Why Chichester Festival Theatre's drive-in cinema plans matter so much

Huge significance attaches to Chichester Festival Theatre’s plans to produce a drive-in cinema in the Northgate car park over the August Bank Holiday weekend (August 28-31) in collaboration with Chichester Cinema at New Park.

Daniel Evans, Artistic Director of Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Tobias Key.

Not only it be great fun for all concerned, but for CFT artistic director Daniel Evans it is also – crucially – about the organisation getting back to doing what it does: creating events.

Just as importantly, it is also about encouraging the public’s appetite for going out to again.

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Important also is the fact that it will see the CFT re-engaging precisely the kinds of freelancers in the busines who have been so heavily hit by the pandemic shutdown.

The hope is also for other outdoor events in Oaklands Park.

“It is the start of getting back,” Daniel says. “If we can start to do things outdoors with social distancing, then it all helps. It won’t pay the bills ultimately. It is only interim. It won’t sustain us financially. But you have got to start somewhere. We have got to try to be optimistic. The government says that on July 4 we enter phase three. We hope then we will get some information about the guidelines as to what is possible on the stage, behind the stage and in front of the stage. Once we get that, we are hoping we will be able to plan.

“We are still hoping we might be able to have socially-distanced audiences in the main house in November. The main house (rather than the Minerva) makes more sense. It’s a bigger space. We think we could get 450 people in there – just over the number you can get in the Minerva, but crucially they will be safe.

“Lots of our supporters are saying to us that the moment we put something on and they are told it is safe, they will be back with us. The message we are getting from our supporters has been great.”

If all goes well, Daniel is envisioning a November main-house programme similar to that we saw in last year’s temporary Spiegeltent – cabaret and comedy.

A key measure of public support is that half the audience who bought tickets for South Pacific this year have simply swapped those tickets for the same seats next year. South Pacific has al-ready been confirmed as the 2021 Chichester Festival Theatre summer centrepiece musical.

“I just didn’t know how that was going to go (in terms of swapping tickets), but it was great. It just shows that the appetite really is still there.

“And that has been a help for us. It has helped us with the cash flow, but that’s not why we are doing it. We just want to get back to doing what we do.”

Also a certainty for next year’s summer season is The Taxidermist’s Daughter, a new play, based on her own novel, by Chichester-based author Kate Mosse: “It’s a no-brainer. Kate is a locally-based best-selling novelist and has made such a wonderful play.”

Daniel also considers The Unfriend, planned for this year, as a “dead cert” for next.

Inevitably, though, planning, both budgetary and logistical, is enormously difficult amid such uncertainty.

“But we are still hoping to do the Youth Theatre production of Pinocchio at Christmas. If the schools are back by September, I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t rehearse. We might have to have a smaller cast, but we are still hoping. Some people might see it as wildly optimistic, but you have got to keep hoping.”

The drive-in cinema plans are subject to government guidelines permitting large gatherings out-doors, at a social distance, at the time. Arrangements will be put in place for the necessary social distancing, and all rules and guidelines prevalent at the time will be strictly adhered to through-out the event. The event is being planned with the co-operation and support of Chichester District Council.


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