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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Did you know that the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon was designed by Britain’s first female architect? Or that The Old Vic in Bristol is the country’s oldest theatre in terms of continuous use? Or that Laurence Olivier first found himself on a thrust stage by accident; when rain forced a planned outdoor performance of Hamlet at Elsinore into a nearby hotel at the last minute in 1936?
These are just a sprinkling of great facts that poured from Elain Harwood, Senior Architectural Investigator at English Heritage, last Thursday evening (7 November) at Chichester Library as she put Chichester Festival Theatre’s landmark building into a national context. The depth of her knowledge on the subject was breathtaking; Elain began researching post-war theatre buildings in the mid-90s on behalf of English Heritage. It was through this research that she stepped off a train at Chichester station one sunny afternoon and first set eyes on the one-of-a-kind Festival Theatre building. This eventually led to Chichester Festival Theatre being listed at grade 2* status in 1998.
Concrete is the single most widely used material in the world and was fundamental to the construction of the Festival Theatre. To explore and share the significance of this material to the Theatre, we ran our very own concrete- making workshop earlier this year.
Prior to starting as the first Heritage Trainee of Pass It On earlier this year, I had never really thought all that much about concrete. I was vaguely aware of concrete constructions nearby; indeed the infamous Tricorn Centre loomed large as a landmark of days out in Portsmouth until its demolition in 2004. Nevertheless, voted by Radio 4 listeners as the most hated building in Britain and described by Prince Charles as “a mildewed lump of elephant droppings”, this didn’t do much to raise my awareness or appreciation of concrete as a building material.
I share a long history with Chichester Festival Theatre (CFT). I was part of the Chichester Festival Youth Theatre (CFYT) for 10 years and we performed numerous productions during this time. I acted, sang, danced and played in the band. I took part in carnivals, concerts, street performance and took part in creative workshops about performance poetry, set design and circus skills.
So it felt natural that, after my English Degree, I would gravitate back towards the Theatre. I joined the Young Playwrights Programme and then the Advanced course at CFT which was run in partnership with New Writing South. The course was brilliant, inspiring and covered a wide range of topics. We explored writing dialogue, characters, plots, genres as well as having theatre visits, discussions and visiting writers talk to us. One of my pieces, Occupied (2012), was performed in the Theatre on the Fly, whilst my other short plays, The Knock (2011) and First Visit (2010), were performed in The Minerva Theatre. Continue reading “Writing Pass It On!”→
This year as part of the annual Chichester Festival Theatre Heritage Open Day, members of the public had the opportunity to go on hard hat tours of the current renovation works on the Theatre. This was a rare chance for people to see inside the incredible architecture of the Festival Theatre. Additionally it was also a chance to see the work being done to enhance the Theatres iconic and prominent hexagon shape, around which my art workshop, also part of this year’s Heritage Open Day, was based.
Being a fine art graduate from Chichester University and having run workshops within social care, this opportunity was perfect for me, combining two areas of interest and work.
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.
Memory Collection events have now been conducted with Barnum Audiences and most recently at Chichester Library where Youth Theatre members conducted short interviews with members of the public about their memories of the Theatre. These events have yielded some fascinating insights, stories and memories about time spent at the Theatre, with many people talking to us who have been coming back for many years, some since the Theatre’s foundation.
Pass It On hopes to hold several more of these events and in doing so collect further memories from many different people who have had some connection with the Theatre over the decades, not only past directors, actors or staff, but people who came to see a show or those who remember the impact the Theatre has had on Chichester and the surrounding area over its history.
On the 12 July the first public event of the Pass It On project kicked off with a small gathering in the sunshine to celebrate the reveal of a large artwork inspired by Chichester Festival Theatre, displayed on the hoardings around the building.
A couple of blog posts ago Pass It On volunteer, Natasha Rose, wrote about her experience helping with art workshopswhich took place back in April with families from local charity and Pass It On partner, PACSO (Parent and Carers Support Organisation). Last Friday we were very proud to officially reveal the artwork that had been produced using prints and designs created during these workshops.
Between January and April of this year, 18 Year 11 Youth Theatre members and I were involved in creating a piece of Verbatim Theatre, a style of theatre where the text is taken directly from interview transcripts. As Youth Theatre intern, I was given the opportunity to run a project of my choosing. I decided to create and direct a piece of Verbatim theatre as it is a style that I had only ever written and thought about in an academic setting, never in any practical way. I asked for volunteers who would be interested in generating and performing such a piece. Continue reading “Word for Word: Chichester Festival Youth Theatre”→
Heritage Lottery Funding has enabled Chichester Festival Theatre to carry out a Heritage Learning and Participation project over three years, exploring activities such as workshops, working with schools, exhibitions, archiving and volunteer training in order to increase community collaboration and engagement with the Theatre, ultimately enhancing the awareness of its exciting Heritage. As part of this project, the Theatre ran two Family art workshops, in partnership with PACSO (Parents and Carers Support Organisation), My role as a volunteer was to research, collect data and record observations, in order to evaluate how valuable the workshops were in terms of engagement and learning for its participants and the other volunteers involved. This then enabled me to create an evaluative report and blog. Continue reading “Family art workshops with PACSO”→
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”→