Chichester Festival Theatre has submitted a £22m package of proposals which will ensure its survival for the next half a century.
Next year, the CFT celebrates its 50th anniversary.
But as things stand, it will do so with many parts of the complex seriously past their sell-by date and on a site which has lost much of its parkland feel – thanks to piecemeal additions down the decades.
Now the theatre has published detailed proposals which will strip away what Alan Finch, CFT executive director, labels ‘all the sticky-out brown bits’ and also significantly improve the experience for actors and audience within.
The CFT has long suffered from the fact it was set up for summer opening only and also that many of the subsequent add-ons enabling all year-round-opening are either inefficient or unsightly, including much temporary accommodation which has gradually assumed permanent status.
All of this is addressed in a major new scheme which the CFT has now submitted to Chichester District Council for planning permission.
“The whole thing starts from the 50th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate that anniversary than to try to make sure that the theatre is there in another 50 years,” Mr Finch said.
“We have gone through a whole process to look at what needs to happen to the physical environment to make it fit for purpose.
“The architects’ proposals have now gone through and we think they have come up with the right project at the right time at the right price. Everybody stands to benefit.”
Most of the artists at the moment are accommodated in rooms under the stage. The proposals will create new dressing rooms, with everything on one level.
Also included are proposals for coffee bars in the foyer, a place where people have commented there is currently nowhere to sit. The hope is also to have tables and chairs spilling outside into a piazza feel – though car access between the main-house and Minerva, one of the hottest topics of debate, will have to be maintained for reasons of elderly and disabled drop-off.
Facilities will be significantly improved for the performers with full en suite; currently there is no proper hot-water system in the theatre beyond six or seven immersion tanks dating back years. There will also be improved toilets for the public, addressing current water pressure problems on site.
All the ‘sticky-out brown bits’ will be swept away, housed instead in a back-stage new-build, giving productions greater space behind-stage and also much better storage facilities. Some scenery this summer has had to be stored under tarpaulin in the car park.
Phase one has been public consultation and to draw up the plan; phase two will be planning permission, after which the CFT can focus on fund-raising.
The hope is that a large proportion of the money will come through a capital scheme which the Arts Council looks likely to announce. The rest will come from trust funding and also public fund-raising.
If the Arts Council scheme is not forthcoming, the CFT will have to think again.
Mr Finch said the feeling was that 90 per cent of the funding needed to be in place before work could start.
If all goes well, that could be at the end of the 2013 season.