Journal

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: stans.cafe. If you would like a chat about either role or to apply please contact Michelle Smith (General Manager) via michelle@stanscafe.co.uk.

Recruitment Pack

Equal Opportunities Form

Closing date 31 October

Secretaries of State / Football Managers Update

Back in January 2018 Matt Hancock was appointed Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport (whatever happened to him?) He was the 9th person to hold that post in 11 years. Dispairing at the casualness with which our potfolio is tossed around I wrote about how, in that period ,it was a more precarious role than being a manager of Aston Villa, Birmingham City or West Bromwich Albion.

With Michelle Donelan a fortnight into her incumbancy it seems high time to update you on how things stand in the job security stakes.

Well Matt Hancock lasted 6 months before being moved to health (oh yes, I remember now). Nicky Morgan lasted 7 months before leaving the government. Oliver Dowden did a year and a half before becoming Conservative Party Chairman. Nadine Dorries did a year before stepping away from the job and handing it on Liz Truss’s apointee. That’s 5 Secretaries of State in four years and nine months – not bad.

In the same period Aston Villa had 4 (or 3)* managers. Steve Bruce was in charge at the start, Steven Gerrard is there now, Dean Smith did three years and Kevin MaDonald just seven days*.

West Brom score 7 (or 6)*. They started with Alan Pardew before welcoming and bidding farewell to Darren Moore, James Shan*, Slaven Bilic, Sam Allardyce, Valerien Ismael. Now Steve Bruce is in the hot seat / cold bench / windswept touchline.

Birmingham City also score 7 (or 6)*. have been the most stable of the three local football clubs, burning through Steve Cotterill, Garry Monk, Joseph Clotet Ruiz, Steve Spooner*, Aitor Karanka and Lee Bowyer before alighting on John Eustace this July.

I’m pleased to report that football has fought back.

* Interim or Caretaker Managers confuse the issue slightly in football, do you count them or not? The closest politics has got to this must have been in the farcical days of Johnson’s government. I note that ‘our own’ Michelle Donelan was Secretary of State for education between 5th & 7th July, 2022 (Tuesday – Thursday).

Nature Theater of Oklahoma

One of the great joys of touring work to international festivals is the chance to see work by artists that we rarely, if ever, encounter in the UK. I’ve seen Nature Theater of Oklahmoa a couple of times. Once in Germany and once in the USA – probably.

The first show was maybe about learning to dance or about performing a ballet without being great at ballet. My main memory is a grand finale which introduced a large company of amateur dancers onto the stage.

The other show found two, or maybe it was more, actors performing Romeo And Juliet based not on Shakespeare’s script but one patched together from the recall of friends, family and aquaintances*. Having been a bit underwhelmed by the previous show I remember being very happy to like this next one a great deal, it justified other people’s high opinions of the company.

ANYWAY – I got an email from the excellent venue Mousonturm to promoting the company’s first opera, which from the looks of the trailer, promises to be a lot of fun.

*Our own version of this idea Make Like You Believe involved Star Wars and was devised with third year students at De Montfort University.

James

Cafe Confusion

Question: What could be more confusing that a theatre named after a cafe?

Answer: A real cafe disguised as a fictional cafe.

One day over the summer the cafe on the corner by Our Facilty received a signifiant make-over. Gone – or so we thought – was Emma’s Pantry, with it’s slighty tired decor, delicious fry ups and friendly owner; in its place was Aria’s, a family run cafe serving West Indian Food. Except, Aria’s is a fictional establishment, created by a film crew shooting a programme for the BBC, called Champions (which is expected to be released in the summer).

What makes things brilliant is that Emma’s Pantry continues to operate from within this new fictional shell. The opening times on the door a fictional, the family photograph on the counter actually a group of actors and uninitiated customers regularly attempt to order items from the fictional menu. I love the whole thing.

The Commentators at Moseley Folk Festival 2022

It’s that time of year again when a middle aged man’s thoughts turn to donning a sheepskin coat and broadcasting to the world all the sights and sounds of an action packed folk and arts festival ..

.The Commentators at Moseley Folk

The Commentators are delighted to have been asked back to this year’s Moseley Folk and Arts Festival. They will be there on Saturday and Sunday calling all the action from who has the most extravagant lunch to who has the most extravagant beard and pretty much everything in between. So if you can’t be there do not worry they will be working hard to make sure you don’t miss a thing (except the music which they can’t broadcast)

This year you can choose how to listen ..

Remarkably you can both see and hear them by tuning into their brand new Commentators You Tube channel . This will be like the picture above but with some moving around.

If you would prefer not to have to look at them you can just listen to their soothing but detailed words instead, here on The Commentators mixlr channel

We hope you can join them!

A Beautiful City

Here in Birmingham we are waking up from the dreamworld that was The Commonwealth Games. It was a lovely experience to have the city jet washed and decaying buildings wrapped up, to enjoy free public transport (with games tickets), to have art and sport spilling out onto our streets, to have smiling faces everywhere, a pride in the city and helpful volunteers at every corner to ensure our lives all ran smoothly for a fortnight. It put me in mind of an obscure performance we made more than a decade ago.

It’s been a long time since Birmingham City Council gave us a grant (to be fair it’s a long time since we asked them for one), but once upon a time they did. Initially we would apply for help making a project, the council would appraise the idea and then say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depending on how things stacked up. Then, in 2011, for the first time (and for a very brief time) they gave us a ‘revenue grant’. The glory of a revenue grant was that it wasn’t tied tightly to a single project, it could to contribute to our general costs and help support everything we were doing. This led us to consider afresh our relationship to Birmingham and the role people / politicians thought the arts should play in our society.

Our response was to take the utilitarian view of the arts a literally as possible. What would a theatre company do if it were being unambiguously a public service? We started to undertake performance actions that were for the public good. Ultimately we did two! It was supposed to be a much longer series but I think we both go too busy to do more, but also realised most of our ideas ended up doing jobs other people were actually paid to do – which felt a bit unethical. Anyway, for a day we acted as Welcomers at Birmingham International Airport and Concierges at Snow Hill Station.

The project’s title could have worked as an overlong strap line for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and particularly for everyone who worked on the festival and all the volunteers Together With Love We Will Make This Citadel Glorious.

And we did.

A Happy D(el)ay

Finally the floor gave way. After days of very strong people dropping very heavy weights onto it from above head height the floor quit. Outside Hall 1 of the NIA a delay was announced “there’s a technical problem, it’s going to be some time. Don’t continue to queue. Go outside. Go for a walk”. We were so pumped up for the pre-show entertainment there was no way we weren’t queuing.

Fourteen members of the Precious Emiliy cast took to the lifting platform at 14:13 – thirteen minutes after lifting had been due to start. Accompanied by Katy Rose Bennett they sang “The Champions”, a ridiculously catchy and uplifting song written by Katy in collaboration with Years 4 & 5 at City Road Primary School. Afterwards the presenter quized them a bit, Precious McKenzie came on stage to say hello and Emily Campbell won a gold medal.

Ultimately that broken floor did us a favour. The delayed start meant BBC TV coverage, which normally misses all pre-competition build up, started just before the children came on stage. If you find the coverage on BBC i-Player (it’s only on for 40 days and only viewable in certain territories) and shuttle to 4:30 you can see Katy and the children do their thing.

Obviously the broadcast media team, including the excellent commentators, have no idea what’s happening that’s okay, they kept quiet and just let the performance happen.

It was a very happy and very emotional day. We cheered the kids and we went absolutely crazy when Emily locked out the final lift above her head before letting 162kg crash to that poor floor.

Precious Emily Gala Performance

This week 60 students from 10 schools gather for one day at MAC to stage the Gala performance of Precious Emily. This performance will be combining scenes from the 10 different school’s versions which tell teh stories of weightlifters Precious McKenzie and Emily Campbell – both of whome will be in the audience.

The students have four songs to revise/learn, they were each composed by Katy Rose Bennett and the students.

Continue reading “Precious Emily Gala Performance”

10 new shows in 13 (working) days

On 15th June, Year 4 at Raddlebarn Primary school performed their beautiful, witty version of Precious Emily at George Cadbury Hall in front of an adoring crowd which included weightlifting icons Precious McKenzie and Emily Campbell – whose lives are depicted in the show.

That was the easy bit. Now, over the next three weeks, a further ten new versions of the show are performed around Birmingham.

6pm 28th June City Road Primary perform at Christ Church, Summerfield including their great song The Campion written with Katy Rose Bennet. Directed by Rebecca Rochelle and Nafeesa Hamid.

6pm 30th June Holly Wood Primary’s Year 5 perform in the round at Immanuel Church, Highters Heath, including their touching song Poor Little Precious, again written with Katy Rose Bennet. Directed by Graeme Rose.

2:30pm 4th July all 90 of Blakesley Hall Primary’s Year 5 perform the largest cast version to the public at their school. Directed by Owen Harper.

6pm 5th July St. Gerard’s Catholic Primary Years 5 & 6 perform their version to the public in their newly kitted out school hall. Directed by Carys Jones.

2:30pm 7th July Holy Family Catholic Primary’s Year 6 perform their witty take of the subject at St. Cyprian Memorial Hall. Directed by Aaron Corbett.

6pm 8th July Watermill Primary’s Year 6 take over the beautiful Ruddock Performing Arts Centre for they version. Directed by Lexia Tomlinson.

2pm 12th July Chandos Primary’s Year 6 share their version in the Foyle Studio at MAC. Directed by Paul ‘Steady’ Steadman and Holly Alanna Williams.

6pm 12th June St. Matthew’s C of E Primary’s Year 6 bring their inspirational version to St. Matthew’s Community Hall. Directed by Dominic Thompson.

6:30pm 13th June St. Bernard’s Catholic Primary’s Year 5 are the tenth and final school to rise to the challenge, sharing their version with us in the Foyle Studio at MAC. Directed by Fateha Begum.

Every performance is open to the public and entrance is free.

In addition to songs by Katy Rose Bennett there is music by Orique Johnson. Movement support from Paul ‘Steady’ Steadman. A number of the shows use elements of script written by Craig Stephens – who directed Year 4 from Raddlebarn Primary in the first school production. The productions feature cut out illustrations by Maxene Brown, weights constructed by Infamous Community Arts and costuming supported by Ella Barraclough.

The eleventh version is performed in the main theatre at MAC on 14th June. It features 6 students from each of the ten schools and is sold out. We’ll see you on the other side.


The Commentators @ BIDF (again!)

On Saturday 25 June 14:00 – 20:00ish The Commenators will be out and about around Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria Squares in Birmingham City Centre bringing listerners Live and Exclusive coverage of the Birmingham International Dance Festival. You can listen via this link. There is a possibility the coverage won’t be totally uninterrupted but they’ll do their best, return whenever you can.

New Website

Archived

Our first website was built at approximately the same time our local solar system was pulling itself together. The current design dragged itself from the primordial soup a decade ago, maybe you noticed.

Now comes the good news and bad. Good news: a fresh, nice smelling, searchable website is on its way. Bad news: you’re going to have to live with a few slates missing from the roof in this one and couple of windows being boarded up as well, plus the rising damp and subsidence on this one for a bit longer.

The only true compensation we can offer is to take requests from you about what you’d like to see on the new site. Message us. Although it’s currently growing in a petri dish somewhere in south Birmingham it’s not too late to tweak the new site’s genetic code.

Stick with us for now and feast your eyes on this site’s clunkiness – you’ll miss it and all its delapidated grandure once we have set fire to it and burnt it to the ground in order to claim the insurance and circumnavigate the preservation order.

With love S.C.

Chess

Clearly there are more urgent, productive and important things to do at the moment than to get lost in eight (plus) hours of live streamed chess. I know that fact in the way that I know I mustn’t close my eyes while driving dog tired on the motorway in the early hours of the morning and yet somehow knowing and making wise decisions based on that knowledge are two very different things…

Damn YouTube for having no rumble strip. Over the last few days I’ve lost a large portion of my life to watching/listening to a full re-run of Game 6 of the current World Championship, sometimes whilst accomplishing household chores but also in late night sessions of indulgence. It’s so compelling, the theory, the calculation, the speculation. The game was a record breaking epic, sensationally dramatic throughout. The commentary on Chess24.com is a revelation. While on Test Match Special commentators while away the hours by mixing the sport in with a myriad of ancillary, diversionary topics over on Chess24 they never talk about anything other than the match in hand. I love it.

I love it and recommend it, but cannot possibly allow myself to get drawn into watching Game 7 or any other.

C90 Qawwali: Emperor In Birmingham

September 1980 singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sings Qawwali to a packed audience of dispirited factory workers in the Luxor Cinema, Stratford Road. Their fervent response pushes the soon to be legendary singer and his band to transcendental new heights, a vortex opens in space and time and everyone steps through.

C90 Qawwali: Emperor in Birmingham follows a pair of third generation Kashmiri Brummies as they circle the city’s ring road seeking to reopen that lost vortex.

Expect imagery and music, social history, pathos and some humour.

Saturday 20 November at 14:00 and 16:00
Purbanat’s Studio, 49-55 Golden Hillock Road, Birmingham, B10 0JU
Tickets free but please book in advance.

We are delighted to announce our artistic team:

Tas Bashir: Artist (Co-Director)
Gerard Bell: Actor
Nafeesa Hameed: Poet (Assistant Director)
Rupinder Kaur: Actor & Poet
Murad Khan: Writer founder Purbanat.
Muhibb Nazir: Actor
Rachel Sambrooks: Actor & Poet
Dominic Thompson: Actor & Director of Gritty Theatre
Michael Valentine West: Musician
James Yarker: (Co-Director).

All Our Money (early version)

Each year Birmingham City Council spends more than £3,000,000,000. Where does all this money come from and how do they decide where it all goes?

We’re dramatising Birmingham City Council’s budget setting process in a show called All Our Money. This is the second show we’re making in the first three weeks of November. It’s going to be fast, funny, touching and informative. We promise you won’t see any graphs and you probably won’t even hear any numbers.

If you are at all sceptical we can turn all this into an entertaining treat we’d like point out that The Just Price Of Flowers, our explanation of the 2008 financial crisis, was one of our most popular shows and Of All The People In All The World, our dramatisation of human population statistics, has been touring for 18 years. Keep the faith and please come along to:

Saturday 13 November at 14:00 and 16:00
Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, B2 5HU
Tickets free but please book in advance.

We are delighted to announce our artistic team:

Aaron Corbett: Actor and Writer
Will Jackson: Actor and theatre maker
Owen Harper: Director of 10 Minutes Late Theatre (Assistant Director here)
Lisa McKinley: Actor and Facilitator
Katie Utting: Actor
Elexi Walker Actor and Voice over Artist
James Yarker: Director.

Precious Emily (early version)

Precious Mckenzie became a weightlifting legend when, after an extraordinary childhood in apartheid blighted South Africa, he emigrated to England and won four consecutive Gold Medals in the Commonwealth Gold Medals.

Fifty years later, Emily Campbell steps onto the Olympic stage and, in a moment described by The Guardian as “surely [the] most powerful, heartwarming and potentially life-changing story of these Games”, she lifted more than any British woman has ever lifted before.

Next week we are spending five days making a theatre show about these two wonderful athletes and the inspiration they give us when it comes to lifting up heavy things.

This will be our first bi-lingual show as, with the support and guidance of DeafExplorer, our cast mixes deaf and hearing actors. British Sign Language will be integrated into the performance with the aspiration that formal interpretation won’t be required.

Tickets are free but are limited so please book in advance. We hope to see you…

Precious Emily (early version)
Saturday 6 November 14:00 & 16:00
Oakdale Centre, Umberslade Road, B29 7SB
Tickets Free (book in advance)

We are delighted to announce our artistic team for Precious Emily:

  • Rosie Baggott: Actor, weightlifter, yoga instructor.
  • Emily Davies: Stage manager.
  • Orique Johnson: A man of many talents, here he’s the musician.
  • Caroline Parker MBE: Actor, comedian, sign-singer.
  • Mary-Jayne Russell de Clifford: Actor, director, drama facilitator.
  • Paul ‘Steady’ Steadman: Choreographer, DJ and founder of Yugen Arts, here he’s Assistant Director.
  • Jack Trow: Actor, writer, Stan’s Cafe veteran.
  • Elexi Walker: Actor and voice-over artist.
  • Holly Williams: Actor, photographer, poet.
  • James Yarker: Director.


3 Saturdays in November (3 new shows)

Here is the news. Across November we are opening three new shows, with three new casts, created in three consecutive weeks. Crazy? Maybe. Here’s why…

The most familiar way of making theatre is for a playwright to sit in a room scribbling before giving a script to a director and cast who then stage their words. However, there is a parallel, less heralded way of doing things in which a bunch of people get in a room together and just make it all up between them. This alternative approach is termed Devised Theatre.

There are a myriad approaches to ‘just making it all up’ but generally in devised theatre the actors and director (if there is one) take on more authorial roles, they create their own performance material and the whole group consider structure and pace, those responsibilities the playwright would normally take on.

Performing and directing in devised theatre requires some alternative skills to working on scripted pieces, so when devising companies are recruiting they are necessarily drawing on a narrower pool of talent. Gaining skills and experience in devising can be tricky, so we thought we’d do a little to help broaden that pool

Believing that the best way to learn how to devising is to devise and having some ideas for new shows we wanted to try out we determined to make a set of three new shows, fast and loose across November.

We have recruited three dynamic new teams of actors keen to develop their devising skills, supported by a stalwart Stan’s Cafe Associate Artist helping things gel. For each new production I am being supported by a Assistant Director keen to extend their devising skills in order to make their own devised work. We have even snuck in a couple of musician new to ‘this kind of thing’.


The shows should be raw, energised and a lot of fun. They are being made and performed in a three alternative venues around Birmingham. We will share details of each show over the next three days but these free tickets are on release now via Eventbrite and seats are very limited so please book yours now.

Precious Emily (early version)
Saturday 6 November 14:00 & 16:00
Oakdale Centre, Umberslade Road, B29 7SB
Tickets Free (book in advance)

All Our Money (early version)
Saturday 13 November 14:00 & 16:00
Great Western Arcade, B2 5HU
Tickets Free (book in advance)

C90 Qawwali: Emperor In Birmingham (early version)
Saturday 20 November 14:00 & 16:00
Purbanat Studio, 49-55 Golden Hillock Road, B10 0JU
Tickets Free (book in advance)

Thank You and Goodbye to Roisin

After six years as Executive Producer and joint CEO, Roisin Caffrey will be leaving Stan’s Cafe today to take on new projects with contemporary artists and organisations, including as Strategic Producer for Selina Thompson Ltd.

Since joining the company in 2015, Roisin has led on the global expansion of Stan’s Cafe’s work, taking Of All The People In All The World to Austria, Australia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Spain and Switzerland, where The Cardinals also toured.

In the UK, she produced major new work The Capital, as well as Made Up, Time Critical and most recently the outdoor show Rivers. On-line she produced For Quality Purposes, which was shortlisted for an OnComm award, as well as thirty-five episodes of The Anatomy of Melancholy. Among a wide variety of smaller projects, she also produced the revival of It’s Your Film as part of her initiative to broker relationships with the corporate sector for the presentation and creation of artistic and creative learning projects.

Roisin secured significant investment for the company’s creative learning work from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and major strategic funds from Arts Council England, and has championed the company’s work across Birmingham’s diverse communities.

Rob Elkington, Chair of Stan’s Cafe’s board said: “Roisin is passionate about theatre, cares deeply about the needs of artists and is ambitious for amazing audience experiences, and she has brought all those qualities to Stan’s Cafe.

She has made a huge impact on the growth of the company as an organisation and has produced work we are all hugely proud of, from shows with children and young people in Birmingham to the mass engagement installation work at sites across the world.

“Roisin has shown her sector leadership in chairing the board of Culture Central and in her personal commitment to equality as a member of the More Than a Moment steering group, who are working for radical change for the Black creative workforce.

“I want to recognise Roisin’s achievements over the last six years and thank her for her leadership and deep commitment to the company. I wish her so much success in her next career stage and have no doubt she will continue to produce exciting and bold art for audiences across the world with imagination, enthusiasm and drive.”

James Yarker, Stan’s Cafe’s Artistic Director added: “Over the last six years, Stan’s Cafe has benefited greatly from Roisin’s skills, commitment and insight, for which I am extremely grateful. With Roisin in the company, we have shared some wonderful adventures which we will always remember with great fondness.

“I would like to thank Roisin for everything she has made possible and wish her great success and happiness with Selina, and all the adventures that are still to come.”

Roisin Caffrey said: “It has been a pleasure to work with James and the team on such an extensive and eclectic range of projects over the past 6 years, as well as with brilliant artists, partners and audiences. I am looking forward to seeing what Stan’s Cafe does next and wish the team all the best for the future.”

The Commentators at Moseley Folk

It’s the time of year again that last year we weren’t able to have but the beautiful late summer gathering, that is Moseley Folk and Arts Festival is on for real this year. Understanding that not everyone can be there The Commentators have again been invited to broadcast live coverage from the weekend. If you can’t attend in person you can listen at home and still enjoy all the action – picnic unpacking, backstage folk style antics, camping chair politics, the occasional heron – it promises to be a wonderful weekend.

The Commentators will be broadcasting from 10.45 until around 6.00pm on Saturday and Sunday. You can listen online via the player here or by clinking the link to take you to their Mixlr page …

The Commentators from Stan’s Cafe is on Mixlr

Rivers – a new performance

Join us for a relaxing hour in Cotteridge Park on Saturday 11th September, for our new project, Rivers.

rivers image

Artist Vicky Roden has created two beautiful textile river maps, detailing every bridge, dam, confluence and town along both the Thames and the Volga. We invite you to join us on their banks and let us take you on a guided tour of these two fascinating European rivers.

Come with us along the Thames for an entertaining journey brimming with nature, inspiring artwork, tales of sewerage and ceaseless human invention. Then head along the Volga for a gripping tour awash with political strife, great swings of fortune, tales of caviar and vaulting human ambition.

When:

Saturday 11th September – there will be two performances: 2pm and 4pm. Each performance lasts approximately an hour and is suitable for ages 7+

Where:

Cotteridge Park (next to the Shed)

Franklin Rd, Cotteridge, Birmingham B30 2HG. (The park is about a ten minute walk from Bournville Station)

The performances are FREE and there is no need to book. There is a toilet and children’s playground on site. Bring a chair or blanket if you want to sit and a picnic if you want to make an afternoon of it.

We hope you can join us!

Make a micro-production with us

We are delighted to have been awarded a Project Grant by Arts Council England to fund a number of training and development opportunities for West Midlands artists in autumn 2021.

Over 30 years we have learned that the best training for making art is to make art. Therefore in autumn 2021 we are creating three “micro-productions”, which take performers and assistant directors through a full, genuine making process in a condensed form. The production team for each production will be different, and will consist of an experienced Stan’s Cafe Associate Artist working alongside our Artistic Director James Yarker, with performers and assistant directors who are keen to start or extend their devising practice as part of this training and development opportunity.

We are looking for:

6 x Theatre Performers who do not have professional devising experience but have a strong interest in extending their professional practice into this area.

6 x Theatre Performers who have 2 – 5 years of devising experience (at any point in their career) who believe it would be useful for their professional development to work with Stan’s Cafe in this context

3 x Assistant Directors who feel their devising practice would benefit from working on one of these projects as an Assistant Director alongside Stan’s Cafe’s Artistic Director.

Fee:

Performers: £515 + holiday pay
Assistant Directors: £1,030 + holiday pay (includes a preparation week)

Dates: Performances and rehearsals are in November 2021.

For more information and how to apply, please download the project outline here.

Deadline for applications: 10am on Tuesday 31st August

Staging Macbeth for school

Graeme, James, Jack, Elexi & Carys rehearse – Mabeth

We don’t normally do Shakespeare, we’re not that kind of theatre company, but for our friends at Saltley Academy all kinds of exceptions are made. Since 2016 we have helped successive Year 8s stage The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant Of Venice and Othello. Macbeth was postponed from 2020 to this summer and with social distancing measures still in force it was decided that rather than the students performing the play we should. What fun we had!

Craig had already compressed the original text to a Year 8 friendly length so the next step was to divide this so a cast of four could perform it without tragedy degenerating into farce.

Anxious to maximise the students’ connection to the play, our production and us we worked on new ways for them to collaborate with us. On Day 2 and Day 3 of rehearsals we went into school and each of the nine English classes took it in turns to direct us in a different scene. Students made props and drew or painted elements of scenery. Two different students played MacDuff’s son and we gained a particularly excellent second murderer to save Jack from having to do the deed. For one of the three performances we also gained three extra Thanes in banquet scene. From Day 4 onwards we posted brief video diary entries summarising rehearsals for students to watch in their English lessons.

Normally we take the students to perform at Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon after which they explore the town, but as New Place was off-limits this year all the fun had to be school based. On the two performance days a slush machine was installed in the school hall and students worked up their own four minute long versions of the play. During the interval of our 90 minute long production EVERYONE got an ice-cream.

It was fantastic to be back in a rehearsal room working together. When compressed to 90 minutes Macbeth rockets past at an exhilarating lick, characters absorb turns of fortune in a line or two and move on a line or two later. With so much cut out famous speeches and phrases come at an astonishing rate. We revelled in the story, language and allusions, but with just ten days rehearsal there was barely any time for chin stroking so there was a great sense of drive every day.

For five days, with Graeme self-isolating, we got onto more familiarly experimental territory. Graeme’s performance was streamed into the rehearsal room via a laptop, he voiced a body-double (often me) and watched the results from where I usual sit. Maybe this is a technique to be returned to at some point…

Graeme was released for the first day of performance, having missed the get in and tech set up. I went into self-isolation for the second day of performance, so Dave stepped in to operate Luke & Chrissie’s bespoke sound cues and Graeme’s penance for missing so much manual labour was to take my place putting everything back into storage with Craig.

Kinder Exeter

The Commentators started playfully, as a joke. Our theatre company, Stan’s Cafe, were hosting a 24 Scalextric race for audiences to participate in and we thought it would be fun to webcast a commentary so people could follow the race at home. What followed surprised us; people loved the commentators. We thought people would find them irritating after a short while but instead they listened for hours. Such was the popularity of The Commentators that they started to get invitations to commentate on events even less sporting than slot car racing: a gallery opening, The World Gurning Championships, the foyer of a public library, a music festival, a city centre street through the night. The joke had turned back on us.

Now I don’t see The Commentators as so much of a joke and their participation in Kinder Exeter with its strap line ‘Compassion Through Play’ makes total sense to me. Of course the idea of The Commentators remains ridiculous and listeners still find their skewed observation of everyday life funny, but this playful idea has compassion at its heart.

Like many Stan’s Cafe productions The Commentators give detailed attention to people who are often ignored or who one’s gaze normally slides over. The Commentators invest time, attention and care in observing quotidian moments in everyday lives, indeed the ‘joke’ at the very heart of their endeavour is that they invest too much in what for the rest of the world is considered insignificant. Despite being neutral observers they care too much in what others value much less. They are inherently and unerringly credulous take the whole world exactly as they find it. On Saturday they will find a Kinder Exeter and share it with avid listeners around the world.

The Commentators will be streaming live from Kinder Exeter 10:00 – 16:00 on Saturday 19 June 2021. Listen online via the Kinder Exeter website.

So many artists in the world 2

With The Royal Birmingham Conservertoire we advertised for a composer/PhD candidate and liked some of them. As a result today I was talking to a composer who asked what we’ve got coming up. I told him about the textile artist collaboration and that prompted him to send me a link to this video. This piece is rather restrained and formal. If you want something more mainstream you should check this out…

I fear I’m a bit late climbing aboard the Phil Minton train, but then there are so many artists in the world.

So many artists in the world

We advertised for textile artists and liked them all – what skill and imagination there is in the world. Some we shortlisted, some we regretfully rejected and some we talked to about other things. In some of this other talking I mentioned a show we’d made on moving walkways and as a result I was sent a link to Krzysztof Wodiczko and his wonderful Vehicle 1. From there to this slightly odd short documentary which leaves his work more hinted at than explained – which is probably as it should be. There are so many artists in the world, we can’t possibly every know them all.

Life a Sport/Art

Last year they missed the postponement message and turned up to commentate on an empty Moseley Private Park. This year The Commentators got the ‘It’s On!’ message and will be at the same venue on 3rd & 4th September to bring live commentary of the Moseley Folk and Arts Festival to people attending the Moseley Folk and Arts Festival, plus people around the world tuned into the live stream.

For those new to their peculiarities – The Commentators were once regulars on Match Of The Day. Now, as sheepskin has been replaced by goretex, so The Commentators have been replaced by less natural fibres. With no glamour sporting gigs coming in they have been forced to deploy thier niche skills on non-sporting gigs, such as Folk & Arts Festivals. Unfortunately they struggle to see life as anything other than sport, so they bring a peculiar perspective to a relaxing day in a field listening to great music.

There is a full essay setting out the origins and art behind The Commentators here:

https://stans.cafe/helpfulthings/essays-the-commentators.html

Wanted: Textile Artist

Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood

Opportunity for a Textile Artist: Upstream of Tomorrow
Stan’s Cafe theatre company is looking to collaborate with a Textile Artist on the research and development phase of a new theatre show, for indoors and outdoors performance.

Central to the performance will be fabric ribbon maps. The Textile Artist will work in dialogue with the show’s writing and directing team to develop design ideas for how geographic features and story elements are represented on each map, and will source the materials and make the completed fabric maps.


Please see the job pack for further information and how to apply.

Fee: £2,000

Deadline for applications: Monday 19 April at midday 

Stan’s Cafe’s objective to produce excellent work rests on working with company members who are representative of the full diversity of contemporary UK, and we are committed to equal opportunities for all staff and applicants.