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”→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
For ninety seconds, in July 1991, the Olivier stage of the National Theatre, London, was mine. All mine. I remember the deafening silence. In that split second before my solo speech, it felt like an eon. I looked straight at the spotlights at the back of the auditorium and I remember the glare that thankfully masked the sea of faces in front of me. I could barely take it all in! How did I end up here…?
It all began with Anthea Dobry’s arrival as Youth Theatre director in November 1990. Anthea had come in after a year’s interregnum when Clare Rankin left in 1989; directors were coming and going so there was no real cohesive leadership and numbers of attendees at workshops had begun to dwindle. Anthea acted quickly to remedy this. Sometime earlier, the Youth Theatre had entered the National Youth Theatre challenge (now NT Connections) with a piece they had devised themselves called Happy Families, in 1989 at the National Theatre. They were one of the lucky entrants to be invited to perform this at the National at the end of the project. Anthea said we were to enter again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Pass It On project is a real voyage of discovery, not just in terms of the history of the Festival Theatre, but also the opportunities it presents to bring the worlds of heritage and theatre together. Now in the second of our three years, we are being experimental and exploring how the objects we uncover in our archive can be used to inspire new creative work.
We are embarking on an exciting project called Out Of the Archive, which draws on several areas of the Festival Theatre’s activity. A group of early-career play writes, alumni of the New Writing South and Chichester Festival Theatre’s Young Playwrights scheme, are currently developing a short series of 20 minute plays inspired by our archive.
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”→
As Chichester Festival Theatre has been tucked away behind hoardings undergoing its intense period of restoration and improvement, we at Pass It On have been charged with providing the public with as much access to, and information about, what’s going on back there as possible. To this end, over the course of this summer we ran a short series of lunch time tours around the hoardings with RENEW Project Architect, Lucy Picardo.
On three sunny afternoons between July and September, 15 lucky people spent 45 minutes with Lucy talking them through the works taking place, catching glimpses of various aspects of the project through the windows in the hoardings before ending up on first floor level platform overlooking the site.
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.
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.