Chichester Festival Theatre was founded by a local ophthalmic optician and former city mayor, Leslie Evershed-Martin, following an idea he had whilst watching a television programme in 1959 about the Stratford Festival Theatre in Stratford, Ontario in Canada. His vision was for a seasonal festival of theatre to be staged in a space inspired by the revolutionary thrust design of the Canadian theatre. Working tirelessly with Chichester City Council to get its support and to find a suitable site, he motivated local individuals and businesses to raise the £105,000 needed to make his idea become a reality. The Theatre finally opened its doors in 1962.
Following the Stratford model, the architects, Phillip Powell and Hidalgo Moya, developed a brutalist theatre that arranged the auditorium around a stage that thrust itself into the centre of the audience, combining ancient Greek and Roman precedents with elements of Elizabethan theatre. When Chichester Festival Theatre opened, it was Britain's first thrust stage theatre in over 450 years. This staging was pioneered by former Royal Shakespeare Company director and Artistic director of the Stratford Festival Theatre, Tyrone Guthrie. Powell and Moya's bold design combined the functional requirements of a modern theatre within strict financial constraints in post war Britain.
It was the vision of Laurence Olivier, the first artistic director, that the theatre would produce several shows to run in repertoire sharing the same ensemble cast; and so it was the theatre opened in 1962 with a 'festival' of three shows which were to run for three weeks. Between '62 and '65 Olivier established a company of actors and other theatre practitioners at Chichester which provided the nucleus of his National Theatre Company. The founding principles of the key players who made the idea for Chichester Festival Theatre become a reality still continues to influence how Chichester Festival Theatre functions into modern day.
Chichester Festival Theatre has been working to collect and share its rich history through a three year HLF funded project called Pass It On, creating this microsite as a platform for the stories that have been collected.