I am part of a group of volunteers involved in oral history interviewing for the Pass It On project. My most recent interviewee was John Gale OBE, who was involved with Chichester Festival Theatre from 1983 and was Artistic Director from 1985 to 1989.
His enthusiasm and affection for the Theatre was typical of our interviewees. They all continue to care for the Theatre and their generous sharing of knowledge and experiences is giving the Pass It On Project an immense wealth of fascinating information.
We met at his house and having set up the recording equipment and tested the sound levels the process began, as usual, with recording the date, place and our names and then asking the interviewee to spell their name, and give the place and date of their birth.
Thereafter, it is normally the responsibility of the interviewer to ask questions to encourage the subject to share memories and stories about involvement with the Theatre. In John Gale’s case, an absolute minimum of prompting was necessary, as his fascinating stories flowed seamlessly over the two hours of the interview.
For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the interview was when he started talking about his interest in community plays. He was an advocate of involving the people of Chichester with their theatre – beyond sitting in its seats. He gave parts to huge numbers of citizens in Cavalcade (1985) and put The Spearshott Version (1986) onto the streets of the city, playing the Mayor himself.
John worked with Patrick Garland, Sam Mendes, Alan Bennett and a starry list of famous actors. He lives in a beautiful house that used to belong to Penelope Keith. He is well remembered at Chichester Festival Theatre for being commercially astute; when he joined the Theatre, it was in debt, and he left it with reserves in the bank.
We have been trained by Rib Davis, who has been working in the field of social history for many years. We are interviewing people who have been involved in the 50 years of Chichester Festival Theatre’s existence. They include actors and directors, but also front of house staff, those who have worked backstage, theatre lovers and people who have watched the Theatre’s creation and growth in the city.
If you have any memories of Chichester Festival Theatre that we should capture, or know anyone we should interview, please get in touch at [email protected].