Chosen by Nick Corbo-Stewart, former member of staff (text by Katherine Slay)
As part of Chichester Festival Theatre’s highly successful Pass It On! project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Record Office has been working in partnership with the Theatre for the last three years to bring together and explore the theatre’s extensive archives. Since its first season in 1962, the Festival Theatre has generated a huge amount of material, documenting the life and history of the theatre for over 60 years. The project has enabled this remarkable legacy to be organised and catalogued so the records can be made accessible to everyone.
A team of volunteers sorted through and listed the contents of around 1,000 boxes. They came across such gems as photographs of the theatre’s construction in 1961, and of Sir Laurence Olivier visiting the site; recorded interviews with Leslie Evershed-Martin, the founder of the theatre; programmes for every summer season play since 1962; working papers about many of the ground-breaking productions; instructions for wigs and hair preparation; metal printing plates used for early publications; costume designs for recent Youth Theatre productions; and films of productions in 2005.
Once this preliminary work was complete, project archivist Nick Corbo-Stewart then created a detailed catalogue, giving each item a unique reference number and description. Further volunteers assisted in packaging the collection,
helping to ensure its long-term survival. The archive, now open to the public, will be of interest to those who want to find out more about the theatre’s history as well as to those who are keen to know about a particular production.
The two largest items in the collection are architects’ models for building works. The one illustrated here dates from 1967, and is by the architects Powell and Moya showing additions to their original building. The trees are made from twisted wire, and there are tiny people and cars in situ.
Over the last three years the Pass It On! project has enabled a strong partnership to be built up between the Record Office and the theatre, which will continue to grow and develop in the future. The project has meant that the remarkably complete records of the theatre are now available to people of all ages and will be of benefit to a wide range of audiences and interests.
The archives themselves can in turn be a source of inspiration and creativity for future works of art and performances. Further records will be added to the catalogued collection each year, ensuring that the history of this much-loved institution continues to be recorded.