Philosophy Song Cycle

Year 4 students at Kings Rise Academy have been musing over some philosophical conundrums:

Is it ever okay to lie? Can money buy happiness? What is friendship? What is love? and What exactly makes a chair a chair?

The result is a song cycle created with Katy Rose Bennett.

The song cycle will be performed, with snippets of drama, illustrations and a little choreography, to the students and friends of Kings Rise Academy on 26th June. Then a public performance will take place on 27th June at the University of Birmingham, in their Education Department at 15:30 as part of their Philosophy In Schools Showcase, which is free to attend and runs from 10:00 – 16:30.

There are lots of fun and interesting activities throughout the day, perhaps the least of which is James’ illustrated talk Thinking and acting in schools. Sign up for the whole fun and philosophical games here.

Constance Interpreted

Yesterday, at Bath Spa University, a group of second year drama students performed their interpretation of our old show The Cleansing Of Constance Brown. The show is essentially wordless. Set in a 14m long, 2m wide corridor, all the principle action takes place in rooms opening off from the corridor. The audience cannot see into the rooms, so they must deduce what is happening by what they see in the corridor. It is an exercise in visual storytelling, which is why the students had been set the challenge by their tutor, who was once one of our Associate Artists and, as a recent graduate, had watched us devise the show.

The students worked from our published script, which describes the tightly choreographed moves of each actor through the piece. They had access to some photographs. Nina West kindly sent them a copy of her original soundtrack and we, equally kindly, leant them a few key items of costume and the enigmatic ‘orange billowing mass’.

Watching the student’s interpretation was a very peculiar experience. It triggered in me a huge surge of nostalgia and love for the old friends who had been replaced by these young avatars. I felt a great warmth for this galant troupe of students taking on this ludicrous challenge. Watching them struggle reminded of many things about the original show: how every single move was chosen and placed with clear purpose, how the show is sculptural and this minimalism requires great clarity, how sharp and demanding the lighting was, how particular the acting challenge was and how adept in it the cast became.

There were moments when the student show carried strong echos of our show and in these I got a lovely glimpse of what it may have been like to see our show with a stranger’s eye. There were occasional additions that generated intriguing new takes on our material, which I enjoyed very much and in contrast there were regular moments when I wanted to ask ‘why have you chosen to do that?’ and moments that brought to mind the Scandinavian soft rock covers band we encountered one summer in the Czechia town of Kolin, whose lead singer we were convinced was singing phonetically English lyrics he didn’t understand.

In 1999 Stan’s Cafe restaged Impact Theatre’s show The Carrier Frequency and a number of the original cast were gracious enough to attend. Yesterday, exchanging a few words with the Bath Spa students, I remembered a similar conversation 25 years earlier outside the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham and felt reassured. Of course I was flattered to have had such great attention and energy lavished on an old show of ours. Of course I was delighted to attend.

Maybe one day we can re-stage The Cleansing Of Constance Brown ourselves and show everyone how it’s really done.

The Missing Bio

Two fatigued commentators sat at a table

It has been brought to our attention that a long term collaborator and vital componant of our current touring team has been left out of the programme notes and biographies. We apologies and rectify this inexcusable omission here.

The Table had no training at all. No experience of drama school. It was plucked from the obscurity of a second hand office furniture store on the Stratford Road and expected to perform. Day Two of rehearsals and it was already buckling, totally unprepared for be jumped on, pushed, pulled and thrashed in a frenzied recreation of Impact Theatre’s iconic show The Carrier Frequency. The Table was sent to Captain Anderson for a bit of bodybuilding. Discreet additional braces were welded to the table’s legs and it has been ready for anything ever since.

Having survived the rigours of its physical theatre workout in 1999 The Table returned in a new millennium to rotate slowly at the centre of Good And True’s ludicrous interrogation.

For almost a decade The Table found stage work difficult to come by and had to content itself working behind the scenes. Then, in 2009, a breakthrough. A table was required to supporting snacks and notepads for The Commentators in their debut performance 24 Hour Scalextric.

Twilightofthefreakingods (2013) brought The Table a minor role as the speaking clock station. It was finally back to centre stage in Time Critical (original production and regional tour 2016-17) – this included a nostalgic moment for The Table as it was stood on once again in a recreation of a moment from the recreation of The Carrier Frequency.

The Table was proud to play a role educating audience about local authority budgets by supporting all the golden dominoes in All Our Money (2021 & 2023). It stretched its range by playing a range of tables from the English Civil Wars in Billesley Primary School’s production (No such thing as a) Civil War.

The Table is now delighted be joining such a talented cast for Community Service and looks forward to the challenge of playing multiple roles including, a living room table, police desk, a bar, a bed, a wall, a front door, half a car, half a mini-bus, a barbecue and a riot shield – it is expecting to find the quick changes challenging.


Back in 2000 we considered making a show with an interval. In those days the term ‘experimental theatre’ existed for the likes of us and, because intervals were so associated with the codes of conventional theatre, for the likes of us to make a show with an interval was, ironically, a crazily radical idea.

Good and True (2000) ran for 60 minutes straight through. In 2011 The Cardinals had an interval, briefly. It was complicated to make, difficult to perform and running long. Being a history of the world told, in a puppet theatre, by a team of Cardinals a theologically sound opportunity for an interval presented itself between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We seized this as a chance to give the audience a break and actors a chance to sort their props out ready for a charge towards the apocalypse. This ‘pausa’ never really worked. We tightened up the show, got on top of the performances and ran uninterrupted from nothing through everything to whatever happens at the end.

The Cardinals taught us that you shouldn’t put an interval in a show just because it’s ‘long’ and your audience may need to visit the toilet. We should have known this. The previous year we had made Tuning Out With Radio Z, a three hour improvised performance with no interval. The year before that we had made 24 Hour Scalextric which, as the title suggests, ran for twenty four without an interval. The key thing about deciding whether to have an interval is to ask yourself “will the show work better with or without an interval?” and then act accordingly*.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy was our adaptation of Robert Burton’s 1,500 page, 400 year old self-help manual. It was long and dense – we felt audiences would benefit from a break and because the original book is divided into three ‘partitions’ we happy to luxuriate in our first legitimate, no questions asked interval.

Having broken our interval duck in 2013 we have of course gone crazy and a mere 11 years later I’m proud to announce Community Service is a ‘sensible’ length and has a fully justified, structurally satisfying interval a little under half way through. We encourage audience members to make the most of this opportunity to relieve themselves, buy ice-creams and consume drinks in that time – it may be more than a decade before you get another chance to.

James Yarker

* I’m now slightly regretful that the structure of our 270 second long show It’s Your Film was such that it would not have benefitted from an interval after 140 seconds.

James Yarker 4 April, 2024

New Role! Deputy General Manager Recruiting

Stan’s Cafe are recruiting for a brand new role of Deputy General Manager. This is a fantastic opportunity to join the team at this acclaimed theatre company who create a huge variety of original theatre work – from local community tours to larger scale international projects.  We also have a busy creative learning programme in schools across the West Midlands, and at our home at Our Facility, we run an artistic hub hiring out rehearsal spaces to the wider theatre and arts community. 

The role of Deputy General Manager will be key to the smooth running of the company and the person appointed will have the chance to learn about and be part of the running of an international theatre company and a busy building supporting the West Midlands arts community. 

We are looking for an enthusiastic new member of the team bringing some great skills with them but eager to learn more and take on responsibility for key areas.  The role needs someone with a flexible approach, great organisational, financial and administrative skills and who enjoys working with a wide variety of people. In return benefits include training and development opportunities, tickets to our shows and a pension and health support scheme.

To download more information about this role with details on how to apply please click this link

Rotunda Dawn

It was unexpectedly moving to observe Ultraopticon live chronicle activity of urban areas across the world. 

I’ve wanted to break into The Rotunda since I was little. 

It’s windows would reflect burning orange and salmon pink sunsets as my feet stumbled and slipped on mushed cabbage leaves, my mom dragging me and my brother through homebound crowds in it’s cool shadow. The bus would take us to Granma’s, who would have Satday soup on the fire; a welcome meal after a long day being jostled, bumped and bashed by bags filled with booty on payday weekend. 

On the walk, up the hill, I would stomp as fast as my little leaden legs could carry me and resist the temptation to turn around. Because when I got to Granma’s front door, ahead of my mom, and brother who’d invariably been injured leaping off the bus, I’d be rewarded. 

The Rotunda would now be gleaming. Bright like a beacon. The last of the sunlight flaring off the glass on the top floor, the Coca Cola sign piercing the hot light as the sky darkened. I’d go cross-eyed to try to make out what temperature it displayed. 

I dreamed of jobs that would make me important enough to gain access to a building that touched the clouds. Predicted I’d be able see to the edge of the world. Wondered if there’d be someone to press the buttons in the lift, how long it would take for the observation deck to rotate, and would it make me feel as sick as I did on the waltzer? 

My mom cresting the hill with my brother on her hip, shook me to drink in the last of the magic – less than a minute before I’d be bustled inside, keenly greeted by my sister and then sent to go fetch summat from uppahouse for a grown up.

This morning, hearing air traffic control info from New Zealand over the screech of trains and whistling wind, I peered down to see market traders set up, the teensiest bit disappointed the top floor doesn’t rotate. But I found the job that opens the door to the building that touched the clouds.

And there was someone to press the button in the lift.

Elexi Walker

PS For images of The Rotunda as Lexi remembers them click here (we’re anxious about the copyright or we’d have posted the second image down).

Archive photo: Thanks to BrumPic
Dawn photo: Jim Smith

Recruiting: 12 Languages Needed

We are looking for performers and poets, fun, imaginative and inquisitive people, with origins from around the world, now living in or around Birmingham, to collaborate with us on a 24 hour long performance on the top floor of the city’s iconic Rotunda building, between 18:00 on 19th January and 18:00 on 20th January, 2024.

Ultraopticon will be a multi-lingual live streamed video/radio performance. It will be performed as a structured improvisation but there will be some rehearsals.

We have twelve paid guest slots to fill, each corresponding to a different two hour time zone. We are seeking collaborators whose first or home language corresponds with these zones. Each guest will be asked to join the core performance team for a two hour slot.

We are genuinely very open to submissions from people with origins in any country around the world, so the following list is just a reminder of some of the countries there are in the world:

Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, France, Ghana, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea (North or South), Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Pacific Islands, Philipines, Poland, Romania, Somalia, Spain, Syria, Turkey,  USA, Vietnam, Yemen

Though prior experience of performance may help it is not essential. If you are interested in being considered please get in touch with us via the form you will find if you click here.

If you have any questions please email us on

What will I be doing?

We’ve had a couple of people ask for more details as to what their role as guest artist will involve and what the commitment will be. Here is some more information:

Ultraopticon is an attempt to watch the world for a day. It is a 24 hour act of surveillance, which mixes looking from the top floor of the Rotunda with telescopes, with using the internet, news sites and social media to relate other events around the world as they happen. It’s an artistic, sideways take on a rolling news program. The focus of the news rolls around the world as the world turns.

The guest slots are each two hours long and are arranged so they include 18:00 in the country of the guest’s ‘home language’. Guests will ‘present’ Ultraopticon alongside and supported by one of the two host presenters, who are there for the full 24 hours. We would like guests to mix presentation between English and their ‘home language’.

The material presented will be improvised in response to what is happening and what is revealed through live research. The improvisation will be structured through a list of prompts, suggestions and strategies.

Each guest will be invited to a rehearsal in order to shape and practice for the improvisational slot. Guests will be able to choose between a number of rehearsal slot options so rehearsals are convenient for guests and hopefully bring a few guests together at the same time.


How come Birmingham City Council is bankrupt?

Different people will tell you different things depending on their perspective. We made a theatre show called All Our Money explaining how the budget works. Here are ten things we’ve learnt.

  1. Although the city council budget looks huge (nearly £4billion) it has to pay for a lot of things.
  2. Most citizens pay Council Tax and it’s easy to believe Council Tax pays for all council services but in truth it is a small portion of our council’s budget. Central Government caps how much Council Tax can be charged and has blocked re-banding, which would allow more council tax to be raised in areas of town that have become more affluent over the years.
  3. The council receives lots of money from government departments but has very little choice what this money is spent on.
  4. Although lots of schools have oped out from council control and get their money directly from the Department for Education the city council is still responsible for ensuring every child in the city gets a good education.
  5. Education is one of the council’s statutory responsibilities, something they legally have to deliver, others are Housing, Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, Waste Disposal, Library Services, Planning and Road Maintenance. Everything else is called ‘discretionary spending’ and thus can be cut.
  6. The council can charge for services – such as garden waste bins – but can’t make a profit. So they can’t charge extra for one thing in order to pay for another.
  7. Council House rents can only be spent on maintaining and improving Council Houses.
  8. Business rate income has been squeezed by Covid, the cost of living crisis and the move to online commerce and home working. Charity shops get an 80% discount on rates and can apply to be excused the remaining 20%.
  9. Central Government increasingly distributes money though competitive bidding. They announce a pot of money to address a certain issue and councils must bid against each other for a slice of that money. This results in short term rather than strategic thinking, it prevents neighbouring authorities working together, it is expensive for council’s to put the bids together and favours well off councils that can invest more in the bid writing process.
  10. Lots of councils have large debts (and some investments). They are not allowed to sell off their assets in order to balance their budgets. Birmingham did sell off the National Exhibition Centre but that was to settle a debt they owed female employees who they had been playing less than male employees for doing equivalent work. This sale required an act of parliament to make it legal.

In summary:

We learnt that there are significant tensions between local and central government. Over years growing demands for statutory services, not matched by an equivalent increases in income, have led lots of council’s into financial trouble.

It suits a Conservative Central Government to put the blame for this on opposition controlled Local Governments, but Central Government controls a lot of the variables. Budgets across the country in lots of councils of all kinds are finely balanced and so unable to absorb significant financial shocks.

Birmingham City Council has recently received two such shocks. The equal pay claim turns out not to have been settled after all and their bespoke Oracle IT system needs lots more investment before it works properly. These appear to be two examples of poor management.

So who is to blame?

We experience council inefficiencies. The council is not innocent of all blame, but neither is Central Government. There is a joint culpability. It’s a mess and the people who will suffer are the citizens.

Who are the citizens? Well us, but remember us includes councillors and council officers. Councillors are citizens who have stepped up to help make the city work, we vote for them, they answer to us. We live here together, ultimately it’s all our money, we are all responsible, need to care for our city and each other. But we need to be given a fair chance and not set up to fail.

Central and Local Governments need to collaborate on a solution, not just for Birmingham’s problems but for all those authorities around the country who are on a knife’s edge.

All Out Of Money

On Tuesday, driving between Birmingham and London, we listened to the radio news tell us that the government has appointed commissioners to run Birmingham City Council’s budget.

In 2012 control of Birmingham City Council’s budget switched from a Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition back to Labour. The returning leader Sir Albert Bore called together representatives of the city’s artistic community to set out his vision of regenerating the City’s fortunes through the arts. It was an inspirational, visionary pitch, for us the stuff of dreams, yet as soon as Sir Albert sat down his place was taken by his Chief Financial Officer, who brought us back down to earth with a lesson in fiscal reality. He showed us an upward curve plotting the increasing cost of the city’s statutory responsibilities and then imposed over it a downward arc plotting the city’s income. He explained that the diminishing delta between these lines represents the city’s budget for discretionary spending, including its funding for the arts. “We call these The Jaws of Doom” he explained, “the point at which the two lines meet is the moment at which the council’s entire budget has to be spent on its statutory responsibilities with nothing left over for any discretionary spending. Beyond this point lies bankruptcy”. Effectively he told us Sir Albert’s vision was a pipe dream.

This horrifying vision of The Jaws of Doom struck me so strongly that nine years later we made a show called All Our Money dramatising the struggle to balance Birmingham City Council’s budget. When it premiered this February the show had a niche curiosity value. Now, driving between performances at Birmingham Ormiston Academy and the New Diorama Theatre, its subject is the lead story on the national news.

We’ve been asked to comment on Birmingham’s bankruptcy but have been wary of doing so. We’re a theatre company and we’ve said what we want to say on the stage. The show speaks of the rising costs of fulfilling statutory responsibilities and the continual search for efficiencies. It unpacks the complex relationship and huge tensions between local and central government. It is broadly sympathetic towards the plight of local authorities whist also pointing towards inefficiencies we have experienced.

As performed on Tuesday All Our Money has a nostalgic feel. It refers to the equal pay dispute in the past tense rather than an on-going nightmare. It refers to expensive I.T. upgrades without specifically naming the failing Oracle system. Over all it harks back to what now seems like a comforting time time when balancing the City’s budget was merely a challenge and not an impossibility.

There are new versions of the show planned, versions for other cities, versions for district and county councils. There are requests to continue touring the Birmingham version – we’re plotting a coda, one year later when the ending is even less happy…

There is no single financial moral to draw from All Our Money but there is a theatrical one – don’t be afraid to make a show of niche curiosity value, you never know when it may become mainstream.

Actor Required As Indus Guide


We are looking for a highly engaging actor to lead audience members down a 15m long textile map of the River Indus. This is a one person show, a 40 minute monologue written by Nafeesa Hamid, detailing historical stories and legends of the river, along with tales of politics and nature.

Initially the performance will be indoors at Springfield Project and other community venues around Birmingham over Autumn half term 2023 (28th October – 5th November dates TBC). There will then be options of outdoor performances in the Summer of 2024.

We will prioritise actors based in the West Midlands. We are particularly interested with actors who have a cultural link with the Indus Valley.

This performance will join The Thames, The Volga and The Lune in Stan’s Cafe’s growing River Tours library.

Audition date: Thursday 21st September

Submissions end date: Monday 18th September 

Please send your CV along with a one paragraph covering note (or 30 second video) explaining why you are excited by a this opportunity to…

Please also complete our confidential equal opportunities questionaire

Thank you and if it’s not you please pass it on to someone it may be.

Most Beautiful Thing…

We need more beautiful things in our lives. So here is my suggestion. I can’t currently imagine anything more beautiful than this. Spem In Alium came to my attention recently when researching incidental music for (No Such Thing As A) Civil War, our collaboration with Billesley Primary School telling the story of the English Civil Wars. This evening I found this visual representation of the piece’s 40 voices coming in and out shifting pitches etc – stunning.

Five new productions in July

In the next two weeks we open five new productions. This is a major challenge, fortunately we have four hundred and fifty students and their teachers all helping us.

First up, on 13th & 14th July Saltley Academy’s Year 8 open twin productions of Romeo and Juliet at about 10:15 in Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-Upon-Avon. This annual project is part of the school’s promise to students when they join the school. It is a collaboration between the English and Drama departments – Craig condensed Shakespeare’s text last year and this year Lucy and Amy are leading rehearsals on our slot-together stage.

In the early evening of 13th St. Gerard’s Catholic Primary School’s Year 6 will perform Our Primary Years, a show revisiting the students time at school alongside world event of the same era. They are devising this with Carys who has spent two years working across the school to help them embed drama as one of their key teaching strategies. This show is inspired by the Stan’s Cafe show Time Critical.

Another version of Our Primary Years, devised by Year 6 at Blakesley Hall Primary school with Craig, will premiere on the 17th July and be performed again on the evening of the 19th. Last year Owen devised a version of Precious Emily with the school and the year before Craig devised A Clearing In Woodlands with them, a performance about local history.

Earlier on 19th Billesley Primary School’s Year 6 will perform (No Such Thing As A) Civil War at MAC. This show, directed by James (me) with songs written by the students with Katy Rose-Bennet, tells the story of England’s civil wars from Elizabeth I’s death to the coronation of Charles II. The cast of approximately 90 limits the number of historical figures that have to be omitted. This show is a form of prequel to our collaboration dramatising the Cuban Missile Crisis – Any Fool Can Start A War.

Although getting these shows to the stage can be taxing and stressful for everyone involved nothing is as rewarding as watching young actors bursting with pride when they come off stage knowing they’ve done a great job or their parents fussing over them after the show amazed at what they have achieved.

Good luck everyone.


Open Space 2023: Notes

Thanks to everyone who attended the Open Space gathering at Our Facility on 5th June. We are pleased to be able to share notes from the discussions that took place across the day. They are all available via this link here.

It was wonderful to host such an energised and positive group of people all seeking ways to support each other building an open and thriving culture of live perfromance in the West Midlands. There were freelance artists, people representing unfunded and funded companies large and small as well as venues and Arts Council England. The overwhelming feel to the day was that people had missed being with each other, sharing with each other, listening to each other and supporting each other. More detals can be found in the notes – remember the link

Thanks To: Jade Samuels for opening the space, China Plate for co-hosting/co-coordinating, Nick Sweeting for advising on the whole Open Space Technology, Jess and Megan from BCU’s Applied Theatre course for most of the posters. It was fun, it was good, let’s do it again some time.

Micro Production #4: Recruiting

In November 2021 we made three short shows in three weeks with a host of new collaborators. These were Micro Productions #1 – 3. They were intended as a training/development opportunity for artists unfamiliar or inexperienced with devising. It was also a chance for Stan’s Cafe to meet some new people and work in some new spaces trying out some new ideas, all outside the pressure of making a major new show.

It was a great experience – #1 Precious Emily developed into our Birmingham Festival 2022 piece of the same name. #2 All Our Money expanded, toured Birmingham in early 2023 and is expected to have a further life. #3 C90 Qawwali: Emperor In Birmingham has not yet been worked on further, but has never left our thoughts.

We gave significant further work to four of the ten actors we met for the first time and two of the three assistant directors. We have kept in touch and helped out a number of the other participants.

So what? We’re going to try and repeat the trick – in a more modest way. We are recruiting for Micro Production #4: Can You Read Me? This involves a hunt for three new actors, one sound designer / musician and one assistant director. We are partnering with the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton and so are particularly keen to receive applications from people living in that area. We will be working 11 – 16 September 2023. Full details on how to apply can be found here.

Back at Greenbelt

We’re delighted to be able to announce Stan’s Cafe are returning to Greenbelt – the festival of ‘Artistry, Activism and Belief’ – with our smash hit local authority budget show All Our Money. We will be there on 26th August.

My first introduction to Greenbelt was as a Christian festival. When they booked Of All The People In All The World (in 2009) I was surprised but it made sense, the show is not religious but it has a compassion for humanity that aligns with the Christian principle to “love your neighbour as yourself”. They hosted the show in a marquee and it was very well received, the setting worked perfectly.

Three years later (in 2012) we were invited to take The Cardinals to the festival. This quasi-puppet show within a show, in which three cardinals tell the history of the world through their christian lense, while supported and gently contested by a muslim stage-manager felt like a good fit with the festival. Our only concern was that it wouldn’t be interpreted as disrespectful / blasphemous. In the event we needn’t have worried, the audience were tuned in perfectly.

Your show was one of the first things I saw at Greenbelt and remained a highlight – and there was plenty of competition from lots of other things on the programme. Immensely clever and thought-provoking with some great iconic imagery. Goodness knows how you ever came up with the idea!

Greenbelt Audience Comment

I agree with the above comment. The show was the first thing I saw at the festival and has really stuck in my mind. I need to see it again as there was so much to take in and process. Humorous, poignant, devastating, thought provoking, beautifully crafted visuals and acting – brilliant, thank you!

Greenbelt Audience Comment

Now, more than a decade on, we are back and it is clear that Greenbelt is now very far from the ‘Christian Festival’ I had first believed it to be. This is the festival’s 50th anniversary year and the programme covers a range of art forms, it displays a strong interest in social engagement and mixes people coming from a wide range of religious perspectives. A show about how over a people come together to contribute financially to a shared pot to organise services for their mutual benefit appears to fit in nicely.

Open Space Invitation

How can we support each other to build an open and thriving culture of live performance in the West Midlands?

An invitation from Stan’s Cafe, China Plate and Jade Samuels.

An audio described version of this invitation is available via this link and below.

We know that the theatre and live performance sector currently faces huge challenges and that the economic crisis threatens access into the industry and career progression. But we also know that connecting and sharing ideas can help us to survive, to solve problems, and to thrive.

During the Commonwealth Games, the performing arts had never been more visible in the West Midlands. Birmingham 2022 Festival demonstrated the abundance of talent in our region and gave opportunities for a greater diversity of voices to be heard. Now we want to keep talking and share ideas about what’s next and how we work together to make that happen.

If you’re interested in thinking about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, while also meeting other creatives and companies from across the West Midlands, then this event is for you.  It is a chance for theatre and live performance people to gather together, make new alliances, strengthen existing bonds, and work together towards a better future.

The gathering will be facilitated using Open Space, an active, democratic way of meeting in which attendees set their own agenda to ensure issues they are concerned with are addressed. Attendees choose what discussions they engage with, when and for how long. The spirit is open and focused on producing positive outcomes.

Previous Open Space gatherings in this region have led to new collaborations and have kick started and shaped initiatives including BE Festival, Pilot Nights, The Optimists, First Bite & Bite Size Festival and East Meets West.

If you are interested to learn more about Open Space, here are some useful websites:

Hot, cold and soft drinks will be supplied along with unhealthy biscuits. Please bring a packed lunch if you tend to get hungry at lunch. There are cafes and take-aways on the doorstep.

The gathering is FREE but please do sign up in advance on EventBrite as we need to know how many people are coming.
Click the link here to register for a ticket.

We actively encourage attendance from people of all backgrounds, of different ages, genders, social and economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations, and from people who are disabled, D/deaf, or have chronic health conditions. We want this event to be accessible to the whole theatre and live performance community so please do let us know in advance with any access requirements you have by emailing


Date:  Monday 5 June
Times: 9:30am – 17:00pm

Our Facility (our base)
Oakdale Centre
Umberslade Road
B29 7RZ

What3Words/// dawn.affair.choice
Directions are available to download here.

WANTED: Textile Artist

We are seeking to commission a Birmingham based Textile Artist to create a 15m long ribbon map of the Indus River for our expanding River Tours project. We are particularly keen to meet artists who have hertiage links to the Indus River valley.

The commission invites you to respond to a script decribing a tour along the length of the Indus and requires you to come up with your own creative solution to a tight brief about features that must be included on the map. The commission would suit a solo artist or an artist working with a community group.

Timeline are negotiable but we would like the map delivered by mid-September.

Expressions of interest or questions are welcomed ASAP to

A Tour Of The Indus

At the start of 2023 we worked with St. Matthews Primary School where children explored the Indus and learning about its people, its history and its geography. With our Associate Artists Nafeesa Hamid and Abeda Begum they created their own story of the river and to-scale textile representation of its significant features.

Children at St. Matthews School showing their work-in-progress.

We’re returning to St. Matthews in 2024 to begin our exploration of the Tigris and the Euphrates,

Schools River Tours projects sit side by side with our family versions and we’re keen to work with schools who would like to explore a river of their choice with us.

For more information do get in touch.

The View From The Stage

The Classroom Stage has been a two-year programme we have run supported by the Paul Hamlyn Teacher Development Fund. One of the fund’s priorities is that “all those involved are positioned as learners”. This includes Stan’s Cafe Associate Artists who were partnered one to each of our ten schools.

Here Carys Jones reflects on her own journey working as an Artist on The Classroom Stage with Years 3, 5 and 6 at St Gerard’s Catholic Primary School.

I’m not sure what I was expecting at the very beginning of The Classroom Stage programme. I knew I had good classroom management skills and that I could plan for formal teaching, but this was new to me. I’d never tried team teaching before and I’d never explored devising with another adult who didn’t come from an acting background.  I had a real feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing and everyone is going to find out” which was largely terrifying.

I dealt with this by spending hours constructing meticulous lesson plans. I scoured the internet for the perfect 5 minute warm up sessions that centred on The Rainforest, only to find that there were none; I had to come up with new activities myself. In time I learned that I could use the planning foundation I already had and adapt it to suit whatever session we were running. Eventually I developed the confidence to relax my grip on my prized plans and went with the flow of the session; what the children were responding well to and, as if by magic, came up with ideas on the spot. 

I came to trust what would work, recognise what wouldn’t and ultimately ride with how the teacher and children responded. The journey was uncomfortable though. It scared me! I felt that I couldn’t possibly make that much of a difference. I knew I had all of the support from the Company but I didn’t want to let them down either, I wanted to do a great job. 

In the beginning I really had no idea how the project would play out. I knew I wanted to work well with my teachers. I wanted to create a relationship with them that wasn’t bound by their timetables, their workload, their lesson objectives. It may sound like a luxury or unnecessary complication but getting to know my teaching partners on a personal level really helped the balance. We built genuine trust; we could talk about our lives, our likes and our dislikes. Soon I found that when I went into the school my sessions with their classes didn’t feel like something they felt obliged to slot in; I was wanted and needed in the classroom.

This meant that we could get to have fast and informal chats about the work and challenges that they had. We’d improvise and turn ideas around quickly, coming up with something whispered together for two minutes in a corner whilst the students were busy making work.

There were challenges, of course there were, but I am struggling to think of many; the creative process is full of detours, dead-ends and bumps in the road. We all used them as learning opportunities.

At the very beginning I was met with real resistance from a boy in Year 5. He was a “King of The Lads” and at the centre of a lot of disruptive behaviour. I remember him asking What are we even doing this for?” Given the choice of participating and going elsewhere to work on maths he reluctantly agreed to stay.

An image showing the photos and a description of a Shades Of Meaning session led by Carys Jones.

By the end of the project, he had blossomed into one of the most natural performers I have seen at St Gerards. He actively encouraged others to be involved. In the silliest of games he participated with confidence. His attitude had completely changed. Every time I walked into his classroom at the start of the day he’d say Yesssss Carys!”

On one occasion I led a breath-work exercise and followed it with a game designed to develop silent listening and communication skills. The game following that exercise was more successful than any of us imagined it could be. My teaching partner and I were elated and our originally combative young student shouted “THAT BREATHING STUFF REALLY WORKS!”

I know how lucky I am that my school has been so open. I’ve taken over the hall and the playground and raised the overall volume level at times. They’ve shown incredible flexibility with the practicalities which has really helped. More important though have been the relationships I’ve formed with my teachers and the Head. They had trust in me and I in them.

The Classroom Stage was designed to support the development of the teachers’ own skills and confidence, so as we got further into the project I deliberately took a step back from the planning. I was relieved and reassured those teachers came to me with their self-initiated creative ideas:

Carys, Im going to transform the classroom into a Mead Hall”.

This was an amazing lesson; the classroom was enhanced with an on-screen fire and music. The chairs and tables were laid out in a horseshoe shape, with tables in the middle for the children to multi-role as Beowulf, King Hrothgar and other warriors. I had to top up the children’s fake mead while my teaching partner led the entire session. It was great, the students loved it and my teacher was in her element. 

An image showing the photos and a description of a Suffragettes Or Suffragists session led by Carys Jones

The Classroom Stage has been a real career highlight for me. Most importantly I have fully immersed myself into a “trust the process” attitude, which is so important. In the beginning I would go in each week, clinging to my planning and relying on the paperwork. Now, I can honestly say I am able to deliver sessions without worrying about the small stuff. I feel supported by the teachers I have built a working relationship with and I know that the students respond well because I have created a rapport with them too – which is equally as important. 

A parent took me aside and said “Carys, I want to thank you for all of the work you have been doing in the school. My son used to be a very anxious child who didn’t want to go to school and you have filled him with confidence, I never thought he would get up on stage to do anything and I’ve just watched him shine. He loves it when you’re in and comes home buzzing to tell me everything he has done that day”.

This obviously brought me to tears. It really epitomised everything I strive to do when working in education. Through working with the teachers so closely, helping the students to be excited about their learning, giving students control and agency, and supporting teachers to develop their creative thinking has been a real joy. 

I’ll attach a photo of a card I was given to by one of the children I worked with. Her teachers were shocked that under her own initiative she had made this for me; they said “she has not shown any emotion since she arrived here at nursery”. I hope this serves as testament to everything the project has successfully achieved in the school and beyond. 

The Paul Hamlyn Foundation say: “There is an expectation that the practices developed in TDF projects will continue in the schools after the two years and that school leadership will play an essential and active role in ensuring this.”

St. Gerard’s school came to the end of The Classroom Stage programme and immediately took part in our ambitious Commonwealth Games project; Precious Emily. Carys is currently Stan’s Cafe Artist In Residence at the school.

Secretary of State vs Football Manager Update 2

Five months on from the last update (28 September 2022) we have a new Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport. Michelle Donelan has been moved on to Science, Innovation and Technology. We now have Lucy Frazer with the dry wipe marker and tactics board – hopefully she’ll be fantastic and stay more than five months.

Not wanting to be outdone by H.M.Government, in the same period West Bromwich Albion have moved Steve Bruce on (after 8 months) and replaced him with Carlos Corberan (Richard Beale was Caretaker Manager for 14 days). Similarly Aston Villa moved Steven Gerard on (after 11 months) and have replaced him with Unai Emery (Aaron Banks had 4 days as Caretaker Manager). John Eustace has remained in charge of Birmingham City for the whole five months, but don’t get too excited he did only take charge in July and so has only been there seven months in total.

It really is neck and neck in the instability stakes.

Popular Theatre

Popular Theatre was a module at university. I didn’t take it. I studied unpopular theatre. It’s not that I’m AGAINST Popular Theatre, I’m very happy for theatre to be poplar, especially when it’s our theatre, but I value more highly theatre that sets other priorities above popularity.

All Our Money, a show dramatising Birmingham City Council’s budget, is our attempt at Popular Theatre. The challenge was to take an unlikely subject and make it as popular as possible, so this piece is fast and funny and clear. It uses no special lights or set and is designed to be performed anywhere.

Dominic, who is producing the project has been hounding venues around the city to make sure that this show about local democracy visits as many different places as possible.

We start tonight at The Warehouse in Digbeth where our friends at Friends of the Earth are running a Buy Two Get One offer in which people buy their own ticket and donate another to someone who can’t afford it. The show is just 50 minutes long and we hope this will allow time for people to talk with each afterwards.

Tomorrow we have two performances for Year 11 in Saltley Academy. Theatre companies are known to support elements of the Personal, Social and Health Education curriculum. We’re there to help deliver the Local Democracy elements of their Citizenship Curriculum – what a visionary school! We also have a private performance for Applied Theatre students from Birmingham City University.

As the tour progresses we start visiting community centres and youth clubs in Handsworth, Quinton, Sutton Coldfield and Ladywood. We are mixing lunchtime and evening performances for people out of work and in work.

Unusually the tour includes two swimming baths. Our first visit to Stirchley Baths and a return to Moseley Road Baths, site of 1993’s Canute The King. On that occasion we performed on and in the water of the main pool – we’re hoping for an altogether drier experience this time.

We are experimenting with performing in venues that may more usually have music or comedy acts. On Thursday we ‘return’ to the New Irish Centre in Kings Heath (which wasn’t the site of our rock musical Lurid and Insane – that was at the old Irish Centre). On Wednesday we visit the nightclub Sector 57 in Deritend. On Sunday we return to our old stomping ground of the Jewellery Quarter for a performance at 1000 Trades bar after an afternoon performance at the home of our friends Purbanat CIC in Small Heath. Next week we are at the Legacy Centre of Excellence in Newtown before the tour concludes with a gig at The Attic in Stirchley which has already sold out.

Perhaps the tour’s most glamorous gigs are at The Exchange on Centenary Square, almost opposite The REP, which is where you would more conventionally expect to find us. We’re there because our research for the show has been aided by the City-REDI team, who are part of the Business School at University of Birmingham and this is their high profile city centre venue.

Dominic is performing his own mini-version of the show as he tries balance its budget. The Sir Barry Jackson Trust have helped subsidise the tour. Birmingham City Council’s Neighbourhood Development Support Unit have paid for the Stirchley Baths and Ladywood gigs. The University of Birmingham have helped with The Exchange. For other gigs we are relying on box-office takings and here and there we’re just asking for donations. Hopefully, just like the budget we are dramatising, it will all balance out in the end. More importantly, hopefully it will prove to be popular Popular Theatre.

Birmingham Blitz: With Creative Collaboratives

Year 4 have just made and performed Birmingham Blitz, a theatre show about World War 2 with an eye to local history, involving some design technology skills and a bit of songwriting. The show came as a culmination of just one of the projects we are wroking on as part of the Elliott Foundation Creative Collaboratives programme.

Each Tuesday of Spring 1 I worked with Dolphins 9 – 11 and then Lions 1:15 – 3:15 in their classrooms. We learned some of the causes of World War 2; why certain cities, including Birmingham, were bombed; we learned about bomb shelters and evacuations; we learned why the war turned against Germany and the long-term impact of the war on the UK and the wider world.

Each lesson involved learning (and revising) some history, then we worked together making a theatre performance to show an audience some of what we had learned. Some scenes – such as those focusing on the air-raid wardens, evacuees at the station and work at the Castle Bromwich Spitfire factory were solely action, without words. Other scenes saw us breaking into small groups, choosing story moments we thought were important and making scenes to address these with words too. We wrote in our groups and together as a class. I tidied up their scripts a little and the students memorised their lines.

For scenes which involved air-raids students used their Design Technology lessons to design, refine and then construct model houses and planes.

For the show’s finalé we split into table groups. Each group researched significant events from a different decade between the end of World War 2 in 1945 and the present day. We used our disciveries to create a timeline linking the end of the war with now.

Towards the end of rehearsals the musician Katy Rose-Bennett came into school and each class wrote a song with her. Both classes learned and sang both songs in the show. The second of these songs – This City Is Not Safe – was particularly poignant as we concluded our timeline with the War in Ukraine and noted a number of similarities between that conflict and World War Two; these similarities included the plight of refugees.

Our project concluded on the Tuesday before half term. We rehearsed in the school hall, and in the afternoon performed to Years 2 and 3  with a couple of Stan’s Cafe’s theatre lights, a nicely layered soundtrack over the school’s speakers and photographs we’d used for our learning in lessons projected behind the actors.

The dress rehearsal was a bit shakey but everyone focused very hard and pulled off a lovely performance. Everyone took part, everyone said at least one line; some people said lots. Everyone had fun, even the people who thought they wouldn’t. Everyone contribute, including some people who had been very shy before we started.

What Went Well.

Students learnt a lot of history, they willingly did a lot of good writing (including a song), built their confidence, worked well together, and couldn’t wait for our next lesson together.

Even Better If… I’d been smarter and put more energy into learning more of the students’ names – there were 60 of them, but if I had a better strategy and been braver I think I could have done this and it would have made the project more powerful.

Having more time in the hall would have been helpful – but that place is in high demand!


Key to success in this project was the clarity of its focus and the communication I had with the two class teachers. They shared their History Curriculum with me so I could deliver and build on it I shared my plans and together we tweaked them. We taught collaboratively. I brought the theatre and the teachers brought their knowledge of and relationship with their students. I think we worked well together.

James Yarker 17th February, 2023

A Teacher For Our Friends

We are looking for a talented teacher/theatre maker who is excited by the chance to teach two or three terms of drama with our friends at Saltley Academy in East Birmingham. This is a full time job with the school and includes teaching GCSE drama. You will get support from both the school and Stan’s Cafe. This maternity cover option is part of our ongoing collaboration with this friendly and refreshingly adventurous school.

We love Saltley Academy. We have been collaborating with them from their earliest days, on projects large and small. This summer we are making a production of Romeo and Juliet with Year 8 and taking it to Startford-Upon-Avon. We are helping students stream their Grand Iftar event and who knows what else. The students are great, the staff are friendly and senior leaders adventurous, someone could have a great few months there flexing or building up their teacher muscles with a good steady income for up to a year and the knowledge they can positively improve the life chances of a great cohort of young people.

If this sounds like something you may be interested in please drop us a line on

Zigi Shipper

Five years ago we were privilaged to work with students from the Jewellery Quarter Academy on a performance. We devised a short theatre piece with them called Zigi Doesn’t Hate inspired by the amazing testimony of Zigi Shipper. Zigi had survived The Holocaust and was devoted to spreading a message of peace. He was an extraordinary man and we are very sorry to learn today that he has passed away, aged 93.

Rest in Peace Zigi, your message echos eternally.

BE Festival: The Early Emails

Photo Credit: Alex Brenner

On 26th (or 27th) November 2009 we offered to help out an enthusiastic group of young theatre makers by lending them our venue for an international theatre festival they wanted to set up in Birmingham.

A few emails have survived which chart the logistics of those early days of what became the BE Festival. Most of them are reproduced here.

Dramatis Personae
Billy Hiscoke – Freelance Stage Manager
Charlotte Martin – General Manager, Stan’s Cafe
Mike Tweddle – Aspirant festival organiser
Jon Ward – Associate Artist, Stan’s Cafe
James Yarker – Artistic Director, Stan’s Cafe

9th December 2009.
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker
Would it be possible to agree on some dates for the festival?
For us the ideal would be 23-26 June inclusive. If not then 30 June-2nd July.
It’d be great to pencil dates in asap so we can start putting the word out.

3rd March 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker
Hope you’re well and enjoying Tokyo!
I wondered if you’d heard anything from BCC about our bid?*
Also, whether there’d be any availability at AE Harris for a BE Festival fundraising night in May.
It’d involve a performance of Out Of Chaos (the show i did in Edinburgh), which is touring
at the time. We’d have some live music too, and obviously a bar etc. It’d be a good chance
to spread the word about the festival as well as to hopefully raise some dosh.

*As BE Festival wasn’t a legally constituted entity Stan’s Cafe applied to Birmingham City Council for funding on their behalf.

8th March 2010
Charlotte Martin to Mike Tweddle

No problem.
So just to confirm some of the details. The grant is for £5,000. We will receive £2,250 once we return the signed acceptance form and send them confirmation of partnership funding. Then £2,250 on receipt of the festival brochure and the final £500 once they receive the evaluation report and statement of income and expenditure by 15/3/11. They also need us to feature specific logos which I have requested.

9th March 2010
Mike Tweddle to Charlotte Martin

Can I just double check that Stan’s Cafe is happy for us to run and take proceeds from the bar? (At both the fundraiser and the festival.) I’m pretty sure that’s what was agreed, and that’s what we’ve been working to in the budget so far. Will be submitting Arts Council proposal at the end of the week, so need to make sure I’m clear about our finances.

9th March 2010
James Yarker to Charlotte Martin

Yes this sounds vaguely familiar, but we have to be careful as it is our and my license on the line as well as the venue’s reputation. So we need to approve how it is working, what is being stocked and prices.

15th March 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Would you mind sending me a few words expressing Stan’s Cafe’s support for the festival?
Think it would be helpful for my Arts Council application.

19th March 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

I’m sorry this has been delayed.

“We are very excited at the possibility of hosting BE Festival @ A E Harris. It is rare that international work comes to the UK, particularly Birmingham and especially less established companies. As prospective audience members we are very enthusiastic about the festival brining new flavours to the region and to our program @ A E Harris.

Along with most theatre companies Stan’s Cafe would value the chance to gain a taste of work being created by young companies from across Europe and possibly becoming inspired by them. The workshop and discussion programmes obviously add value to the week. Often these events designed to bring people together from far and wide also act as a catalyst for people to find new relationships with each other much closer to home. Who knows what unexpected consequences may follow.

The BE Festival would be a great injection of life, energy and vision to the regional theatre scene, we thoroughly endorse it.”

Use as much or as little as you wish.

8th April
Mike Tweddle to Charlotte Martin & James Yarker

Hope all’s well, nice to see you last week it was a lovely event. It’s always exciting to be in that space.

I attach some copy about the 21st May, which you can feel free to adapt and edit as much as you like, and also some images.*
Would be great if you could put something on your website, along with a link to the BE Festival website where we’ll have ticket details etc. Really hope we can get 100 along that will be a massive help.

*Out Of Chaos fundraiser performance

7th June
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

Sorry to not be able to meet today. Here are my thoughts about seating.

‘Africa’ is about 11m wide.
The beams are slightly over 3m from the floor.
We have use of 16 steel decks 2m x 1m.
The legs for these come in the following lengths 18cm, 38cm, 58cm, 78cm 98cm.
The chairs are 50cm wide

Suggestion 1 (which can be done entirely from within our existing resources):

Four rows of decking four wide using the four highest sets of legs.
Then our own staging in front of this.
Then one row of chairs on the floor.
Then one row of benches (we’d have to knock some more together but there is timber around).

In principle we could get 16 chairs per row, but need an isle, which we should take a minimum of two chairs out for, but could possibly get away with one chair out.

7 x 15 = 105
An additional row of just chairs 120.

Suggestion 2 (stuff would have to be hired in (or borrowed)).

Four rows of decking five wide

7 x 18 = 126
An additional row of just chairs plus some jiggling would give you 150 as desired
(i’ve made the isle 1m wide due to the extra numbers and because we are getting close to the edge of the room).

See what you think.

10th June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Thank you so much for working this out! 

I think we’d be tempted to go for the second option and hire what we need to. 
Would there be enough legs for this option? Or should we factor in hiring/borrowing extra legs as well as steel deck?
What would we need to do/get in order to fulfil safety standards? Would we need hand-rails? What would we put at the back to stop chairs slipping off?

Another thing: would it be possible to send me a list of all the light/sound/projection equipment we’ll have for the festival?

16th June 2010
Charlotte Martin to James Yarker cc Mike Tweddle

The TEN* was submitted yesterday to licensing and the police, a copy is attached but give me a call if there are any queries.  Licensing went through the detail with me there and then and seemed OK.
*Temporary Event Notice

22nd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Thanks for your help and time yesterday.
We will come in and paint Africa* on Thursday afternoon and Friday all day – cleared it with Charlotte.

How do you rig lights when you use them in Europe? We ideally need to hang stuff for Karnival, as well as using some stands. Is there a precedent for doing this? The metal beams are clearly not as strong in that part of the space. Would be great to have your advice.

PS. Hugh couldn’t do it in the end, but we have a guy called Mick Diver who has toured a lot and works at mac. He’s going to come in and see the space on Friday morning.
*The venue’s five different rooms were named after continents.

23rd June 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

So far we have only ever put lights on stands in Europe, hanging them does sound like a better plan for that event. I’m afraid at the moment I don’t have any helpful advice on that.

I look forward to meeting Mick.

23rd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

No worries thanks James.
Do you have any mics and mic stands?

23rd June 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

yes, possibly three of each.

23rd June 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

great, and sorry one more question re: Karnival is the electrical spec in Europe phase 1, phase 2, or phase 3? i have no idea what that means but maybe you do?

27th June 2010
Jon Ward to James Yarker

James I think there’s a mistake in your blog entry about the BE Festival. It says that the festival will be at AE Harris until 3rd June, but you mean 3rd July!!

28th June 2010
Billy Hiscoke to James Yarker

As you’ve guessed, I didn’t end up doing the BE Festival job you recommended me for. The organiser thought about it and decided he wanted somebody based in Birmingham for ease of logistics, plus I’m pretty rammed at the moment.
But thank you anyway – I appreciated the thought, and wanted you to know that!
Good luck hosting the festival. Hope to see you next week when I’m up for Jake’s rehearsals.

28th June 2010
James Yarker to Billy Hiscoke

No problem. It turned out to be a pretty full on tech job, full on lighting rig etc. think you’re well off out of it. Festival looks amazing though, can’t wait for it to kick off.

13th July 2010
Mike Tweddle to James Yarker

Sorry for the delay – been busy with moving to London and learning lines! And as much lying down as possible.
As for the chairs, yes that seems a good plan we’re happy with that.
Supporting email – is this OK? Haven’t got feedback forms back from performers yet, but will send through any nice quotes about venue as and when they come…

AE Harris was the only venue that could have enabled the first ever BE Festival to be the success it was. The flexibility, energy and atmosphere of the building enabled us to offer 15 diverse theatre and dance performances, three live music concerts, a restaurant serving sit-down hot meals, late night DJs, and a series of afternoon feedback sessions and discussions, all taking place in one flowing, unified festival hub. 200 people visited the venue each day, many for the first time, and their reactions were universally positive. The atmosphere of festivity, exchange and adventure would’ve been difficult to achieve anywhere else in the Midlands, and possibly the country. AE Harris is unique, it provided the heart and soul of our festival, and we will be happy and excited to return again next year.

Mike Tweddle, BE Festival co-director

Cheers James, and thanks for the info about the bookbinder.

15th November 2010
James Yarker to Mike Tweddle

BE 10 was a breath of fresh air for Birmingham’s artistic scene. Its program was highly ambitious and the team achieved a remarkable amount in their first year.
The festival instantly had a great character and generated a great store of goodwill from audiences and artists alike. With the experience and excitement generated in the first year BE 11 should be an even more accomplished and rewarding experience for all concerned.

How’s that?

BE Festival continued to be held at our @ A E Harris venue for three further editions. As the festival grew it found ever more inventive uses for the space and more ingenious ways of squeezing audience members in Late in 2013 we gave up four of our five performance spaces and our landlords used them to manufacture seats for the drivers of trains and coaches. BE Festival moved on to be hosted by The REP.

James Yarker December 2022

Performer Opportunity

We are seeking a female identifying performer, with good comedy skills, comfortable with devising and sharp on scripts. This person will complete our team for a funny, fast moving and mathematically correct dramatisation of Birmingham City Council’s budget called All Our Money. You need to live in or near Birmingham, be available 6th Feb – 19th March for three weeks rehearsal and three weeks touring around Birmingham. Full details including how to apply can be found via this link – don’t be shy.

Composer in Residence Jan-Sept 2022

Hello I’m James (not to be confused with the other James at Stan’s Cafe), and I’m Stan’s Cafe’s composer-in-residence. This residency with Stan’s Cafe isn’t a normal residency, and Stan’s Cafe isn’t your usual theatre company and I’m possibly not your usual composer either!

I share Stan’s Cafe’s passion for ideas, and although I’m a composer, my work straddles different disciplines of performance, theatre and art.

I’m here until September 2024 working on PhD project titled Composition as Workplace Intervention. I started this PhD project last September, but have only really been in residence since June (for reasons I will soon explain).
The idea is by having me in residence, I will make music (and other media) about Stan’s Cafe, as opposed to what a traditional composer residency would look like in a theatre company, where a composer would devise music with a group for a production.

Academically this area of music making has already been covered somewhat, plus Stan’s Cafe already has a plethora of composers that they love to work with already.

This blog is to showcase some of the early work I have made since the start of 2022.

Stan’s Cafe not Café

First off, Stan’s Cafe is frequently mispronounced amongst those outside of the company. So I wrote a little anthem of sorts to help everyone know the errors of their ways. The words are relatively meaningless and more about using the rhyme schemes of Cafe and cafè

Composer Near Residence

Around this time I was also facing some bureaucratic university issues (mostly around Covid) that would not let me actually be in residence with Stan’s Cafe. Rather than twiddle my thumbs and not do any work relating to my residency, I set up a tent in a park adjacent to where Stan’s Cafe are based and made a sign proclaiming myself as a composer-near-residence. I then sent these photos to Stan’s Cafe, offering my nearby services as a composer.

Daily Diaries

Eventually, in June, I was granted access to take residence in Our Facility (Stan’s Cafe’s rehearsal space / HQ), and was kindly offered a lovely office to work in. For the first week or so I made a video diary of my activities here, mostly of me getting orientated and used to the space and customising it to my needs.

Theses videos were a starting place for me, to get going and work out what the space was and what working there was going to be like. They also offer some insight to how I settled in and what Stan’s Cafe’s Our Facility looks like.

Of All The Woodlice In Stan’s Cafe

One of Stan’s Cafe’s most famous works is their performance installation Of All The People In All The World. Where human population statistics are represented in piles of rice, to make large population numbers more comprehensible.

In Stan’s Cafe’s building, there are many dead woodlice. In effort to clean them up a little and also to repurpose them for artistic purposes, much like what Stan’s Cafe have done with rice, I made my own little exhibition installation in a cupboard next to my office. Detailing the statistics of people involved Precious Emily, the show that was the main focus on Stan’s Cafe’s work over summer.

The ‘exhibition’ was installed for about two months, until its place in the cupboard had to make way to store some cleaning materials. Rather apt perhaps.


Lastly, Stan’s Cafe’s printer that had been going strong for about eight years went into a steep decline before dying.

I recorded some sounds of the printer doing its very best to try and work, and made some elegy music with it. I also placed some wildflowers, and a makeshift headstone and a little sheet for members of the company to write their goodbyes to an old reliable piece of kit. I wanted to dig a hole for it in the park and give it a dignified burial but instead it is going to the recycling centre, maybe it is Buddhist .

A tick by The Lune

As a 19 year old I stood long evenings on the Carlisle Bridge, gazing down at The Lune, trains rumbling behind, the future imminent ahead. Now, more than 30 years into that future I’m looping back to The Lune, it is the subject of our new show.

We got hooked on rivers a couple of years ago. A big installation was being plotted with a HUGE American arts centre when everything in the world got cancelled. From the wreckage of those plans we plucked this idea – theatrical tours of fabric ribbon maps representing great rivers of the world.

With little else to do for months we started reading about rivers. Craig took The Thames and I advanced on The Volga. We read about history, politics, wars, nature, cities, engineering, hydrology, sport, myths and art. Humans are drawn to rivers and so the tales flow from there.

Laboriously, using satellite imagery and a length of string, we measured both rivers and plotted where all their bridges and dams were, along with major confluences and settlements. We commissioned a local textile artist to make us maps of each river at a 1:200,000 (1cm = 2 km) scale. We hooked up with a community group in a local park and performed our illustrated talks for them, their friends and passers-by last September.

Audience enthusiasm that afternoon inspired us to pursue the idea of a library full of river maps, which tours the world gaining a new river at every stop. It was clear each new map should be made and its tour written by artists linked to that river. No sooner had this notion been articulated than Lancaster Arts were calling us and The Lune was confirmed as the third river in our collection.

Everything is working out exactly as we had hoped it might. Sewing Café Lancaster have worked collectively with great skill, good humour and love fashioning two beautiful maps for the show; one is 43cm long, made strictly to scale to sit beside The Volga (14m long) and The Thames (1.7m) on the banks of the real live Lune. The other map is ten times bigger, magnificent and finely detailed. This is for Orla Cottingham to use in her performance.

Orla is currently down from Morecambe rehearsing with us in our Birmingham HQ, committing Claire Dean’s beautiful, inventive and witty script to memory. For years Clare lived beside the Lune in Lancaster, watching it rise and fall with the tide, so she started her research already immersed in its ways, she has captured and condensed so many of its stories and so much of its nature, I can’t imagine anyone not getting swept away by it.

Next week Orla will team up with Craig and compare performance notes as he brushes up his rendition of The Thames. Then we will all three jump on a train for a couple of days Lune-side, by the skate park preparing for you all. It should be fun. Three great rivers to explore on one fine day.

James Yarker
5 October 2022

This blog post was written for Lancaster Arts and published on their website. They also published a post by Claire Dean reflecting on her writing of the script and an interview with Sewing Cafe Lancaster about making the map.

Trustee Recruitment

Stan’s Cafe, Birmingham’s wildly original and internationally renowned theatre company is looking for two new Trustees.

For more than 30 years we’ve been surprising audiences with our playful productions, collaborating with local schools on ambitious learning projects and supporting fellow artists to achieve their ambitions. 

Now we need some help ourselves.

We’re seeking to reinforce our dynamic board of Trustees.

If you have strong skills and experience in the areas of HR or Finance and would like to volunteer to provide oversight and guidance to Stan’s Cafe in these areas we can promise you an exciting three years of artistic adventures.  Experience within the charitable sector would also be a handy asset.

Trustees come to see shows and meet with artists. They contribute to quarterly board meetings, an annual planning ‘away-day’, plus other bits and pieces as the needs arise.

You can learn a ludicrous amount about the company from our website: If you would like a chat about either role or to apply please contact Michelle Smith (General Manager) via

Recruitment Pack

Equal Opportunities Form

Closing date 31 October