Chichester Festival Theatre was founded by a local opthalmic optician and former city mayor, Leslie Evershed-Martin, following an idea he had whilst watching a television programme in 1959 about the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre Festival in Stratford Ontario, Canada. His vision was for a seasonal festival of theatre held over the summer months, held in a space inspired by the revolutionary 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 and the Theatre finally opened its doors in 1962.
Following the Stratford model, the architects, Powell and Moya, developed a 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 modern thrust stage theatre. Powell and Moya's bold design combined the functional requirements of a modern theatre within strict financial constraints.
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 that the theatre opened in 1962 with a 'festival' of three shows which were to run for three weeks - hence Festival Theatre and Festival Season. 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.
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.