of building work, not least because the money raised for the build came from private donations and the local community, who obviously felt the same as Findlater: “We need more theatres and we need new ones.”
It does not seem very long ago that I was writing about looking forward to beginning rehearsals for Out of the Archive, and yet here we are already on the other side of the Scratch performance!
The auditions were well attended by a mixture of current and previous youth theatre members, as well as other 16-25 year olds in the local area who have never attended a group at CFT before. It was a strong group of performers who we had to whittle down to a cast of just seven, based on the types of characters we had to fill.
We then entered into an intensive rehearsal process over two weeks. Playing two characters in two of three very different plays is no easy task, but this is what we have asked of the majority of our actors. We began by blocking through each of the plays very simply – to get the shape of it and a feel for the changes in pace. Through this process we were able to pick out the key pieces of set, costume and props that we would need and used temporary found objects to represent them (including a seagull created from a large toy mouse and a rabbit ears headband, it’s amazing what you can find in a rehearsal room).
“Brakes screech, air hisses, lights flash, smoke billows: the train arrives, and with it Lauren Bacall. Auburn hair, dark glasses, ghostly face: the Chichester audience are as bewitched by the entrance of a screen icon as the citizens of Guellen are by the arrival of a multi-millionairess.”
Known for her feisty femme-fatale roles during Hollywood’s Golden Age of Film Noir (think Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not (1944) in which she starred alongside her would-be husband, Humphrey Bogart), the casting of Bacall in Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit as a wealthy heiress who comes to seek revenge on the man who destroyed her reputation, was deemed by some to be perfect. The play was performed as the first in the 1995 Summer season and Bacall herself thought “it’s a wonderful part…although she’s diabolical, one can use various facets of her personality.”
Bacall was always interested in theatre – she worked as a theatre usher in America in 1941 and stated in an interview held on the first day of rehearsals for The Visit that “my original ambition was to go on stage – not into movies – and I keep going back to it…I would never be given the opportunity to do this in films.”, Bacall had been in talks with Duncan Weldon about the production for 3 years before it came to fruition, waiting for the right space to hold the large cast of 36. When Weldon was appointed Artistic Director in 1995, they decided the Festival Theatre would be the perfect place to try it.