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From the beginning of 2009, we have been developing The Tempest as our new production. Our main funders for this research and development year are listed on our home page.

Over the next few months, the company will draw upon its extensive experience of devising and running education programmes to produce an engaging and accessible workshop package around The Tempest.


Faustus Education Pack

For our last production, Faustus, we developed a resource pack for schools. This can be downloaded here: Download Education Pack PDF logo


Why we chose The Tempest

The Firebird style (as seen in previous classical text shows The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Boy with the Cart, Faustus) involves the Company members interpreting a well-known story in their own unique way. At the heart of this lies a process of members bringing their own life experiences and issues to a well-known story and working at it to create a completely new and fresh interpretation; often, in the process, making the text more accessible for a wide range of audiences. For Firebird Theatre actors, this process of researching, devising, interpreting, adapting and rehearsing a classical text takes up to a year and is an extraordinary and unique process. For The Tempest, the company is proposing to work with a number of practitioners from the initial research stages of the project in order to generate material and ideas for devising. This is the first time Firebird has collaborated with artists from the beginning of their process and it is an exciting development for the company. Firebird also intends to document this process to help it locate, define and develop its practice and, ultimately, share it with other companies, practitioners, and interested people (this documentation will also be used in the evaluation process and will provide resources for the company’s education programme).

Firebird Theatre has chosen The Tempest as it gives the company huge scope to further develop its interpretation skills of a classical text, particularly the challenge of working on a Shakespeare play. It is also hoped that the work will interest school audiences and young people who are studying Shakespeare: Firebird wants young people to see its work.

Firebird thinks it is important to work with young people and schools. Find out why Word logo.

Importantly, company members believe that people do not expect a company of disabled actors with learning difficulties to be able to ‘do’ Shakespeare. Additionally the members chose the play over six other texts (including Shakespeare, Brecht) because:

  • It is a play we wanted to do more than the others we looked at;
  • We believe it will give us more opportunities to develop our acting skills and the way we tell stories;
  • It is not an easy story. We chose it because we think it is more difficult and that is more challenging and we like a challenge;
  • We think the characters are more interesting, particularly Prospero and Caliban. People say to us, Caliban will be difficult for us to do but we think it will be very exciting and powerful to look at how we show and act Caliban and we are especially interested in looking at the story from his point of view. We would like to explore looking at The Tempest from lots of different points of view: Prospero’s, Miranda’s, Ariel’s, as well as Caliban’s,
  • With this play we will need to think more about how we show things, like the boat, the sea, the island, the storm. Designing The Tempest, deciding how it will look is very exciting for us and a development from how we have worked before. We think The Tempest is a very visual story and making it look good will be an important part of our work;
  • How we use music will be important. The island is full of music and we want to develop the way we use music in our plays;
  • We wish to develop how we use audio description in our work as part of trying to make our work as accessible as possible for people who are in the audience;
  • We want to use more dance and movement in our telling of the story to show the magic in it.


The Story So Far

Main areas of Firebird Theatre’s work on developing The Tempest are, to date:

  • Three audition workshops run for disabled people: Daniel Bryan joins Firebird Theatre as a new member of the Company.
  • Four workshops at St Brendan’s Sixth Form College; two presentations about the Company and two practical workshops around The Tempest for a total of 150+ students. Download article from St. Brendan’s PDF logo
  • Start of music sessions with Sarah Moody, musician
  • Dance workshop with Wolfgang Stange, Amici Dance Theatre, London

    Wolfgang Stange Dance WorkshopWolfgang Stange Dance Workshop

  • Meeting with Annemarie Macdonald, Theatre Alibi
  • Regular meetings with Katie Keeler, Theatre Bristol
  • Thirty research and development sessions
  • For the latest on rehearsals visit:
    Rehearsal blog
  • Eight poetry workshops with Claire Williamson, involving five deaf and disabled people outside the Company. The Firebird poets wrote poetry around The Tempest. This required a dialogue between the Company and poets and will inform/is informing Firebird’s script of The Tempest; some of the poetry will also be incorporated into the final adaptation. There will also be performances of this work in its own right at Bristol Poetry Festival 2010.

We have finished researching The Tempest, which involves us getting to know and understand the story for ourselves; this process includes devising, adapting and interpreting the text in our own way. This period of work ended with five workshops in May with John Nicholson, actor, director and writer with Peepolykus.

John Nicholson 2
John Nicholson 1

John Nicholson leading workshops

We have now begun to cast, script and rehearse the work. At the end of this process we will work with John Nicholson again as guest director. We also hope to have some time with Kathryn Hunter, our patron.

We have also recently started working with other professionals:

  • Mick Bearwish, set and costume design
  • James Lake, puppet design
  • Scott Rogers, advising on marketing
  • Kim Lawrence, tour booker
  • Sarah Moody, musician


James Lake, Disabled ArtistJames Lake

We asked James Lake if he would make us a piece of sculpture that could represent Miranda as a young girl. James made us this puppet/doll for The Tempest.

James started making sculpture when he first became disabled. He discovered a method of sculpting which allowed him to make large scale work in a non-studio environment – largely using cardboard and paper to make sculpture. The media of cardboard is readily available and portable. When he is working with others the medium can be manipulated to suit all abilities.

He seeks in the fine crafting of a fragile material to bring forward the universal qualities of humanity, strength and vulnerability. These qualities are inherent in the materials of cardboard. He sees the non-disabled and disabled as equal within this humanity and strives to break down the barriers that divide them.



Writing our own poetry helps us when we are looking at stories. It helps us to:
• Understand the story we want to tell
• Discuss some of the big themes in the story, like power, relationships, good and evil
• Talk about and find shared meanings, for example: what is the island like? What do we know about being treated like a slave?
• The poetry enables an overview of the story and opportunities for reflection. For us, it is an important part of the process of making theatre.

We can use our own words to describe what is happening in a scene, what we understand about it. In this way, our words can become part of the story, part of the action.

For the poetry that has been written so far around The Tempest, please
Download Firebird poets working with Claire WilliamsonWord logo


Visual Art

Firebird Theatre has its own visual artist, Carol Chilcott. Carol is a member of the Company and comes to every rehearsal. Instead of working on stage she works off-stage, making drawings of what is happening.

As work on a play progresses, Carol’s drawings become a record of what we have done and are really helpful in terms of remembering what we do from session to session. During initial stages of developing work, however, Carol brings her own ideas to the play, which contribute directly to Firebird’s choice of costume, props and set. Carol’s drawings can also make us think of our actions and what we are doing on stage; they can inspire and give the actors ideas about how to show a particular bit of the story. Carol’s drawings can help us find another way of looking at a story, some examples of Carol’s work.

Carol's Drawing 015

About the drawing: this drawing shows Firebird’s early work on exploring the story of The Tempest. We experimented with the idea of having a sort of ‘Shakespeare person’, sitting at a desk on stage, writing with a quill. In this way, we thought we could start telling the story of The Tempest. People stood around the writer, whispering words into the writer’s head: wind, rain, thunder, lightning….building up in volume and a melee of words until the writer said: The Tempest! In this way Carol has recorded the process of how Firebird experiments with different ideas. It was decided that this idea will not be used in the production of The Tempest.

Carol's Drawing 016

About the drawing: this drawing is of sea shells. Shells have now become an important symbol in Firebird’s interpretation of the story of The Tempest. When Carol first began drawing shells and ‘beach scenes’ (before the poets started work on their poetry), it helped us to bring all our ideas about the island together.

Carol's Drawing 018

About the drawing: this is Carol’s drawing of the spirits in the shape of hounds. We include this drawing as an example of Carol’s imagination. When messing around or playing with this part of the story, we used voice and sound only. It was an exciting thing to do, to create the scene in this way but there was nothing visual about it. Carol’s drawing will help us to look at this bit of the story in a different way and make decisions about how we will tell and show it on stage.


Previous Scripts

• Scripts: The Lying Doctors Word logo, The Clowns Word logo, Sharing the Stars Word logo and Faustus Word logo)



We are working with Chrissie Godfrey from Visionjuice again to evaluate our work on The Tempest. She helped us to evaluate the work we did on the tour of Faustus. It has really helped us to work with Chrissie; she uses action research to help us with our evaluation process.

What is Action Research?

Evaluation in the arts is often carried out by external people who go to rehearsals and performances, interview audiences, promoters, funders and other partners, and then create a report based on their findings. In this approach, the group being evaluated can often feel “observed” rather than “engaged” in the process.

Evaluation via Action Research takes the view that groups develop best when they look at the whole of their work as a learning journey, one on which they embark with a series of questions that will be explored as they do the work. At intervals, they stop to check on what they are discovering, and maybe adjust what they are doing to explore the questions more effectively. At the end of the process, there are no judgements about whether what they did was right or wrong. Instead, there is really rich information about what has emerged from their experiences which can guide their future work.

Download our Evaluation Report of the Faustus Tour PDF logo


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