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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Some of you may remember an exhibition that was held in 2012 at Pallant House Gallery to coincide with the Theatre’s 50th anniversary. Many of those who attended this exhibition commented on the creative display of ephemera from the Theatre’s history, including old programmes and set designs. In 2015, a new exhibition all about the history of Chichester Festival Theatre will tour several venues across West Sussex, though this time, the entire exhibition will be researched, curated and designed by Pass It On volunteers.
Last week we held our first session to introduce our prospective volunteers to the challenge of creating a modular and interactive exhibition. The exhibition will provide new insight into the inner workings of Chichester Festival Theatre, using items from our archive and memorabilia collection. We’ll also have access to archive footage from the 1960s and audio clips taken from the interviews we’ve been collecting as part of our oral history strand. This allows for interactive possibilities and we’re even planning on running special events and activities during the exhibition’s stay at each venue.
As you may already know, we are running tours throughout Festival 2014. We are delighted to announce that these will be led by volunteer Youth Theatre members whom we are in the process of training as official tour guides. Our renowned Youth Theatre, led by Dale Rooks, is a huge part of CFT. Here at Pass It On, we like to take full advantage of this pool of talented, enthusiastic and passionate young people and recruit them whenever we can so that we can also provide them with opportunities to increase their skillset.You may remember our fabulous volunteer hard-hat tour guides of last year, Fay and Rob (recent architecture graduates) who are back to help us. As a logical development, the public and group tours we are running from mid-July will be architecture focused and celebrate the truly unique history and design of Chichester Festival Theatre. The whole group has worked really hard using their research to make the architectural jargon understandable – after our training session held last Saturday, our tour guides can now fully explain what a cantilever is, how cement is made (aggregate included) and will be able to tell you all about the original architects, Powell and Moya.
The tours will involve splitting 50 people into four separate groups each led by a different guide. The challenge is fixing a route where we all won’t bump into each other. There’s been lots of walking back and forth, heading up and down several flights of stairs, testing out the new accessible lifts and creeping into as many corners as possible to find the best route whilst showing off our renewed Theatre to its best advantage for everyone. This is whilst keeping the theme of a non-hierarchal space a priority (Find out more about this on one of our tours!).
This ethos was a huge part of the original Festival Theatre build in 1962, a project that relied on public fundraising by much of the local community to make Leslie Evershed-Martin’s hopes for a regional theatre come true.
It’s a philosophy that Pass It On aims to live by too. We are working in partnership with West Sussex Record Office to sort and preserve a paper archive for Chichester Festival Theatre; with an expert Oral Historian to capture living memories of the Theatre; with local schools to develop a series of teaching resources and with our own Youth Theatre to develop short plays and tours that draw on the Theatre’s heritage in a variety of different ways.
This even filters through to our website. Many of the pages you can explore and browse through have been completed by volunteers. They have been briefed, or have come up with the idea themselves to research particular areas in the Theatre’s history. This way, the website is able to evolve in a very organic manner, with new pages being added by a whole host of volunteers.
Holly Stewart, a history student at the University of Chichester, has produced an extensive overview of the 50+ years history of the Theatre, working decade by decade. Her work can be seen on the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000 to the present pages.
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.
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.
Every Wednesday, Marilyn and Sue (some of our scanning volunteers) arrive at the Record Office in Chichester and set up for a session of digitisation (this is where we create digital versions of archival documents and items through computer scanning and Photoshop editing). Using a detailed record list which our archive volunteers fastidiously create every Monday with Gillian Edom, our archive training officer, they identify what’s most interesting, culturally significant or even what has been requested by researchers. They pull out specific boxes from the archive and begin to scan the hidden treasures inside…
Sue and I started our scanning experience for Chichester Festival Theatre in 2013 and we have to say, felt very privileged to be able to scan some of Leslie Evershed-Martin’s scrapbooks at what was his Chichester home. We did the scanning in the dining room; above the mantelpiece was a very impressive portrait of Sir Laurence Olivier (known as Larry to Leslie Evershed-Martin and friends). We felt he was keeping a watchful eye on what we were doing with the scrapbooks. The books were very enlightening and included a very valued account of fundraising, first productions, and the casts, programmes, after Theatre party invitations and press cuttings from the 1960s – 1990s. Sue and I have now been dispatched to the Records Office for our current scanning adventures, which so far have been very interesting and varied. One of our more recent scanning sessions included an annotated script, production photos and press cuttings of The Seagull produced in 1973, which we believe maybe used for inspiration by the Theatre’s Young Playwrights scheme. All in all, I can’t wait for what’s next to come for us.
After several successful Memory Collection events in 2013, we are going even bigger and better in 2014. 11 Youth Theatre members are taking part in our Memory Collection project, attending training sessions run by our Oral Historian, Rib Davis, in effective interviewing techniques.
The session began by Youth Theatre members simply asking each other about their connection to the Youth Theatre. Surprisingly, many of the answers were incredibly similar. We realised that the use of closed questions narrowed down each answer making it difficult for personal stories to develop and discover things the interviewer didn’t already know.
Rib then got pairs to practice using open-ended questions with such phrases as, “Could you tell me a little bit more about that?” and “How did that make you feel?” The difference was remarkable – when people are given the opportunity to talk, they really will! This type of interviewing also allows for a much broader scope of discussion and several members remarked how much longer they were able to interview for.
Clarissa and Grace are two of our wonderful volunteers currently working in the archive. They are history students from the University of Chichester and as part of their course they were given the chance to take part in a work placement. They decided it would be beneficial to experience history in the workplace and thought the Pass It On project held at the West Sussex Record Office (in partnership with the Festival Theatre) was the perfect opportunity as they wanted to know how an archive works, what is stored and why. Though they are both working on separate tasks, their involvement in the project “is exciting for the both of us. It has also helped us to get to know Chichester better, and although neither of us are from the city, we now feel like part of the community.”
Clarissa: I’ve been working on sorting through and listing the Christmas productions that were put on at Chichester Festival Theatre each year. This goes back to the early 1970s. I have found it interesting to see what shows were staged over the years and sorting through production files has opened my eyes to how much work goes into putting on a show!
Sadly, this week sees the lovely Rachel leaving her role as Heritage Activities Trainee. Three trainees will be hired across the span of the project; I’m extremely happy to introduce myself as the second.
Although I know I have very big shoes to fill, I’m so excited to be joining the Pass It On team and look forward to working with our fantastic volunteers on a range of projects.
Having lived in Chichester for nearly two decades, I have very happy memories of the Festival Theatre and have even performed in the Minerva. This was for the Shakespeare Schools’ Festival in 2004 (we summarised The Taming Of The Shrew in twenty minutes – I had the pleasure of performing ‘character parts’). Continue reading “Joining the Team”→
Susan Potter, Sonia Rasbery and Louise Pack are our external evaluators for the Pass It On project. They have worked on the evaluation of a range of high profile arts projects including Outside In – originally based at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery – that is now being developed nationwide.
Susan Potter, Project Evaluator, talks about their role within the project:
Over the upcoming months, we three will be interviewing, filming, asking you to complete participant questionnaires and requesting feedback about the Pass It On project. Then we’ll analyse all of the data, ready to produce a short film and full written report. But why are we doing all of this you may be asking? So just before we begin, we thought we’d take a moment or two to explain why!
My six weeks work placement on the Pass It On Heritage Lottery funded project has been a grand experience for me as a student from Germany. The time has flown by while working at Chichester Festival Theatre and West Sussex Record Office, the archive which collects and preserves the documents and recorded heritage of West Sussex.
The project team provided me with a very special task of sorting the entire Chichester Festival Theatre programmes dating from the theatre beginnings in 1962 up to the present. The programmes included the main house and Minerva productions and consequently added up to a huge amount. At the beginning the task did not seem easily manageable, but once I worked my way into it I grew fond of being in charge of such an important and interesting part of the Pass It On project.
The past is ‘This happened’ and then ‘This happened’ and then ‘This happened’, isn’t it? The past: a series of events, a series of dates even. If we want to make sense of the past we can choose moments from it, try to sort out which moments are important, and link them – this led to this, this led to this, and this led absolutely nowhere (history as a basic theatre plot, if you like).
If we’re ambitious, we might even try to give past events some sort of meaning. Perhaps this event displayed a spirit of innovation; this showed a certain courage and this then revealed a sad timidity.
Much of the data we can gain is from written records. In the case of Chichester Festival Theatre, the records are extensive. There are all the contracts with directors, writers, actors, musicians, designers and the rest – including, of course, architects. And then there are all the theatre programmes and reviews. So there is a lot on the page already.
The Pass It On heritage lottery funded project kicked off with the first event on a surprisingly sunny day in March. On the 13 March, 40 architecture students and lecturers from the University of Portsmouth descended on the Festival Theatre to find out more about the history, architecture and current building work going on at our architecturally (almost) impossible theatre! On hand were experts involved in many different aspects of the current RENEW project to talk to the students about the building and give them an inside perspective on all the on-going construction work. Continue reading “Architecture students tour CFT”→