Blog: Writing Pass It On!

Chichester Festival Youth Theatre members performing in Pass It On!
Chichester Festival Youth Theatre members performing in Pass It On!

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.

In 2012 Dale Rooks, Youth Theatre Director at CFT contacted me about writing a one hour play for CFYT to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of CFT and I jumped at the chance. The play would be for young people to tell and pass on the story of how Leslie Evershed-Martin founded the Theatre. It would be called Pass It On!

I researched the history of CFT by reading books, including The Impossible Theatre by Leslie Evershed-Martin, and looking at local and national newspapers from the period kept in the Theatre’s archives. I went to the CFT celebratory exhibition at Pallant House Galley and spoke to people first-hand about their memories so I had plenty of source material to work with.

To make the play authentic Dale and I decided to use real newspaper headlines. This device, together with the newsroom scenes, propels the story forward, makes the action immediate and engages the audience. Using headlines to sum up certain events meant that the plot moved on without requiring a scene to explain the event.

Pass It On! stretches from Leslie Evershed-Martin’s light-bulb moment watching a documentary about a Theatre in Canada  in 1959 through the fund-raising, design and building of the Theatre to the grand opening of CFT in 1962. To make history come alive I included the views of the time; some people wanted a theatre and supported Leslie Evershed-Martin’s campaign, however some wanted the money to go towards a swimming pool or a hospital instead.

Early on in the rehearsal process I rewrote the script. I changed some dialogue, edited some scenes and created new ones. It was great to be part of the process from the original idea, researching, writing, rehearsals, re-writing, character work and developing the costumes, lights, music and dress rehearsals to the actual performances. The cast also had to work on their crisp pronunciation of the dialogue as was befitting the time.

Pass It On! was performed in October 2012 in The Minerva Theatre and in July 2013 as part of The Festival of Chichester. The Youth Theatre’s energy, enthusiasm and commitment brought the story to life. Members of Leslie Evershed-Martin’s family came to see the play and they, along with other audience members, said how much they enjoyed it, that it brought back memories, and that they even wiped away a tear.

I hope you enjoy Pass It On! too.

Read the script.