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
As I walked around this exhibition I felt a strong connection with the voluntary work I have been doing for the past 18 months. I have been working in a team of volunteers curating the exhibition from Chichester Festival Theatre’s archive. Another task I was asked to do for the project was to photograph other volunteers cleaning model boxes of theatre designs which had been stored away on shelves in the workshops behind the stage of the Minerva Theatre. I had seen such things in museums before but until that moment I had not fully understood how important those small scale models were, and how they were used by the company to work out their movements around the stage and maximise the audience’s experience of sight and sound. During that photographic session I imagined a ghostly performance as I focused my lens on the model boxes, so beautifully made, and wanted to bring the stage to life again. Chichester Festival Theatre’s archive is full of those echoes of past creativity, so short lived, as one production follows another in the business of putting on theatre. In the end what remains of a performance for the audience is our memory of an evening out at the theatre – looking into the three walls of the stage, or in the case of Chichester Festival Theatre the thrust stage. Nor had I realised how complex was the whole business of putting on productions involving many varying skills, both practical and artistic.
John Napier’s exhibitions shows sculptural pieces he has created in response to his designs for many famous productions including Cats, Miss Saigon and the National Theatre’s Equus. In theexhibition we also get the opportunity to see some of his costume design drawings, and like the stage of a production the exhibition is beautifully laid out and lit. His creative journey brings to life those productions again. This must be what he means by the title his ‘fourth wall’. He has answered that ghostly echo I felt by making permanent something so fleeting and who better to do that than the person who was part of the original work. It is a generous act.