Stage 2 of the Belltable:Connect10 research for The Other Limb – Emma Fisher

I used the first stage of the Belltable:Connect 10 Bursary to research into prosthetics and orthotics and how they can be used to tell the story and talk about the identity of the person who wears them. My play was going to be set in a prosthetic maker’s workshop, he/she was going to be the storyteller of the play and as he/she made the prosthetics they would tell the stories of those who have worn them. However this has changed, yes there will be prosthetics makers in each story but it is the person who wears them that tell their own story and finally in the modern story, the wearer and the prosthetic maker are one and the same.

The Other Limb will be told through storytelling, animation, puppetry and object theatre. It will look at loss, the rise of disability activism, societal historic view on disability, the history of prosthetics, while talking ableist views of the body.

I have spent 9 days over the last two months researching, writing, making shadows and discussing with fellow puppeteer Nikki Charlesworth and Mentor Gavin Kostick. I have been historically charting prosthetics and disability activism in the 20th and 21st century. Through conversations with Nikki what became apparent was although we have different disabilities we have shared experiences with each other and with the past, with our disability culture.

I have a loose treatment, see below, and a lot more research to do but my play has changed and grown, it has ignited a spark and led me down the road of disability activism. Here is a screen shot of my Pinterest board which I started at Stage 1 and which has grown as my ideas have in stage 2. 


Gavin Kostick was my mentor and we checked in every few weeks, he asked me the great questions, we discussed all the topics arising and Gavin gave me tasks to bring on my research as well as plays to read.

We discussed everything from Tony Iommi Black Sabbath guitarist who has a disability and the song Iron Man (see lyrics below), to language around disability and Pelops Ivory shoulder. We discussed the lay out of the play and when I was stuck as I was unsure as to whether to use puppetry or actors, Gavin got me to do a breathing exercise to empty out sounds and thoughts and then trying to visualise and think through thoughts. It really worked I opened my eyes and knew that I wanted human storytellers and not puppet ones.

 ‘I am iron man
Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all
Or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We’ll just pass him there
Why should we even care.’

I sent through Gavin a loose treatment, he suggested a different structure which worked far better. His last task was to give me a flowchart to do (see below).

Meetings with Nikki

Over the month of October I met with Nikki Charlesworth twice, we talked about our experiences growing up with a disability, our work as puppeteers creating work about our identities, our shared experiences, other work that has inspired us as artists and she helped me work through my ideas. One idea that really emerged from our first meeting was the idea of the characters taking over the role as storyteller and removing or putting on prosthetics to tell a story of their character,s life. In the second meeting we discussed activism and Nikki described her father’s experiences of being at a protest in the 80s, about accessibility to public transport. Hundreds of people who use wheelchairs, toppled their chairs on the road in front of a bus and sat on the road protesting the buses not being accessible.  These conversations made me realise that the modern section was around three people discussing disability issues and through doing that, act out historic and current stories like mini plays within a play.

Very loose treatment : The Other Limb

Modern Day

Three performers arrive on stage, they are carrying protest signs but they are relaxed on their shoulder or their lap, they are also carrying prosthetics, orthotics and costumes in boxes,  they are on their way to a protest. (they are similar to Shakespearean players carrying baskets of different costumes)

They are discussing what has brought them there what has inspired them to be a disability activist. There are other boxes on the stage also filled with prosthetics and orthotics and there is a projection screen behind them. They discuss putting on theatre and film, about disability representation.

They start to talk about those who have protested before them.

1st play within the play

One of the two puppeteers comes forward and picks up the second mask, they take off an orthotic and hand it to another performer who puppeteers it, she sits down in a box stage left she is now the storyteller.

The prosthetics also have the mask showing that they belong to the same character?

This section follows the start and development of the disability human rights in the mid 20th century following the ww2. This story is told from a women activists point of view.

At the end of her story, the storyteller talks about the protestors who had been injured in the war, she starts to talk about what happened to people with a disability in WW2 who were lined up to be killed, as she does she joins the other performers emptying all the boxes of prosthetics creating a pyre of prosthetics centre stage.

A pile of prosthetics are centre stage. Three prosthetics and a mask lies on the front of stage. The shadows of people in lines giving up their prosthetic’s/orthotics to soldiers and them being thrown in a pile and being pushed into a box one by one.

2nd play within a play

This section will look at 1914 up to the 1940s life and the views around disability.

Story teller 2 walks on stage like the line and adds his prosthetic to the pile, we then see the shadows going in reverse. The person comes backwards puts on their prosthetic. The prosthetics are dispersed around the room creating a prosthetic makers workshop. The man sits stage left. He is the 2nd story teller.

We show some way they  have gone back into the past and are being fitted for their prosthetic by Mr. Gillingham’s in England (called the Geppetto of prostatic devices), we follow the prosthetic from prosthetic maker to pier.

We see a soldier going off to war, losing their limb, being fitted for a prostethic,

then during the second war ending up at a concentration camp.

The third of the performers come forward, she looks at him then down at the pyre, she pulls out a beautiful modern prosthetic, she sits on the stage left box and takes her other off and puts it on, she reaches down and puts on the 3rd of 4 masks. While she is doing this the other two performers put the prosthetics back in boxes.

 Third play in play: 21st century

The 3rd storyteller : This piece is more abstract

This character is made up of Nikki and my testimonies, my partner Ivan who makes prosthetics and inspired by artist with disabilities work like Lisa Buffano.

The third character is the prosthetic/orthotic maker, they create their own prosthetic’s/orthotics. They use them to create art, perform, talk about their identity. Reclaim the negative word of the past. A celebration their disability to reflect on the history to see how that has effected the now. To show where they need to go.

At the end the performer puts down the mask picking up the forth mask and passing it to an audience member.

Modern Day

All three of them lift up their signs handing a sign to the person with the mask and other members of the audience. The shout’ nothing about us without us’ over and over encouraging the audience to join in as they lead them out of the theatre in a protest.

The End

Research for 1st play within the play

Prosthetics/orthotics  protesting.

The medical model and social model of disability.

There will be a prosthetic maker but they will not be the main character.

‘Not until the early 1960s did the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council begin to promote multidisciplinary scientific research efforts into human locomotion, biomechanics, and the development of new materials and devices (7). Innovations in prosthetic and orthotic designs were influenced by the adaptation of industrial techniques for vacuum forming sheet plastics.  By the 1980s the continuing introduction of new materials and methods spurred the profession of prosthetics and orthotics to rapidly evolve as a changing discipline. In an attempt to keep its professionals updated, the 1990s saw significant advancement in the development of educational programs with the establishment of national education accreditation through a subsection of the American Medical Association.’

Possible storyteller: “the grandmother of the Independent Living Movement” Gini Laurie, who devoted her life to volunteering for polio survivors from 1958 until her death”

Research 2nd play within a play

‘Around two million came home with some level of disability: over 40,000 were amputees; some had facial disfigurement or had been blinded. Others suffered from deafness, tuberculosis or lung damage caused by poison gas.’

Note: Keiser Willem had a brachial plexus like mine, he was treated with electric shock and other treatments, his arm was hidden in photos and his mom didn’t want anything to do with him, they thought he was deformed and so treated him badly, this led to him growing up being angry and resentful. (they talk about his disability leading to him being this way but it was the way he was treated)

 More links to help with my research

Translating Live to Online – Pius McGrath

BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson.

As a Performer, when you first hear the phrase ‘Translating Live to Online’ it sounds like a straight forward enough process, ‘just point a camera at a stage where the performance is happening and stream it right?’… Simple, it isn’t.

Well, to do it effectively with regard for the experience of the audience member at home aswell as the audience in the space (if any) it isn’t. It isn’t exactly Theatre and it isn’t Film either, it lies somewhere in between, in uncharted territory, a space that is new, exciting and potentially quite daunting. Continue reading Translating Live to Online – Pius McGrath

Translating Live to Online – Justyna Cwojdzinska

BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson
BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson

My week at the Belltable: Connect Translating Live to Online workshop was indeed an experience I was really looking forward to. I was thrilled to work with Simon Thompson and explore the masks in theatrical research. Working with Johanna O’Brien was also really enriching as she has got a lot of film experience and my one would be mostly theatre based, so from the start that was an interesting match. Continue reading Translating Live to Online – Justyna Cwojdzinska

Translating Live to Online – Johanna O’Brien

BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson
BelltableConnect Translating Live to Online funded by Creative Ireland and Limerick City and County Council through Creative Ireland Made in Limerick Grant 2020. Photo by Simon Thompson

The certainty of being able to perform and share stories in a theatre space is painfully fickle in these difficult times. I applied for Translating Live to Online to explore whether it was possible to reach out and share stories with others while the barrier of government guidelines are in place. Continue reading Translating Live to Online – Johanna O’Brien

Translating Live to Online – Martin McCormack

Much like many people who work in the arts I was anxious to get back to working in a collaborative space. When I read about this workshop programme I immediately applied. Trying to capture live performances in interesting and engaging ways had been something that I had been thinking about for some time and it would be fair to say that I came into the week with preconceived notions about what translating live to online would be like. Many of these ideas I had were challenged and more interesting notions on how to accomplish this task were introduced. It felt incredible to be back in a space working with others and learning all the time from them as we approached this largely unexplored aspect of live performance. Continue reading Translating Live to Online – Martin McCormack

Translating Live to Online – Andrew McCarthy

My week at the Belltable:Connect Translating Live to Online workshop was an amazing experience. Having the opportunity to work with both Simon and Martin was very beneficial and enjoyable. The main aim for the week was to try to create the feel of “live” performance through the medium of a screen, ie. pre recorded. At the beginning of the week this felt very daunting as we have all been in performances that were recorded before, but we have never tried to convey this “live” feel before. One of my biggest challenges was trying to get understand the concept fully. When watching theatre online and I see performances on the stage I can suspend my belief and get the “Live” feel but as for other locations I was finding this difficult due to seeing so many movies and tv shows. Continue reading Translating Live to Online – Andrew McCarthy

Belltable:Connect 10 blog – Joanne Ryan

Read Joanne Ryan’s reflective blog detailing her experiences as part of Belltable:Connect 10.

I love the first phase of researching a new project. Without any pressure of production dates or deadlines, and often with just a guiding question in hand, it’s a chance to completely dissolve into a subject. I cast a very wide net as I wade into my research for the first time. Although the audience and performance is always somewhere at the back of my mind, I try to lose myself in the learning and inquiring before I arrive at the form.

My work usually comes from one initiating question – often something I’m consumed with in my own life – that the research and the work tries to answer. In this case the question was How can I prepare myself for my death? Research is an exciting, dynamic process. One thing leads to another and new questions surface all the time but the main initiating question acts as an anchor when I need it to during the process. (continue reading below)

Watch Joanne Ryan’s Reflective Vlog:

I began by rereading sections of The Tibetian Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, a book that in many ways has inspired the whole project. It was when I read it a number of years ago that I was first struck by how utterly unprepared I am – culturally, spiritually, practically, psychologically, every which way – for death, despite it being the only thing that I know is definitely going to happen to me, and that the seed was planted.

After looking at the text that first inspired me again and doing some written reflections, I decided to start in the past and contacted Dr. Clodagh Tait, author, historian and one of Ireland’s foremost experts in death and the dead in early modern times.

We discussed historical approaches to death and dying through the ages and how pandemics are often a time that sharpen people’s attitudes to death and force them to give it more consideration.

My conversations with Clodagh led me to the Ars Moriendi, The Art of Dying, a popular medieval text that offered advice on the procedures of a good death. Written in the aftermath of the Black Death it was a handbook on how to ‘die well’ and the first written guide to dying.

I spent some time learning about the impact that the plague and the Ars Moriendi had on popular culture during the 14th century when regular plague outbreaks meant that people lived in constant fear of death. In ballads for example or in art and iconography.

This brough to me to the recently republished 1980’s seminal book The Craft of Dying (The Modern Face of Death) by Lyn H. Loftland which introduced me to the Happy Death movements of the ‘70s and in turn led me to John Troyer’s Technologies of the Human Corpse and Jessica Mitford’s The American way of Death Revisited.

Loftland’s writing about the death movements in the 70’s made me wonder about equivalent contemporary movements which led me to Caitlin Doughty, American mortician and founder of The Order of Good Death and then to her debut book From Here to Eternity; Travelling the World to Find the Good Death.

After falling down a fascinating Caitlin Doughty rabbithole – in addition to writing books she has made hundreds of brilliant mini documentaries about all aspects of death and dying – I brought my focus back to Ireland.

I spent some time searching for references to death in The Schools Collection, a wonderful digitised archive of Irish folklore collected from school children around the country in the 1930s and a brilliant free resource. Then I looked to some recent documentaries that have handled the subject including RTÉ’s The Funeral Director  and RTÉ Radio 1’s Kicking the Bucket, about a Limerick project led by Katie Verling and the late Limerick artist Sinéad Dineen.

I ended this research phase with three beautiful books that deal with dying in different ways; When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die and With the End in Mind; How to Live and Die Well by Kathryn Mannix. They were poignant, insightful and compelling and they were as much about living as they were about dying which I think any meaningful interrogation of death really is.

This research phase was a wonderful journey through a fascinating subject. Even though I have only scratched the surface I now have a good overview and far deeper understanding, a long list of books, experts and other materials that I hope to consult in the future and an even longer list of more detailed research questions. It has also raised some important and challenging questions around form and audience that I look forward to grappling with in the next phase of work.

Thanks so much to Belltable:Connect for the opportunity.

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Liam O’Brien

I’ve been making theatre for as long as I remember. Acting. Singing. Directing. Thankfully never dancing. Much. A jack of all trades like so many of us in this business.

But for my Belltable 10 Connect bursary, I wanted to spend some time focusing on the thing I’ve dedicated most of my time in Limerick over the last decade, which is producing theatre.

Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Liam O’Brien

Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Emma Fisher

The Other Limb

Prosthetic science looks at man’s need for wholeness, artificial limbs were developed for cosmetic appearance, function, and a spiritual sense of being complete but have developed to be so much more. Through storytelling, puppetry and object theatre this play looks at loss, life and coming to terms with a different form of completeness while tackling ableist views of the body. Continue reading Belltable:Connect 10 Blog – Emma Fisher