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

We’re coming to the culmination of our first Schools River Tours project with St. Matthews Primary School. Children have been exploring The Indus and learning about its people, its history and its geography. With our Associate Artists Nafeesa Hamid and Abeda Begum they’ve created their own story of the river and to-scale textile representation of its significant features.

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: A Creative Collaboratives Project

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

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 the 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 to 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 MacDonald 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 and Valerien Ismael. Now Steve Bruce is in the hot seat / cold bench / windswept touchline.

Birmingham City also score 7 (or 6)* having burnt 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.


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.

Inside* with Billesley Primary

For a year we’ve been working with our partners at Billesley Primary School on a project called Inside*. It is designed to encourage students to think about and celebrate their identity and how they fit into society. The final element has just been concluded, Craig’s masterful Mr. Benn inspired collaboration with Year 1.

Continue reading “Inside* with Billesley Primary”

New Website


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.


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 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.