Chichester Festival Theatre artistic director Jonathan Church is hoping to announce this year’s summer season in February – a season which will see the CFT start to return to normal.
With massive multi-million pound rebuilding and redevelopment under way, the main house was out of action last year. Instead, a purpose-built tent was erected in Oaklands Park for two productions: Barnum and Neville’s Island.
“Now in many ways, we are just looking forward to getting back to normal,” Jonathan said. “It would be nice to say we want to create the biggest season ever, but we are not planning to do that for a while. 2012 was the biggest season we have ever done, for the theatre’s 50th anniversary.”
And then the CFT, as its anniversary present to itself, closed for the start of a massive overhaul designed to ensure it would last another 50 years. The 2013 season in some ways was about holding the fort. The revamped main house will return to action this year.
“I hope the work we choose will be particularly delicious and welcoming in that main house. We want lots of people to come to look at the new theatre, and I am hoping it will be quite a celebratory year in the main house. I suspect conversely that it might be a more adventurous year in the Minerva. We may be able to go back to being a little bit more risky in the Minerva. We will announce in February, and the main house will open at the end of June.
“We will open earlier in the Minerva, and we are hoping it will be close to a normal season, though in a sense the first normal season will be 2015, but I would think that in 2014 in terms of the number of plays, we will be back to normal. With the later start, we may run the main house a bit later. We are looking at four projects in the main house and at least five in the Minerva.”
For the audience, Jonathan is predicting the actual experience in the main-house auditorium will be – with increased comforts – very much the experience audiences there are used to. The key differences will be for the actors and the production teams.
“The big thing is that for the first time, we have proper access from the scene dock on to the stage. The scene dock was higher and you could only get in through an average-sized double door. The stage will now be on the same level.”
The carousel which featured in Carousel a few years ago had to be broken into seven chunks and wheeled up a ramp to get it on to the stage; now it is conceivable it could simply be pushed on in one piece.
Also, the concrete platform on which the band used to play was immovable. Now it can be moved – all part of much greater behind-the-scenes flexibility. Dressing rooms used to encroach under the stage, but no longer. Now there will be much greater room below, which opens up the possibility of getting people on to the stage in different ways.
Also, greater weight will be possible, hanging from the grid above: “The old structure was limited to just holding the lights. With all this, I think in the next few years, we will have lots of designers exploring all the possibilities of the new arrangements.”
But for audiences, it shouldn’t be vastly different, which is exactly the point: “The thing was to get the building fit for purpose for another 50 years, and that meant preserving the experience.”