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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
On Wednesday 25 June, 60 eager people gathered at the Library in Chichester to hear from Simon Barker, Head of English and Creative Writing at Chichester University. An English Professor and Theatre historian, Simon had been the first professional researcher to be granted access to the Theatre’s emerging archive and we were all looking forward to finding out what he had selected to share with us.
“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.
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.
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!
Introduction: A few weeks ago Youth Theatre Intern, Kate Hunter, wrote about the process of creating Youth Theatre performances inspired by items from the Theatre Archives. Last week we had the privilege of watching the 36 Youth Theatre groups performing what they had come up with over this past term. The varied interpretations and responses to the heritage material were fantastic and the creativity of all the groups was really impressive. As part of this project the Youth Theatre members conducted research into the item they were inspired by, below is the research and explanation for one of these performances, written by Alice Banfield from one of the year 11 Youth Theatre groups.
Rachel Bingham, Heritage Activities Trainee:
For our stimulus our group were given a series of newspaper cuttings from 1965 relating to Laurence Olivier and announcing the splitting of both Chichester Festival Theatre and the National Theatre Companies. This happened when John Clements took over the position of Artistic Director at Chichester, ending the direct association of Chichester with the National Theatre and forming an independent company. Prior to this Olivier was Artistic Director to both Chichester Festival Theatre and The National Theatre. It was at Chichester that he formed the company that would unite with the Old Vic to create the National Theatre Company. Continue reading “Our Archive Inspired Performance”
Earlier this year I attended a conference called Artists in the Archive; thinking about the possibilities of artistic responses and interpretations to archival material. This is something Pass It On is really interested in exploring further and it was fantastic to see some really exciting examples of this from across the country.
The archives of Chichester Festival Theatre are rich with stories of the past 50 years; the triumphs and challenges of its theatrical life. The overarching narrative is one of overcoming great difficulties and achieving the impossible, indeed the founder; Leslie Evershed-Martin’s two books about the Theatre are called “The Impossible Theatre” and “The Miracle Theatre”. It’s an inspiring story of what creativity and vision can achieve and one that certainly does, and hopefully will continue to, inspire others for years to come. Continue reading “Artists in the Archive”
Over the summer Creative Arts student Alice Du Port spent time researching and exploring her interest in Theatre Design by delving into the items in our archives. During this time Alice also had the opportunity to talk with world renowned scenographer Pamela Howard who explained more about her designs for the 1980 production of Terra Nova, staged at Chichester;
In the summer of 1980, Chichester Festival Theatre’s main stage was transformed into a barren ice land, representing the stark and freezing Antarctic, for Ted Tally’s Terra Nova. In the archives is a selection of Pamela Howard’s designs for her Chichester Festival Theatre productions; including this one. Continue reading “Exploring Theatre Design”
As a Youth Theatre Leader at Chichester Festival Youth Theatre, my challenge this term is to encourage a group of 14 and 15 year olds to create some interesting pieces of theatre using historical stimuli – not as easy as it sounds, but certainly a lot of fun!
I run sessions for two Year 10 groups and have chosen two stimuli from the archives: correspondence regarding a charity cricket match between Chichester Festival Theatre and the RSC in 1986 and letters containing information for young people participating in a professional production of Jane Eyre in the same year.
I began by thinking of exercises that would allow Youth Theatre members to create performances based on this particular material. Cricket is an especially difficult topic with which to inspire teenage girls (and some boys). Introductory sessions included creating freeze frames to represent different stages of a cricket match, flowing between each one and moving to the sounds of Soul Limbo – a classic cricket theme. Following this, the freeze frames were combined to create whole group images of a cricket match thinking predominantly about clear body positioning and facial expressions.
Gillian is working with teams of volunteers in the West Sussex Record Office to sort through and list the 1,000 boxes of paper files which constitute 50 years’ worth of potential material for the Chichester Festival Theatre’s archive – the keystone of the Pass It On project. As the first team of volunteers finish their term, Gillian reflects on the initial three months of organising our archive:
It’s the end of a little era. The first two teams to sort and box documents and files belonging to the Chichester Festival Theatre have now completed their time. They have done sterling work and I shall miss them.
We have made excellent progress. We are attempting to separate all the paperwork relating to the history and development of the Theatre from that which is perhaps not so significant and needs only to be kept for a short time. The newly sorted documents will become the new Chichester Festival Theatre archive, to be stored at West Sussex Record Office and will eventually be available for viewing by the public.