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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Some of you may remember an exhibition that was held in 2012 at Pallant House Gallery to coincide with the Theatre’s 50th anniversary. Many of those who attended this exhibition commented on the creative display of ephemera from the Theatre’s history, including old programmes and set designs. In 2015, a new exhibition all about the history of Chichester Festival Theatre will tour several venues across West Sussex, though this time, the entire exhibition will be researched, curated and designed by Pass It On volunteers.
Last week we held our first session to introduce our prospective volunteers to the challenge of creating a modular and interactive exhibition. The exhibition will provide new insight into the inner workings of Chichester Festival Theatre, using items from our archive and memorabilia collection. We’ll also have access to archive footage from the 1960s and audio clips taken from the interviews we’ve been collecting as part of our oral history strand. This allows for interactive possibilities and we’re even planning on running special events and activities during the exhibition’s stay at each venue.
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.
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!
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”→
Susan Potter, Sonia Rasbery and Louise Pack are our external evaluators for the Pass It On project. They have worked on the evaluation of a range of high profile arts projects including Outside In – originally based at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery – that is now being developed nationwide.
Susan Potter, Project Evaluator, talks about their role within the project:
Over the upcoming months, we three will be interviewing, filming, asking you to complete participant questionnaires and requesting feedback about the Pass It On project. Then we’ll analyse all of the data, ready to produce a short film and full written report. But why are we doing all of this you may be asking? So just before we begin, we thought we’d take a moment or two to explain why!
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”→