Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Jenny Stafford and Daniel Bryan join other members of Bristol's community for dance performance Handbag at the Arnolfini

Jenny and Dan from Firebird auditioned with other members from Bristol's community and subsequently took part in a dance performance Handbag at the Arnolfini during the Harbourside Festival. They took part in 5 performances during the evening of the 30th July and other members of Firebird were in the audience to cheer them on. They both delivered fantastic performances under the direction of artist, Geraldine Pilgrim. For more information about Handbag, please see below extract below, from the Arnolfini website. 

Photographs, below, taken of Jenny and Dan during one of the Saturday performances

Jenny, in the red dress on the balcony

Daniel, second from the right

From Arnolfini's website:

Handbag Geraldine Pilgrim

A celebratory gem of a performance with great music, dancing and handbags made for ballrooms, civic halls and unusual spaces. In an empty ballroom, a caretaker sweeps away the remnants of a previous event. A woman enters the space and puts down her handbag. A beat begins, a mirror ball turns and the sound of a classic dance track fills the air…

“A witty and wistful performance that, in a few delirious moments, succinctly makes the point that no woman needs a man when she has got her handbag in tow.”

Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

“positive and uplifting. Made me want to dance the night away.” 

Audience member, BAC

Commissioned, scratched and originally performed for the Grand Hall at BAC and subsequently conceived and performed as part of the opening season for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, the Transform Festival at West Yorkshire Playhouse and at Arnolfini as part of the Bristol Harbour Festival.

BIG NEWS!! Firebird Theatre becomes an Associate Company of Bristol Old Vic.

It is with great pleasure that we announce that we have been made an associate company of Bristol Old Vic. We are thrilled and very excited about this and look forward to developing future work with Bristol Old Vic and its development programme, Ferment. The Old Vic has released a press release about the associateship, please see below.

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.”

For further information, please contact Matthew Austin at Bristol Old Vic Press Office on 0117 949 4901 / 07989 500732 or press@bristololdvic.org.uk

Remembering Dorothy Heathcote, friend, colleague, advisor and supporter

We are very sad to hear that Dorothy Heathcote passed away on Saturday 8th October. We send our love and thoughts to Dorothy's daughter and son-in-law, Marianne and Kevin, and her granddaughter, Anna.

Dorothy was a huge inspiration and worked with Firebird in lots of different ways,  providing us with support and encouragement over many years. In 1985/86 Dorothy made available the Norman Holm Benefaction Fund (via the University of Newcastle upon Tyne) to the Portway Resource and Activity Centre in Shirehampton, Bristol. This fund enabled the setting-up of numerous community projects, including a theatre group, where original members of Firebird Theatre first met and started working together as the Portway Players. The aim of the community projects was to break down barriers and build understanding between local communities and members of the Portway Centre, working with the over-riding principle that no community can be considered whole unless all its members are included and participate within it. Dorothy worked alongside us to plan these projects and their outcomes.The first piece of theatre performed in a mainstream venue was Red Sun, Yellow Moon, performed at Bristol Old Vic (BOV) in 1990. Dorothy continued to help plan, support and advise on such productions as The Boy with the Cart by Christopher Fry, staged as a community theatre event  performed at BOV, and The Bristol Giants, a street theatre event with local school children. 

As the Portway Players developed and grew in confidence, Dorothy helped us understand more about Chamber Theatre and how it could be used in Sharing the Stars, using our own poetry. Dorothy visited Bristol several times to work with us on Sharing the Stars and, later on, Faustus. She also came to our performances and supported us as we made the journey to become an independent theatre company and changed our name to Firebird Theatre. Most recently in November 2010, she invited some of us to take part in a Chamber Theatre training day at Birmingham University, which was a great day and helped us to continue to develop our skills. 

Dorothy meant a lot to us; she always believed in what we did and supported and encouraged us. We will miss her very much and know that she would want us to continue to develop our work, try hard in everything we do and enjoy making theatre and telling stories. It was a huge privilege and honour to work with Dorothy, she was so generous in the way she shared with us and helped us move forward as a Company. Thank you, Dorothy, we will not forget.

Please see Dorothy's obituary, below, which celebrates everything Dorothy did and the huge number of people she worked with and reached through her work. Also, please visit www.dorothyheathcote.org which has just been launched as the only official website endorsed by Dorothy's family and dedicated to the life and work of Dorothy, to be used as the international meeting place where all memories of Dorothy and her work can be shared, and her practice carried forward.

Dorothy Heathcote Obituary
Dorothy Heathcote MBE, who has died aged 85, was a world-renowned teacher who revolutionised the use of Drama in Education through a variety of pioneering techniques.

It is difficult to grasp how the 14-year-old girl who entered a Yorkshire woollen mill to work in 1940 could become a key international figure in the world of education and drama and yet by the age of 24 she had become a lecturer at the Newcastle-upon-Tyne campus of Durham University, beginning a career that was to span 60 years. In that time she became the inspiration and role model for generations of teachers across the world who recognised in her unique approach the means by which to profoundly engage students and young people with their learning.

It was in 1945 that the headlines in the Yorkshire Post announced: ‘Weaver Gets Chance of Stage Career’ and, indeed, Dorothy trained as an actress, her fees paid for by the mill manager. But, much as she enjoyed acting, her vision extended beyond the stage to the use of theatre as an educational construct. She instinctively recognised the natural human predisposition to use drama as a means of exploring and understanding the world and of developing the fundamental life skills needed for it. With that recognition, Dorothy set herself the task of translating her vision into a classroom practice for all ages that continues to be inspirational to millions.

Her gift was in being able to touch people and give everything she knew away to those who were interested. Her legacy is that so many were interested and, standing on her shoulders, they continue the work of a genius who is for many, the greatest drama teacher of all.

Dorothy remained at Newcastle when it became a university in its own right in 1962. From the School of Education there, word of the charismatic young drama teacher soon began to spread. Her openness of spirit and radical, new pedagogy drew a stream of postgraduate students to Newcastle. She generously welcomed many into her own home and her husband, Raymond and their daughter, Marianne, became used to sharing the house with an annually changing group of temporary residents from home and abroad.

Dorothy created a whole school of drama practice based around the teacher shifting her pedagogy from that of an instructor to inductor, coach, facilitator and fellow artist, recognising the potency for learning of a co-creative process in which learners are empowered. She created a vocabulary of terminology such as drama for learning, drama conventions, teacher in and out of role, secondary role, Rolling Role, Chamber Theatre, Frame, Signing, Mantle of the Expert and Commissioning that is now in the canon of world-wide dramatic teaching expertise and curriculum models pioneered by her deeply held mission to bring joy and challenge into learning.

As her students returned to their places of work, Dorothy’s influence was carried with them and this precipitated an enduring torrent of invitations to work with children, young people, teachers and students across the globe. She accepted them, pioneering the use of drama as a learning process for the world in a wide range of contexts, for example, in townships such as Soweto in South Africa; in New Zealand with Maori communities; in the depths of inner cities in the UK, and in numerous countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Australasia. She also worked in borstal institutions in the UK and USA; in residential care homes and learning centres for people with significant disability; in special schools and with those who work with very vulnerable people. Even during her final illness, she found creative ways of contributing; through video-conferencing, for example.

However, wherever Dorothy was working in the world she always tried to catch the earliest flight home, and remained ‘Dorothy the home-maker’. Her heart was first and foremost with her family; to her neighbours and close friends she was always ‘Dorothy the cook, the bread-maker, the seamstress, the gardener’. She was famous for rising early to prepare for the day alongside her favourite cat and the AGA. She always had a book with her wherever she went, and was an avid letter writer. She loved family days out at National Trust properties and going to the theatre, and supported her granddaughter, Anna, in all her theatrical and dancing endeavours.

In Newcastle, her pioneering methods reached the Medical School where many films focussing on dramatic reconstructing of medical issues were used in the training of medics. Similarly, she became engaged with British Gas senior managers who had become aware of the methods and adopted structures using dramatic contexts to teach their managerial staff new skills for the workplace. This relationship was soon followed by others with Volkswagen, UK, the NHS and more recently with the Crown Prosecution Service and the professional theatre.

Dorothy’s was an endlessly engaged and enquiring mind with a creativity of thought that enabled her to see the connections between her work and that of others across a spectrum of disciplines. She was never complacent and until very shortly before her death was continuing to develop and refine her practice. This resulted in a richly textured pedagogy with a density of resonance that excited and inspired both the participants in her dramas and all those who strove and continue to strive to emulate them.

Her accolades have also been many, resulting in honorary doctorates from The University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the University of Derby; honours from and patronage of national and international professional bodies, such as National Drama and NATD; invitations to address the most prestigious gatherings, especially in New York; and of course through her writings and collaborations with her eminent students who had reached similar heights through her training. As early as 1974 the BBC produced a remarkable film about her practice, Three Looms Waiting, which can still be found on UTube. She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list on 11th June 2011, which she was due to collect at Buckingham Palace on 18th October. Knowing that she had already received the honour, it was her wish for her family – who have carried the name Heathcote forward through two more generations – to collect the medal posthumously.

Addressing a gathering of teachers she once remarked, “I shall look forward to death” and when people gasped she said cheerily “not in any morbid sense of course, but rather as looking forward to the greatest and most mysterious adventure of all”. Dorothy’s ‘adventure’ began on 8th October 2011 when she died as a result of the blood disorder, MDS.

Dorothy Heathcote’s Life Celebration will be held at 1pm on Sunday 11 December 2011 at St. Werburgh’s Church, Church Street, Spondon, DERBY DE21 7LL. All are welcome to attend, but please RSVP to Dorothy’s daughter. Thank you.

Dorothy Heathcote
Born: 29th August 1926
Died: 8th October 2011

Thursday, 27 January 2011

News from 2010 continued and plans for 2011

Farewell and thanks to Rona Fineman
Rona Fineman retired from her position as Chair of Trustees at Firebird Theatre’s Annual General Meeting, which was held on the 4th December.

We would like to thank Rona for starting us off on our journey as an independent theatre company. Rona has been a trustee and the chair of trustees since we set up as a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity in 2006. We shall miss her as a trustee but we are privileged and honoured to know that Rona will continue to work with us as an advisor and a supporter.

Throughout 2011 we need to concentrate our efforts on fund raising to maintain and develop what Firebird Theatre does. Since 2006, we have received support from Trusts and Foundations (listed on our main website) and Arts Council England whose Grants for the Arts awards have enabled Firebird Theatre to move forward as a theatre company. We have received donations and gifts from individual supporters and friends. We would like to thank everyone who has helped us. Your help is very much appreciated and really helps Firebird Theatre to keep doing what it does.

We recognise that it will be more difficult to raise funds over the next few years because of the current financial climate. We know that we need help to get through this difficult time and  support with fund raising is very difficult to find. If anyone has any ideas or can offer any help with this area of our work, we would be most grateful.

Our plans for 2011

Artistic plans
First of all we are working with our patron, Kathryn Hunter, to see if we can get involved in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World Shakespeare Festival in 2012 with our re-telling of The Tempest. The Festival is part of the celebrations around the Olympics. We know this is a very BIG ambition but we would like to try to make it happen.

We are developing The Nine Lessons of Caliban with artists who are part of Ferment at Bristol Old Vic. We are now part of Ferment which is the Old Vic’s artistic development programme that works with artists from Bristol to enable them to try out new work, develop ideas, collaborate with other artists and form relationships with their audiences. We are really pleased to be given this opportunity to be part of Ferment and work with Ferment artists.

Outreach and education
We also want to do other things around education and involving other people in what we do. These include running more workshops; working more with other disabled artists and theatre practitioners; getting the films that Ann Pugh has made of Firebird’s work on the internet so that people all over the country can find out about Firebird Theatre.

We also want to explore a new way of working with other people so that we can involve them in making productions with us without them having to audition or become a member of the Company. We hope we can develop this idea over the next year.

Business plans

As already mentioned, the trustees and the company will be focussing on raising funds to maintain and develop the activities of Firebird over the next three years.

In the New Year we will be getting help from Katie Keeler from Theatre Bristol to write our business plan.

Our trustees also want to focus on the recruitment of new trustees to strengthen and develop the skills of the Board.

Workshops and other activities in 2010

Graeae’s Signs of Star Shaped Diva and signsong workshop
In May, a group of us went to see Graeae’s Signs of Star Shaped Diva at the Brewery, Tobacco Factory, which we thought was excellent. It was a one-woman show starring Caroline Parker, whom we met after the performance. She was wonderful. A few days later we did the Graeae workshop, which was around signed song. We really enjoyed this, for Alex it was great to work with other deaf actors and performers. For other members of Firebird, it was just great doing signing again and learning some new signs. One of the people we worked with was Fletch, a signsong performer. For more information visit http://www.signsong.org.uk/
Community chorus in the dressing room

Far Away by Caryl Churchill

At the end of May, a few of us took part in Far Away by Caryl Churchill. We saw this as the start of Firebird getting involved in other companies’ productions. Far Away was produced by Bristol Old Vic and directed by Simon Godwin; the production involved a chorus of community members of which we were part. It was a great experience. This involvement has also helped us think more about how we can involve people in Firebird performances in the future.

Right: Jenny and Daniel ready for performance of Far Away

Workshop with Amici Dance Theatre Company and Wolfgang Strang at the Lyric Hammersmith
On the 19th June, 14 people from Firebird Theatre visited Amici Dance Theatre Company in London. We did a workshop with Amici and Wolfgang Strang, their artistic director, at the Lyric Hammersmith. After the workshop we stayed on to see Amici’s performance Tightrope. We had a fantastic day. Ann Pugh came with us and filmed the workshop, also Holly Thomas. Holly had been working with us on audio description in performances for visually impaired and blind people. Holly is a visually impaired dancer with Touchdown Dance Company and it was great to have her join us.

Wolfgang working with Steve, Holly and two members of Amici

                                 Top: Sarah being lifted by the 'strong' men from Tightrope
                                 Bottom: Amici and Firebird working together

Alex, Dan, Richard, Sarah and Liz with Amici performers
 in the foyer/bar area of the Lyric Hammersmith
Workshop with Holly Thomas
We had a workshop in the summer with Holly Thomas about providing audio description in performances for visually impaired and blind people. Holly is a visually impaired dancer with Touchdown Dance Company. We want to get funding to do more of this work with Holly.

Back to Back: The Democratic Set
Members of Firebird Theatre took part in Back to Back’s film, The Democratic Set, at the Arnolfini in September. We went to see the film when it was screened at the Arnolfini at the beginning of December as part of the Inbetween Festival. Back to Back are a theatre company from Australia, they experiment with performance in a very exciting way and we would love to learn more about their work.

Workshop with Dorothy Heathcote
Also in December, three of us took part in a Chamber Theatre workshop led by Dorothy Heathcote at Birmingham University. We are trying to learn more and more about Chamber Theatre as we use it a lot in our theatre work.

Workshops that we ran for other people
We did a workshop for the Autistic Project in August. This was part of the work we are developing around working with young disabled and non-disabled people. We also did a practical workshop and a presentation at St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in October.

We have started working with a student and her teacher from a school in South Gloucestershire to plan a work experience package for young disabled people who are getting ready to leave school. We will pilot this plan next July. We also hope to plan a work experience package for young people who would like to work as volunteers with the Company.

Earlier in the year, we also met a GCSE student with special needs as part of her work experience. She came to meet us twice, before and after seeing The Tempest at Bristol Old Vic, to find out more about us and ask questions. Through these meetings we realise that we have a role and responsibility to encourage young people to get involved in the arts when they leave school. The next step for us is about offering good opportunities for these students, as well.

Alex, Dan and Sharlie
Left: The Family group from workshop, January 2011

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

News from 2010: The Tempest

The Tempest: Alex and Tina (Trinculo and Stephano)
 We apologise for taking so long to up-date our news blog. This is an extended version of our seasonal newsletter, which we have sent to the people on our mailing list. It includes a summary of last year’s activities and some of our hopes and plans for 2011.

Before we begin telling you our news, we would like to thank the following people:
The Bristol Old Vic for all their support; without it we would find it very difficult to continue our work.
All our families, friends, supporters, trustees and funders for your continuing support and commitment to Firebird Theatre;
All the people who worked with us on The Tempest;
Our audiences, without whom there would be very little point really!
We would also like to wish everyone a peaceful and happy New Year.


The Tempest: Steve (Caliban), Chris (Prospero) and Jenny (Miranda)
As most people know, one of the biggest news items for us this year was the Regional Preview Tour of The Tempest, which opened at Bristol Old Vic in the Studio in March and then went to Salisbury Arts Centre and the Brewhouse in Taunton. In total we did 6 performances and we were excited by the sell out performances at Bristol Old Vic.

We collected audience feedback and reviews and will include all of these on our main website very soon. We have chosen one internet review however, because it highlights the support we have from Bristol Old Vic.

"But the final, and profoundest, message belongs to Caliban: I am also changed by the storm. I will not worship fools again... but one day they may respect the difference and see the man. Big credit to Bristol Old Vic for supporting this innovative company and this production." Crysse Morrison, freelance reviewer

We learnt a lot from developing and producing The Tempest, also from the preview tour. Chrissie Godfrey, Visionjuice, produced an evaluation based on Firebird’s work over the last couple of years and we will be using the report to inform our planning over the next year.

The Tempest: Liz (the servant) and Stephen as Alonso, King of Naples
We will remember
In May of this year we lost former member of Firebird Theatre/Portway Players, Claude Rimmer. Since retiring as an actor, Claude had become a member of the Firebird Poets and had worked with the other poets and Claire Williamson to write poetry for Firebird’s production of The Tempest. We miss Claude very much and our performance of The Nine Lessons of Caliban is dedicated to Claude.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

News from 2010: The Nine Lessons of Caliban

                       The Nine Lessons of Caliban

                      "I can't remember the last time a performance of poetry haunted me so."
                                                                      Feedback from an audience member.

After The Tempest performances, we started planning and rehearsing The Nine Lessons of Caliban for the Bristol Poetry Festival in September 2010. This was a performance of some of the poetry that had been written by the Firebird Poets and Claire Williamson during our work on The Tempest. It helped us look even more at the character of Caliban and develop a short poetry performance around all the stages that Caliban goes through on the island; all that he learns.

We worked with Ann Pugh on sound, lighting and projecting Carol’s artwork from The Tempest. We worked with Sarah Moody to make more music to go with the poetry. We worked with Claire Williamson to write some extra words to link all the poetry that had been written earlier in the year and in 2009. This then became our working script and we performed The Nine Lessons as a large choral piece; Claire and Sarah performed with us. We were also very proud to have Brenda Cook perform with us. Brenda is one of the Firebird Poets and retired from performing with Firebird (then known as the Portway Players) about 10 years ago. Brenda read a poem she had written and performed over 12 years ago as part of The Lying Doctors (1998). We felt that The Nine Lessons and The Lying Doctors were linked through the themes of oppression and bullying and Brenda’s poem about name calling from The Lying Doctors linked the two pieces very well.

We hope to include the script of The Nine Lessons on the main website in the future, this will also be included as part of the educational resource we want to put on the web around all our work on The Tempest. This resource will include downloadable materials such as scripts, photographs and plans but will focus on 4/5 short films made by Ann Pugh around how Firebird works and makes theatre.

For this blog we would like to include the poem that Brenda wrote all those years ago and now reads in The Nine Lessons of Caliban

Names can hurt and harm you inside
They touch a tender spot
They make you feel horrible
Names stick in your heart
Once called a name
It stays in your mind all the time
When you are called a name enough
You get to think it is right
You can't get away from it.

Extract from the ‘Sticks and stones’ poem by Brenda Cook

Feedback from an audience member for The Nine Lessons of Caliban, performed at the Arnolfini on 19th September as part of Bristol’s Poetry Festival 2010:

"The Nine Lessons of Caliban worked on many levels, not just the spoken word; it spoke visually and resonated with the experience of the performers. This resonance seemed unique to this theatre company; had the piece been devised by those without learning difficulty or physical and mental challenge, many layers would have been missing and Caliban's voice would not have shouted so loud." 

"The projection of the text, embellished by the wonderful illustrations was inspired; it allowed the viewer/listener to roll the text around in both eye and ear."

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Firebird Theatre at Bristol Ferment, 22nd January 2011

Bristol Old Vic
The Nine Lessons of Caliban
Firebird Theatre 3pm, Sat 22 Jan

This performance for Ferment will be a stripped back version of the original piece, which was made for Bristol's Poetry Festival; it will focus on the text and performance and inviting audiences to share thoughts on ideas for future development.

* this performance will be BSL interpreted. All Ferment showings are £4 unless indicated otherwise. Please see website for full details and more info on all of the companies and artists involved. For more information about Ferment and the rest of the programme, please visit http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/ferment.html