“I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Robert and Philip in the Youth Theatre play, Jane”, said my mother’s friend to my mother, one day in late April, 1991. A stunned silence, then: “What. Youth. Theatre. Play?” was mum’s reply. The play in question was Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations; mum’s response was due to the fact she and my dad had expressly forbidden my brother Phil and I to be involved in it so near to our exams. So I’m ashamed to say, we snuck out of the house anyway each evening for rehearsals and performances. In hindsight, it was an extremely irresponsible thing to do, but I did say I would be candid about these memories.
Recalling memories of Chichester Festival Youth Theatre has been like re-reading a favourite book over again. And Ernie’s is my favourite chapter! As suggested above, recounting these would not be complete nor honest, if left to what we did on stage. When you have outgoing youngsters together in a theatrical environment you will always get the ‘high spirits’, and for me, these were the best bits of Ernie.
The Pass It On project is reaching a really exciting stage. Several of our different project strands, such as the Archiving and Oral History are slowly coming together, providing us with a range of different material that when combined, create a bigger picture, revealing the hidden histories of Chichester Festival Theatre (perfectly timed for Festival 2014’s ‘Hidden Histories’ Season). Each archive document, each recorded interview, each photograph and written account are like individual jigsaw pieces of a puzzle that has no definitive final image. The rest of this blog post outlines the ways in which some of these pieces are coming together, with snippets from an exclusive interview with current Stevie cast member, Chris Larkin.
We recently took our trained Memory Collectors to a Youth Theatre reunion (featured in the Chichester Observer). Many of the alumni’s stories surrounded the temporary studio space known as The Tent. When I first started working on the project, I had never heard of The Tent – it seemed a mythical creation that only a select few really knew about. Tracking down any information about it proved difficult, and even harder was just trying to find a picture of it.
The wonderful thing about my job is that I get to see all these individual jigsaw pieces the project creates, and start to build them as a whole. I’m pleased to say that for me, The Tent is no longer a mysterious black hole in the history of Chichester Festival Theatre – far from it. Our ever-growing archive (listed by dedicated volunteers) has provided a resource that can be used extensively by other members of the community. Through this, one of our volunteers, Amelia Mlynowska, has been able to undertake a research project for our website, using the archive to draw up individual summaries of the history of The Tent and its gradual transition into the Minerva.
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.
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”→
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!”→