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About Us

Faustus 062 © Mark Simmons

Photograph by Mark Simmons ©

Introduction

Firebird Theatre is a Company of sixteen disabled actors. We are experienced, disabled performers/actors with a consistent track record and history of making plays and performances together for over twenty 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:

  • making and performing theatre;
  • planning and delivering workshops to a range of different groups and organisations, particularly schools and colleges;
  • supporting other disabled people to make theatre.

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, text and a large ensemble of actors, to make plays and tell stories to others, 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.

Our job is to do plays and tell stories that will stay in people’s heads long after they leave the theatre and go home. Our job is to make plays 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.

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Firebird Theatre Video

A film made by Ann Pugh of Redweather Productions. This is an ideal introduction to the Company, suitable for venue managers and tour bookers, funders, young people and anyone who would like to know more about the Company.

Red Weather Productions 2007

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Who We Are:

Members of the Company/Actors

  • Daniel Bryan, Steve Canby, Carol Chilcott, Brian Davis, Penny Goater, Kevin Hogan, Tina Kelly, Mary Lansdown, Alex Long, Sarah McGreevy, Richard O’Brien, Marilyn Rees, Jenny Stafford, Chris Wiltshire, Sharlie Yea. Read more.

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Joint Coordinators, Support and Arts Development Workers:

  • Jane Sallis
  • Andy Harris

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Directors/Trustees

  • Gary Hall - Chair
  • Jane Edwards Reynolds
  • Antigoni Messaritaki
  • Brian Davis, Company Member
  • Jo Cuthbert
  • Judith McGreevy –Treasurer

Our thanks to previous trustees: Kevin Brice, Rona Fineman, Colette Conroy and Laura Jerram.

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Why Theatre is Important to Us

When we make plays, 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. When we make our plays, 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.

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Our Relationship with Bristol Old Vic

We first worked at Bristol Old Vic in 1990 when we did our first play in the professional theatre: Yellow Sun, Red Moon. An 'in association' relationship has developed over the years between the Company and Bristol Old Vic; Firebird Theatre always premieres its new work at the Old Vic.

We meet, work and rehearse at Bristol Old Vic (BOV), we have a special relationship with the Old Vic and we call it our theatre home or our second home! Without the support of the BOV and its belief in us, we would have found it very difficult to stick together and continue our work.

BOV give us access to the many facilities within the building including the use of rehearsal space, production technical assistance and access to the administrative facilities of the company including marketing and fundraising. BOV works with Firebird to support and launch each new production.

We are constantly looking at ways to develop our relationship with BOV and build on the work we can do together. Thank you to BOV and all its staff for their support, it means everything!

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History: 1988 until 2005

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 (Yellow Sun, Red Moon; Sharing the Stars; The Lying Doctors) and interpreted and performed interpretations and adaptations of texts (Brecht's 'The Chalk Circle'; Christopher Fry's 'The Boy with a Cart').

An 'in association' relationship has developed over the years between the Company and Bristol Old Vic; Firebird Theatre premieres its new work at the 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’, which has sold widely and has been promoted by art + power.

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 18 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.

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Firebird Threatre Ltd. Registered in England and Wales No: 5728116. Registered Office: 5 Dial Hill Road, Clevedon, North Somerset BS21 7HJ. Registered main Charity Number: 1115658
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