Forty years ago, Chichester Festival Theatre opened under the artistic direction of Laurence Olivier. The theatre was the vision of a local optician and councillor, Leslie Evershed Martin, who motivated community members to raise over £100,000 to build the theatre, relying entirely on local donations. He describes the creation of the theatre in his excellent book, 'The Impossible Theatre', and his vision and the commitment of the community continue to inspire. The example of Laurence Olivier's artistic direction of an ensemble in repertoire, performing an innovative range of plays in a summer festival, remains the model for the theatre's artistic directors today. The philosophy of 'new shape, new ideas, new functions, new thinking' is as relevant and refreshing today as it was over 40 years ago.
The theatre also has a sense of duty to the local community who created the theatre - thanks to the support of the local authorities and arts funding system, everyone now contributes to the theatre. Consequently, the artistic directors believe that everyone should have some benefit from the theatre and they work in partnership throughout the year on arts education and programmes throughout the region, putting the skills and talents of the theatre at the service of the community.
Theatre and Festival
The unusual design of the theatre space - which encourages a greater sense of invovlement between audience and actors - and the ensemble cast working in repertoire make productions at Chichester unique experiences. Each festival explores its own theme, and this exploration begins in advance with school and community work, building up to a spring carnival in celebration of the year's theme.
The incumbent artistic directors are dedicated to keeping the theatre and the festival true to its community origins and the the spirit of its founder:
'The area must never become a museum, a slumbering monument to the 1962 ideals and endeavours, but it must always have the fresh air of the park blowing through it bringing not the dying autumn but the hopeful spring around and into the theatre itself. To live out the rest of the ninety-nine year lease it needs to have frequent injections of new ideas and inventions. No dust and no cobwebs.'