In Search of the Phoenix

Steve Davismoon

    Research output: Non-textual formComposition


    To what extent can the devising of an ‘age-appropriate’ music theatre work, which possesses a profound undercurrent of ‘choice’ underpinning its performative ethos challenge notions of what young people with SENs can or should be allowed to creatively explore, achieve and express in public to an adult audience, alongside adult music and theatre professionals. It will be argued that the realisation of such a work promoted profound ideas of agency in the individuals that participated, through a variety of methodological modes that could readily add to the techniques of creative education employed in SENs classrooms up and down the country. Context In Search of the Phoenix is a music theatre work composed by Stephen Davismoon; directed by Sadie Smith. It is based upon the Russian folk-tale of Sadko - a popular sea-faring town musician, who dreams of setting sail one day to find the bird of happiness and bring it home to his beloved ‘Chatsville.’ Through his many adventurous voyages he attains the realisation of true ‘riches’ and happiness. It is a tale of love, courage and sincerity told through the power of music. In the summer of 2015 the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned the composer Stephen Davismoon to realise a work for the students of Chatsworth Community High School and Community College – a very forward-thinking and innovative SENs School in Salford, Greater Manchester. Immediately Stephen Davismoon began to work with Sadie Smith the principle Drama Teacher at Chatsworth Community High School. Davismoon has worked on many SEN creative projects over the last three decades, a recurring frustration has been that all too often there was not really enough time to fully and truly devise a work in partnership with SENs students. What has been powerful for Davismoon and Smith with this project is that, as they argue, they have gotten much closer to a true devising of a work within an SENs context. Since the project’s inception - some 18 months before its eventual performance – Davismoon and Smith have spent, some 300 hours in the company of the students where, initially Davismoon remained in observer mode, noting musical likes/dislikes, their performative abilities and disabilities etc. Davismoon then moved on to interacting rather more visibly with the students, allowing him to explore in a more relaxed way their performative likes and dislikes, their abilities and disabilities. Whilst Davismoon and Smith can’t say that the students wrote the piece that was eventually performed, they do argue that all of the students that remained part of the performance were there because they wanted passionately to be part of it and owned the piece in a profound way. Furthermore Davismoon and Smith argue that while the students didn’t write the music nor create the sound effects, they were very much part of the creative decision proceses by discussing the types of music/sounds that might be included in the work with certain scenes etc. Through the playing of the music/sound we can tell whether or not the students feel that it is apposite. While the students didn’t write the script nor finalise the work’s blocking, the proposed paper will assert that they had a profound influence upon it, causing the re-drafting scripts, through repeated workshopping of scenes and improvising movement pieces. Davismoon and Smith contend that the work’s funniest lines often came from the students of Chatsworth! All of this though took more time than one might ordinarily spend in the devising of a new work. But then perhaps a project for participants with SENs is demanding of a different time scale in terms of production – Davismoon and Smith definitely think that it is deserving of one.
    Original languageEnglish
    Media of outputOther
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Mar 2017


    • Music Theatre
    • Interactive Music
    • Special Educational Needs & Music
    • Community Music


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