An Interview with Jane Sallis of Firebird Theatre

Firebird Theatre are one of our associate companies and will be appearing with their third production, The Breadhorse, in our Studio next week. They received a great reaction early this year when they performed an extract of the show at January’s Ferment Fortnight. Since then they’ve been hard at work creating, polishing and perfecting ready for next week.


Photograph by Graham Burke

We caught up with Jane Sallis, who is one of the coordinators of Firebird, to talk Breadhorses, name changing and

Who are Firebird?
Firebird Theatre is a Company of disabled performers that began life as the Portway Players 25 years ago. It has undergone many transitions since then, however it still has 6 founder members.

In 2013, Firebird is Daniel Bryan, Steve Canby, Carol Chilcott, Brian Davis, Penny Goater, Kevin Hogan, Tina Kelly, Steve Knight, Mary Lansdown, Alex Long, Sarah McGreevy, Richard O’Brien, Marilyn Rees, Jenny Stafford, Chris Wiltshire and Sharlie Yea.

Why change the name from The Portway Players?
We decided to change the name in 2005. As new people joined us we were outgrowing our beginnings (a day centre in Shirehampton), our ambition was to become an independent theatre company; we thought  a different name would launch us!

How and when did you get involved with the company?
I was involved from the beginning; members of the company and I shared a vision, which is best described by the members of Firebird:

In the past we lived in hospitals or went to day centres, people didn’t know about our lives; making plays and telling our stories is a way of changing that, people can see who we are and what we can do. It is important for people to get to know each other and work towards knowledge and understanding.

What is Firebird’s relationship with the Bristol Old Vic?
In 2011, Firebird became an associate company of Bristol Old Vic, we are incredibly proud of this relationship. Even before then, Bristol Old Vic had supported us –  there were times when it would have been difficult for Firebird to survive without it.

What’s The Breadhorse all about then, and why should we come and see it?
The Breadhorse
is a story poem written by Alan Garner. It has not been adapted for the stage before. Breadhorse is a playground game where children carry each other on their backs. The game turns nasty as one boy is forced to be the “Breadhorse” again and again. It is a deceptively simple story about bullying, isolation and empowerment

We are really excited that a Choir of students from Briarwood and Kingsweston Schools and St Brendan’s Sixth Form College led by Mark Lawrence and musicians from St Brendan’s and Firebird led by Sarah Moody, will join us for these performances.

We hope lots of people will come to see The Breadhorse, we think it has something for everyone.

Who first inspired you to get involved with theatre, and who else is impressing you at the moment?
Inspiration comes from many sources: back in 1982, I attended Dorothy Heathcote’s Drama in Education course; over subsequent years Dorothy continued to work with me and Firebird. She passed away in 2011, she continues to inspire.

For The Breadhorse, we are working with Tristan Sturrock; we have a wonderful collaborative and inspirational relationship with Tristan. He impresses us very much as an actor, a director and as part of the Firebird team!

Best thing you’ve ever seen in the theatre?
Hard to choose a best; Firebird’s patron is Kathryn Hunter and her Kafka’s Monkey was amazing. We love Kneehigh and we are looking forward to seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Bristol Old Vic.

What is your most treasured possession?

What do you never leave home without?
On a Firebird day, I must not forget scripts; tea; coffee; milk and biscuits! 

What has been your proudest professional moment? 
There have been many moments throughout Firebird’s history when I have felt very proud; when everything comes together and works well in a performance, or something really important happens like being made an associate of Bristol Old Vic. There are also those moments when I see a member of the audience or someone who is meeting Firebird for the first time become totally mesmerized and inspired by the Company – those are special moments.

And ultimate ambition?
For Firebird to go from strength to strength and to be able to continue to make amazing work together!

Where do you live?
I live in Clevedon, Firebird’s registered address; one of the actors lives in Ilminster, another in Bath and the rest of the Company live in Bristol! 

What is the best and worst thing about where you live?
I wish we all lived closer together so that transport wasn’t such an issue but I love where I live and I love Bristol.

What is your favourite restaurant in Bristol?
I haven’t a favourite – Bristol has some great restaurants, I wish there was more time to explore them!

What was your earliest ambition?
It was ever-changing, the usual childhood ambitions, nothing unusual! Now I share the company’s ambition:

We want to be able to give our way of telling stories to the whole world.

Do you have a motto in life?
Just to enjoy life as much as possible and make the most of everything.

The Breadhorse is on in the Studio at Bristol Old Vic 14-16 Mar. You can find out more here.


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