Photograph by Mark Simmons ©
Firebird Theatre is a Company of twelve disabled artists based in Bristol. It is an associate company of Bristol Old Vic. Firebird Theatre work as an ensemble.
We are experienced, disabled performers/actors with a consistent track record and history of making plays and performances together for over twenty five years. We used to be called the Portway Players but we changed our name to Firebird Theatre when we became an independent Company in 2005.
Our main areas of work include:
- To be an independent theatre company of disabled actors
- To perform plays
- To show our work to as many people as possible
- To link up with other actors, theatre companies, theatres and new audiences
- To develop and become more professional
- To work together
- To become more well known
- To support and involve other disabled people in our work, especially children and young people.
We want to be able to give our way of telling stories to the whole world. We want to share our plays with as many people as possible. We want to make our audiences think about the stories we have told them. We want to be seen as professional actors who can learn together and help other people to learn from us. We believe people should work together; it is our vision for the world.
We see ourselves as a family of actors with a job to do; to use our style of theatre: music, devised work and text to make performances that tell stories to our audiences. We aim to reach as many people as we can, through our plays and our workshops, through linking up with our audiences and the people we come into contact with.
We want to make theatre and tell stories that will stay in people’s heads long after they leave the theatre and go home.
Our job is to make performances that are for everyone no matter who they are and where they come from. We want to give new meanings and understandings to the stories we tell. What our plays do is tackle life and that is what we want to share with other people: that is what Firebird Theatre does.
We have written a Charter that is still being developed and describes how we work together. Please click here to read a copy of the Charter, written summer 2017.
Firebird Theatre Documentary
This film was made by Ann Pugh of Redweather Productions in 2007. Although many things have changed and developed in Firebird since this film was made, it still captures the essence of Firebird Theatre and the Company. This film also serves as a memory of Ann’s wonderful work with us (Ann Pugh 1955 – 2015). There are many films on this website made by Ann, particularly The Breadhorse films on the ‘shows’ page and by Frank Spencer, Ann’s partner, also from Redweather Productions.
Who We Are:
- Daniel Bryan, Steve Canby, Brian Davis, Penny Goater, Kevin Hogan, Tina Kelly, Mary Lansdown, Sarah McGreevy, Marilyn Rees, Olivia Watkins, Chris Wiltshire, Sharlie Yea and Resident Musician: Ed Goater. Read more.
- Jane Sallis
- Mel Scaffold - Chair
- Jane Edwards Reynolds
- Antigoni Messaritaki
- Brian Davis, Company Member
- Jo Cuthbert
- Judith McGreevy –Treasurer
Our thanks to previous trustees: Gary Hall, Kevin Brice, Rona Fineman, Colette Conroy and Laura Jerram.
When we make performances, we work as a team; the most important thing to know about us is that we believe that power comes when we all work together as a group, as an ensemble. When we make theatre, we all bring our different skills, ideas and experiences and we share together to make a play. We are all important to the company, each one of us; no one is the star.
Theatre is important to us because we can show people what we can do; people used to think disabled people with learning difficulties couldn’t do anything but when we get on that stage we can show people what we can do. Theatre is important because people see our plays, and we hope they will change any wrong ideas they might have about us.
Making plays is very powerful, it makes you feel part of the action, makes you feel confident. Making plays means you have something important to say, something important to share. It is about our lives, too. We put our own selves into a play so that people will learn something about us and that is important, as well.
We are lucky and honoured to work with a number of partners who have supported our work and helped us develop as a Theatre Company.
Our Main partners are:
Bristol Old Vic (more information after the section: People who have collaborated and worked with us);
MAYK – a Theatre producing company that works with Firebird to produce our shows; a hugely important role for achieving most of Firebird’s aims and objectives. http://www.mayk.org.uk/
Theatre Bristol - Theatre Bristol is supporting Firebird to develop as an organisation with the potential of for making another 25 years if theatre! Theatre Bristol has worked with Firebird to create a strong Business Plan and is now in the process of helping us to implement it. It has also put in place a policy of Financial Controls and is looking after our book keeping/income and expenditure for 12 months: 2017 -18. http://theatrebristol.net/
Mel Scaffold, CEO at Theatre Bristol is Firebird’s Chair of Trustees. (voted in on October 2016).
People who have collaborated and worked with us, all of whom have helped us develop our work and our skills:
Kathryn Hunter – our patron. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathryn_Hunter
Kim Lawrence, producer for Faustus and The Tempest
John Nicholson, co direction and workshop leader for Faustus and The Tempest. https://www.facebook.com/Peepolykus/
Musicians and composers:Adrian Lee, member of The British Paraorchestra: A Spark and a Beating heart; Mark Richardson: Breadhorse and Prospero, Duke of Milan; Pete Judge: Sharing the Stars; Sarah Moody: The Tempest, The Nine Lessons of Caliban and The Breahorse; Annette Dunn: Faustus; Vanessa Luckwell: The Clowns and The Chalk Circle.
Set and Costume Design:Ruby Spencer Pugh: A Spark and a Beating Heart and Prospero, Duke of Milan (Public performance); Dan Ashcroft: The Breadhorse.
Film, projection and voice recordings for performances:
Ann Pugh (Redweather Productions),: The Tempest; The Lying Doctors; The Nine Lessons of Caliban and The Breadhorse;
Frank Spencer (Redweather Productions): A Spark and a Beating Heart and Propsero, Duke of Milan:
Writer and poet: Claire Williamson, worked with us On a Spark and a Beating Heart; The Breadhorse; The Nine Lessons of Caliban and The Tempest.
Photographers: Paul Blakemore; Graham Burke and David Gilliland.
Production and Stage Management over the years: Gemma Brooks; Anna Griffiths; Jo Cuthbert, Jay Costello Roberts and others from Bristol Old Vic;
Lighting design: Ben Dodds for A Spark and a Beating Heart; Tim Streader for The Breadhorse. Various other personnel from Bristol Old Vic;
There have been many others who have helped us in various ways with productions over the years and we apologise if we have not mentioned all of you in this list but a BIG thank you to you all!
We first worked at Bristol Old Vic in 1990 when we did our first play in the professional theatre: Yellow Sun, Red Moon. Since then we have developed a very special relationship with the Theatre, that have given us a lot of practical support, shared their expertise with us and we always premiere new work at the Old Vic. We have received fantastic support over the years and we would like to thank all the staff for their support over the years, it means everything to us.
In February 2011 we became an associate company of Bristol Old Vic and Matthew Austin wrote this Press Release for the Old Vic and Firebird Theatre.
- Firebird Theatre becomes Bristol Old Vic’s first Associate Company.
Bristol Old Vic has announced that Firebird Theatre is to become their first Associate Company.
The Bristol-based company of sixteen disabled performers has had a long association with Bristol Old Vic, and has premiered all of its work at the theatre since 1990. This new associateship formalises the close relationship the two organisations have nurtured over many years.
Firebird has been creating work together for over twenty years. They began life as the Portway Players, and became Firebird Theatre in 2005.
They first worked at Bristol Old Vic in 1990 when they performed their first piece of professional theatre Yellow Sun, Red Moon. Since then, their shows at Bristol Old Vic have included Faustus (2007) and The Tempest (2010). They recently performed a new performance poetry piece, The Nine Lessons of Caliban, which was written in collaboration with Claire Williamson and developed through Bristol Ferment.
Speaking about the associateship, Emma Stenning, Executive Director of Bristol Old Vic said:
"We’re delighted to announce that Firebird Theatre are an Associate Company of Bristol Old Vic."
"Firebird has been right at the heart of this theatre for many years. They’re any extraordinary ensemble whose bold productions resonate far and wide. Firebird tells big stories that matter to everyone, and this new associateship marks our shared ambition to work more closely together in creating adventurous theatre for Bristol."
Jane Sallis, for Firebird Theatre said:
"Firebird Theatre is proud and honoured to become the first associate company of Bristol Old Vic."
"Often theatre made by disabled actors is seen as being outside the mainstream but Bristol Old Vic has always supported our work and brought it to the attention of its regular audience; we in turn have brought new audiences into the Bristol Old Vic."
"We have never underestimated the importance of being part of the wider theatre community of Bristol, this associateship establishes our place within the community and enables us to develop our role within it."
"We call Bristol Old Vic our ‘theatre home’; our relationship with the theatre is now moving forward into a new and exciting phase. We thank Bristol Old Vic for being such practical and stalwart supporters of Firebird Theatre and our work."
Firebird Theatre was first established in 1988 as the Portway Players. The Company evolved through meetings at the Portway Centre, a Bristol Social Services resource and activities day centre (RAC) for disabled people with learning difficulties. Prior to its inception, the members and staff at the RAC had undertaken an active research project funded by the Norman Holm Benefaction Fund made available through Doctor Dorothy Heathcote, Professor of Drama in Education, and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The purpose of the research was to establish genuine links between the RAC and people who lived and worked in the local community of Shirehampton, Bristol, where the RAC was based.
The research project worked on the very practical premise of people getting to know and understand each other through working together, e.g. projects with local schools, the Jobcentre, the police, shops, the library, etc. Two of the overall findings were the need for the members of the RAC to be able to tell other people about their lives as a means of building understanding between communities and to take a meaningful, self-defining, active role within those communities. Through their commitment, skills and desire it became apparent that the members of the Centre could best communicate and express themselves through the arts; members and workers alike realised that the arts provided a genuine platform and vehicle for this expression and communication. The Portway Players was formed on this basis, in response to a genuine love and commitment to theatre by its members, a desire to use theatre as a way of expressing their lives and a belief that theatre is about sharing and communicating with others.
Following performances for families, friends and the local community, the Portway Players decided they wanted to perform in the professional theatre. Their first performance in a professional theatre was at Bristol Old Vic in 1990 with Yellow Sun, Red Moon. Since 1990, the Players have devised their own work and interpreted and performed interpretations and adaptations of texts; most shows have been premiered at the Bristol Old Vic.
When possible the company has taken its work outside Bristol, most notably The Lying Doctors, which toured the southwest, as well as being performed to audiences as far afield as Manchester and Kent. This work was supported by Social Services and an A4E grant from South West Arts in 1998/99, which enabled the Company to reach an audience total of over 1207 people. The Norman Holm Benefaction Fund also funded a video film of The Lying Doctors (made by Ann Pugh), which has sold widely and has been promoted by art + power.
Firebird Theatre has also toured Faustus in 2007 and The Tempest in 2010.
Supported by Bristol City Council Social Services until 2000 and from 2000 until 2005, by art + power (community arts projects) Ltd, the Portway Players became Firebird Theatre in 2005 and is an independent theatre company.
The Company has a successful track record of at least 25 years theatrical experience and commitment; it is now ready to work towards becoming a company of regional importance. It wants to reach more and more people with the work it does; it wants to become more and more professional and, at the same time, build its profile as an important theatrical and educational presence in Bristol.
In Firebird Theatre, we believe the time has come to share our stories with everyone. We want to make sure that Firebird Theatre is a theatre company of which Bristol can be proud and that Firebird Theatre can contribute to the rich diversity of arts in the city of Bristol and the Southwest region.