Careful Phrasing

It’s often difficult to clap at the end of a Stan’s Cafe piece, not for negative reasons of meritocracy and disappointment but because the way ends are structured. Our standard way around this lack of feedback / connection between performer and audience is a Comments Book as employed by some Art Galleries.

Leafing through the two Comments Books after this weekend’s opening was a fantastically positive experience, people were gushing with enthusiasm. Yet, nestled amongst the feel good acclamation was one entry that exposes both the limitations and strengths of the comments book.

Someone had taken exception to our use of the term ‘Coloured People’ in labelling a statistic. The problem with the Comment Book form of feedback is that there’s no right of reply. The author was anonymous and long gone. There was no chance of running after them and explaining – that’s not our term! That statistic and those around it are those of apartheid South Africa where ‘Coloured’ was an official term of the regime. Yes, it is offensive but that’s because the regime was offensive.

The advantage of a comments book is that we now know that someone is walking around Birmingham with the belief that Stan’s Cafe were co-authors of Mind Your Language. Although we’d rather stretch our audience than patronize them on this occasion we felt we could afford to leave things to chance. The whole set of labels now read something like ” ‘Coloured’ People In South Africa 1948 as defined by the Apartheid Regime”. It’s an ugly label but better than people attaching an ugly phrase to us.


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