Little Earthquake: 1% Pledge Update – Sarah-Jane Watkinson

At our East Meets West Symposium in July 2017, we invited the delegates to make a 1% Pledge, a promise to do something that would improve the way we all work together in the independent theatre sector, and ultimately, increase the quality of what we put in front of audiences. We asked some of those who made a pledge to give us an update on how it’s all going.

Below, proud Eastie and honorary Westie Sarah-Jane Watkinson, an Independent Producer from Birmingham, explains what inspired her pledge and the difference it has made so far.

You can connect directly with SJ (as everyone calls her) on Twitter, and find out more about her work at She is currently producing The Death Show which begins touring this month – more details here.

You can download a full list of the 1% Pledges that were made here. If you made a pledge and would like to give us an update, please get in touch!

Sarah-Jane writes:

“My 1% pledge – “To build a training / mentoring opportunity for a new producer into one of my projects.”

First of all, a confession. I made my pledge not entirely for altruistic reasons. I am absolutely flat out with work and have had to turn down several fantastic projects recently because I simply didn’t have the capacity. On each of those occasions, I could have taken them on if I’d had someone I could share the workload with. Not only was it incredibly frustrating as a freelancer to turn down work, but I really wanted to see these projects on the stage. I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to take some responsibility myself to address this.

There is a shortage of producers with the broad range of skills and experience necessary for small scale touring, which includes tour booking, fundraising, finance, marketing and legal stuff, as well as a working knowledge of technical matters, nerves of steel, the patience of a saint and UN level negotiating skills. Not to mention flapjack baking, van driving, pastoral care and buying the essential post show round of drinks.

Whilst several theatres across the region have schemes to support emerging artists and companies, there is very little out there for budding producers. All too often, it’s a skill that isn’t even recognised as a thing in its own right; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been invited for coffee so that I can pass on my skills. I can forgive young people who are starting out fresh for this, but not those who’ve been at it for a while; producing is difficult, takes time and is my livelihood, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be valued and remunerated.

I’ve begun to fulfil my pledge in a number of ways. I built in small roles into two forthcoming projects, both with GforA funding. Sammy Gooch is working with Leeds based Uncanny Theatre on a national tour of their new show Outrage, and Cat Butler is working with Birmingham based artists Antonia Beck and Lucy Nicholls on The Death Show, ready for a preview tour in spring 2018.

Both of these roles will mainly be about marketing and press support this time around, but with the opportunity for Sammy and Cat to gain a grasp of the wider role of producer. I would have liked these to have been bigger roles with a more structured mentoring process, but was limited by timescale and budgetary constraints. The aim is for us to continue to work together in future, to build on these first steps so that they, the artists and myself can develop the kind of trusted working partnership that is essential in this work.

I’ve also been thinking about other ways to make various small contributions to people who are starting out. In my role as General Manager at The Play House, I’m working with our intern Naomi Cooper to introduce her to the work of producer and company manager. I’ve also spoken at several events and been on panels for students and graduates. I’m hoping that this can be something that is useful over the longer term and not just someone’s quick fix for the price of an espresso.”

The post 1% Pledge Update – Sarah-Jane Watkinson appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Graeme Rose's Blog: CHOKE


CHOKE is a new play by award-winning writer Chris O’Connell and Theatre Absolute, the company he formed with Julia Negus. It is the sixth in a series of new works under the umbrella theme – ‘Are We Where We Are?’ – taken from a line in Paul Auster’s Walden. Rehearsals of CHOKE are now into their second week at Coventry’s Shop Front Theatre, founded by Julia and Chris in 2009.

Rob’s made a twelve-hour journey, buttoned up in a ball of five coats begged from a bunch of strangers. He’s hitchhiked in sub-zero temperatures to the edge of nowhere because he just can’t stand it any longer, and because he has the strangest, most absurd request…Choke tells the story of lifelong friends Rob and Stu, each staring into the gap between who they thought they were, and who they are now.

Further details and ticket info visit the Theatre Absolute website.

Little Earthquake: Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 1

We’re currently in rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Phil’s script alive and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. Find out what happened in the rehearsal room during week one below…

Scott Wilson
Monday 8th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi I’m Scott,

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of so much excitement and enthusiasm to get started on a production. It was such a great session to get used to working with each other and with Little Earthquake. The ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ exercise was definitely the wake-up call I needed on the first day back after Christmas, and I can already feel my Christmas dinner dropping off me!

Gareth focused on making us comfortable in being as silly and creative as possible. His advice to act like a 4-year-old who doesn’t care what people think was something that I really took on board. So let’s hope everyone’s ready for 4-year-old me to come out!

We have already addressed a couple of issues with the script to work on but the list of positives was much longer, so come and see what you think!

#QuakeGrimm #TeamJake

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room full of so much excitement and enthusiasm to get started on a production.

Jordan Farrag
Monday 8th January, 2pm – 6pm

Rehearsals for Grimm Tales Retold started on the 8th of January. I think it is safe to say that both the cast and Little Earthquake shared a peculiar mix of excitement, nervousness and passion for the project. I was tasked with writing this short entry to cover our rehearsal on the afternoon of the first day of the process.

We started with an improvisation exercise that encouraged us to trust our instincts and accept the offers that we were giving to each other. Gareth stressed the importance of trusting our instincts and listening to one another, which created this sense of shared agency for our creative decisions, a sort of creative interdependency, which I think is reflective of what the piece is all about. We aim to work together to create something GREAT!

Strangely, running the whole play in the first afternoon made the task ahead feel far more manageable.

Then we were asked to run the whole play. Conveniently Gareth had just implemented this ‘working trust’ between all of us so he said, “be bold”, “trust your instincts” and “listen to each other’s offers”. We did exactly that and ran the play from start to finish. This allowed us to see what the play was really about, provided us with a deeper understanding of each character and encouraged us to start thinking about our characters’ ‘wants’.

Strangely, running the whole play in the first afternoon made the task ahead feel far more manageable and further excited the cast as we began realising the complexities of Phil’s writing. As we left the rehearsal at 6pm, our cast walked back down towards Selly Oak, all sharing stories of the day and laughing. I could not have asked for a better start, or a better bunch of people to embark on this journey with.

Charlotte Biggs
Tuesday 9th January, 9am – 1pm

Hi, I’m Charlotte! I’m a member of the cast in Grimm Tales Retold. This post is about our second rehearsal day and it’s already been so much fun! Today’s session consisted of a few warm-up activities to get us ready for the rehearsal. After this, we began to explore our characters ‘wants’ in the script. This was so useful in understanding our characters’ intentions for the scenes, even if it was something as simple as wanting to sit down on a chair.

We then began working on Act 1, Scene 1, and part of Scene 2. It was scary to think we’d only been working with each other for two days and we were already moving on to the first scene! But it was great to see the play up on its feet.

It was scary to think we’d only been working with each other for two days and we were already moving on to the first scene! But it was great to see the play up on its feet.

Gareth started the process of exploring ‘wants’ by having the actors lines ‘fed’ to them. After this was repeated a few times, the scene then had to be improvised without scripts, which was daunting to begin with, but the results were amazing! It enabled the actors to not be weighed down with a script, and allowed for some very authentic and raw moments to burst through. I’m so looking forward to the rest of the rehearsals and cannot wait for you all to see Grimm Tales Retold!

George Bandy
Wednesday 10th January, 2pm – 6pm

It was on Wednesday that we saw the set for the first time as a cast. For a production put together in only four weeks, a timeframe far shorter than most of us are used to, the idea of being on stage so soon was initially quite terrifying. Indeed, we were told that we would be entering the space ourselves in a mere fortnight, which with such an ambitious script provided some concerns.

We needn’t have worried, however, as upon entering the Production Meeting room, we were greeted by videos explaining the concepts, remarkable illustrations of costume plans for every single character in a multi-role-heavy play, and a miniaturised reproduction of the planned stage. The transformation from what I had imagined and worried about on the page was incredible; the design team have created a blend of urban and rural, placing the action of the play on the very divide of the two, melding the narrators’ room into forest land, office block and hospital in a variety of ways.

I admire the work that the design team has done so far, and am extremely excited to see it at full scale!

Here we were informed of how scene changes would take place, utilising a chorus referenced repeatedly in the script (with a twist, naturally), and I, certainly, truly began to understand how the show would fit together. As someone who is used to being on stage, but rarely behind it, I don’t envy the design team and backstage teams’ jobs, but certainly admire the work they have done so far, and am extremely excited to see it at full scale!

Katie Webster
Thursday 11th January, 1pm – 5pm

How are we already at Day 4?! Today began with another classic game of tag, which Gareth ensures is to help us focus on what we want most in the world (which to be fair it really does), but boy does it get sweaty in the rehearsal room! Definitely don’t have a heavy lunch before a Little Earthquake warm-up.

We kept working through the scenes today, section by section, really focusing on what our characters want most in that moment. We’ve reached the Cinderella scene, where I play Assista. Assista is basically Amazon’s Alexa but “100 times better”. We continued to work in the format of a read-through of the whole scene, then a run-through of a section of the scene with the lines being fed to us, then a run with Gareth stopping and starting us to really focus on our want, and finally we improvise the scene, purely working from our instincts.

This is a really useful process in working out exactly what our character wants, but also varying how we offer those wants to one another. However, as Assista, I was fairly limited in how I can speak, as she’s a machine! Or is she…?

I think it’s safe to say this scene ends in a way nobody would expect it to, and I can’t wait to hear the audience’s reaction.

I found it challenging to improvise as Assista specifically since a lot of her lines are relaying information about ordering emergency chicken, but even though I’m not physically in the scene, it’s interesting to discover what she really wants, and just how damn manipulative she is. It’s also a credit to my fellow performers that Assista truly came alive in the rehearsal room today, as the way everyone interacts with an inanimate tube is genius.

I think it’s safe to say this scene ends in a way nobody would expect it to, and I can’t wait to hear the audience’s reaction. If this scene doesn’t make you think twice about that electronic personal assistant you got for Christmas, you might want to be careful what you say…

Lydia Sirovica
Thursday 11th January, 6pm -10pm

I’m so, so excited to be a part of this production and this first week of rehearsals has been very interesting for me!

We warmed up at the start of the rehearsal with ‘Bananas Of The World, Unite!’ I love that we all do this together at the start of each rehearsal; I see it as a way to focus and become engaged as a group (it’s also really fun to let yourself go!) Following this we played a game in which we all stood in a circle and the aim was to walk towards someone in the circle, say a letter of the alphabet and touch them on the shoulder. In this time, however, the person who is being walked towards must say a Name, Object and Place beginning with that letter in order to stay in the circle. This really tested how quickly we could think on our feet… There were quite a few moments in which panic took over and my mind went blank. The purpose of the game was to explore how we react to an offer made by someone else, in the moment and using our initial instincts.

I’ve never used ‘wants’ and ‘feeding in’ before, and I think the key thing to note is how simple they are to apply, and for me it made a huge difference in the way I performed her.

After a series of warm-up games in this session, we continued to work through the script chronologically, which allowed us to experiment with our characterisation. In this session we worked on one of my scenes — Cinderella. When reading the script I struggled to characterise Georgia, however, using the ‘feeding in’ technique and putting this scene on its feet, I began to understand what she wanted. Using ‘wants’ I started to think about what my aim was as Georgia: for example, at one point I came up with ‘I want to calm Cassie down.’ I’ve never used this technique before and I think the key thing to note is how simple it is to apply, and for me it made a huge difference in the way I performed her. I also found myself starting to listen to what I was being offered by other characters in the scene, especially when we were told to improvise it. The session finished at 10pm so I’m not going to lie when I say I was very tired! Still, so far rehearsals are keeping me on my toes and it seems to be going very well!

Will Melhuish
Friday 12th January, 3pm – 7pm

As week one of rehearsals comes to a close there is a definite whiff (pun intended) of excitement amongst everyone involved in this production. We started the week off as you would expect every drama rehearsal to start – playing various games. However, looking back now, this seems less as a way of having fun, and more about developing an identification as a unified group who are willing to trust one another. This is, without doubt, one of the most stimulating, demanding, but also rewarding projects I have ever been involved in, and I’m sure that my co-performers agree with me on this. The level of energy going into the first week has certainly not subsided, and our abilities as actors have been pushed to the very limit.

By Friday morning, the commonplace proverb “BE BOLD” echoes in all of our ears as we approach the end of the script. Already, by having the
play acted out in front of us, we can see just how magical and disturbing it actually is. Echoes of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror seem to radiate out of the rehearsal space, as neither we nor the audience know what will come next.

By achieving this sense of playfulness, Gareth’s method of ‘feeding in’ the lines, and removing ourselves from the cold grip of the script has allowed us to really play with these characters and come to rehearsals with more and more creative ideas.

Every day we move further and further away from the boring old ‘happily ever after’.

By Friday afternoon, we were exploring the Little Red Riding Hood scene which has the effect of leading the audience down a course of sadomasochistic pleasure and discovery (something which you don’t experience every day). There were fantastic juxtapositions which were literally jumping out of this scene, particularly when Katie and I discovered a tender relationship develop between the Wolf and Melinda! All I can say is, every day we successfully move further and further away from the boring old ‘happily ever after’.

The post Grimm Tales Retold – Inside Rehearsal Week 1 appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching to Talk About… Hannah Barker

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Hannah Barker is the Belgrade Theatre’s brilliant new Creative Producer, as well as being the co-Artistic Director of theatre company Analogue. We caught up with her to find out more about what lies in store for audiences and artists in Coventry, not least since the recent exciting result of a certain City of Culture bid…!

Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Hannah: Complicite’s Mnemonic, Robert Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon and 887, and Yael Farber’s Nirbaya.

All of these shows (and theatre-makers generally) have challenged what I thought theatre was capable of and the power and impact it can have. Each is a call to arms, demanding of their audience something active, and challenging the most seasoned theatre-goer to think differently about the world and how we talk about it. They have all been integral at pioneering new approaches to form, style and content on stage, refusing to be lazy. A good concept, much like a beautiful digital design, isn’t enough: everything must come together to best serve the story and get the audience as close to that story as possible. I encountered each of these shows at different points in my career and each of them left me breathless and wanting to make better work.

I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Gareth: Now that Coventry (and the world!) is your oyster, tell us about your vision for your work at the Belgrade and the impact you’d like to make.

Hannah: Ha! Not sure about that, but OK yeah… I think a big part of why I applied for this role was because I shared a similar vision to the Belgrade in that I believe that arts have the power to change people’s lives but only if it is available to everyone. I hope to contribute to and support the ongoing work of the team to grow diversity in theatre – not just in Coventry but across the world! I want to challenge audiences to think differently about what community and young companies can create by encouraging excellent, exciting work that leaves people breathless. Armed with different experiences and a background of making work independently, I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Images: Production images from Analogue.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring to the Belgrade?

Hannah: Yael Farber or Robert Lepage. Imagine how exciting it would be for Belgrade participants and Midlands emerging theatre makers to work with and amongst these artists!

Gareth: Coventry has recently been crowned as UK City of Culture 2021. What are you allowed to tell us about how the Belgrade fits into the city’s grand plan?

Hannah: Watch this space (as I am!) but I very much hope it has a lot to do with community, diversity, the ‘Youthquake’ phenomenon, powerful and imaginative arts!

Gareth: Back in the 1960s, the Belgrade was a pioneer of the Theatre in Education (TiE) movement. Can you tell us a bit about how the Belgrade continues to engage young people today?

Hannah: Oooh, how long do you have?! The Belgrade offers a huge range of engagement opportunities, with free sessions to young people (and 50+ groups with our pioneering Arts Gym programme!) from all walks of life both at the Belgrade and out in the community, and we hope to work with brilliant partners including Positive Youth Foundation to reach more. We have drama sessions for everyone including specific groups celebrating minority voices like Black or Asian Youth Theatre, and a programmes for at-risk young people or hard to reach communities.

In the short time I have been at the Belgrade, I’m beginning to see how important these groups are for young people. For some it might be about becoming the next Adrian Lester or Maxine Peake, but for many it is the opportunity to explore who they are, experiment creatively, grow confidence and develop a broader understanding of the world. For some it is a lifeline. We want to find more ways to engage young people across the city, and offer opportunities to be part of a creative team and make brilliant work, so where possible we work with excellent local and national artists to create something spectacular. By being part of an ensemble, working professionally and creatively to make something – often from scratch – these participants gain so much, and they can begin to think positively about their futures.

All our groups are currently involved in a huge site-specific project – a theatre takeover in the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building coming in July 2018. Come and see them all do brilliant things!

(It’s also worth saying that TiE continues to wield its influence, there’s a reason why it became a movement!)

Image: Early TiE work from the Belgrade Theatre archive. Photo credit: Tony Baker.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Hannah: As someone who comes from being a theatre-maker, I understand the need to break down barriers. As an independent artist, I would often find myself perpetuating the idea of barriers (usually when working independently felt particularly vulnerable), referring to venues as ‘them’. When, however, I started working more closely with venues, I began to realise just how many hurdles they face too… financially, operationally, in terms of capacity. It’s great that East Meets West is challenging these barriers.

For me, it comes down to how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Now is not the time to put up barriers (we’ve done enough of that with Brexit!) so I am in favour of working with the entire region where we can. Graeae’s amazing Write To Play scheme in 2017, supporting deaf and disabled writers across the Midlands, shows just how successful it can be to work that way! For me, it comes down to community, and how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Image: Analogue’s Living Film Set.

Gareth: Between them, Coventry University and the University of Warwick have produced some outstanding theatre makers – but when they graduate, many of them leave the region to create work elsewhere. [We wrote an article about this here]. What do you think can be done to help the region hang on to all this talent that’s being nurtured here?

Hannah: More, more, more opportunities! The Springboard scheme run at the Belgrade is a good example of how we can offer opportunities to graduating companies and emerging artists, but we can only do so many of those at a time (if we want it to have depth and impact). However, I am really interested in how we can develop new talent development platforms for those in the early part of their career (whether those are graduates or those opting for alternative approaches to learning)… I cut my teeth doing scratch shows, work-in-progress showings, work shadowing, placements etc. Some of these are offered at the Belgrade, but a big part of my role – and that of the new Tamasha Sustained Producer Placement, Lian Wilkinson – is about growing those opportunities. In particular, we are looking at talks and platforms, scratch nights, producer and production manager development schemes, hopefully finding partners to join us on this journey!

If theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay.

I think too, if theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay. City of Culture 2021 will play a big part in that, as will touring fantastic work made in the building around the UK. Also, all of us who go and sow our creative oats nationally and internationally have a part to play in being an ambassador for the city and the Midlands generally so that it becomes a place where people want to go/be when they are starting out on their creative journey.

Gareth: As well as being Creative Producer at the Belgrade, you’re also Co-Artistic Director of Analogue, which creates theatre inspired by real stories and contemporary ethical questions. Which real stories and ethical questions do you think theatre (your own and other people’s) should be paying attention to right now?

Hannah: You don’t need to look very far to see real stories and ethical dilemmas happening right now. So many injustices, inventions, discoveries, and movements happening every day all over the world in response to local and global events. The art is finding the way into it: the little story of one person, place, act or thing that let’s an audience in, gives them a chance to understand the human behind the strapline, and leaves them thinking, laughing, brimming with energy and a sense of activism.

[Theatre] is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

There are always the big statements: How do we reconcile our living in the world with our impact on it? (Environmentally, socially, economically, morally.) How do you challenge power if you happen to come from the wrong side of it? What does it take for us to stop repeating our devastating mistakes? But theatre’s challenge – through evolving form, liveness, challenging old and pioneering new approaches, collaboration, knocking down the fourth wall and building it back up again – is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

Gareth: Inspired by your 2011 show, 2401 Objects, if you had to choose just three objects to preserve as a record of your career so far, what would they be?

Hannah: A published copy of 2401 Objects. A card from a young company I mentored. A Coventry 2021 Back the Bid badge.

Gareth: Since this is our January newsletter, we’ve got to ask: what’s your new year’s resolution?

Hannah: To lessen my impact on the environment and to laugh as much as I can.

Visit the Belrade Theatre’s website here, and Analogue’s website here. Find out more about Coventry City of Culture 2021 here.

The post We’re Itching to Talk About… Hannah Barker appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Women and Theatre: W&T launch new theatre company for young people

We’re kicking off 2018 with an exciting announcement – the launch of our Word Lounge Theatre Company, for Looked After Young People, Young Carers and Young People with additional needs.

Building on the success of previous one-off projects, WLTC sees us teaming up with Birmingham Hippodrome, The REP and MAC, and will see young people making new work that responds to each venue’s wider artistic programme and expertise.

The opportunities to work in different ways and at different venues will be hugely impactful, supporting young people to gain varied skills and experiences, as well as the opportunity to attend professional shows.

This ambitious 2 year project is supported by Children in Need and will provide continuity and greater development opportunities for young people from different backgrounds to collaborate, create and realise their ideas.

The young people involved will produce high quality work in professional theatre environments, empowering their self-belief and allowing them to be part of something truly unique.

Do you know a young person who wants to get involved or want to read more about this exciting new project?  We’ll be making a call out for participants shortly.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Reshuffle Pt 1 – 3

Part 1
Matthew Hancock, appointed on Tuesday, is now the ninth Secretary of State to be custodian of Culture in under eleven years. See how many of these you recognise:

Jeremy Hunt was David Cameron’s first Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, remember how he was lightening quick to offer his department up to the treasury in the first round of ‘austerity’ cuts. Presumably this showed he was made of the right stuff as he soon got whisked off to become Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. In this case ‘soon’ was after 2 years 4 months in the job, which makes him comfortably the longest serving Culture Secretary since Tessa Jowell who served six years under Tony Blair (Gordon Brown ripped through James Purnell, Andy Burnham and Ben Bradshaw in a fraction under three years).

Maria Miller stepped in after Hunt for 1 year 8 months; she had a slightly less onerous job than him as the Olympics were not under her purview. Sajid Javid managed 1 year 1 month. I’m afraid I genuinely don’t recall John Whittingdale at all but I’m sure his 1 year and 2 month reign was a triumph. Midway through her 1 year 6 month tenure Karen Bradley managed the transition into being Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I hope The Right Honourable Matthew Hancock gets his gonks and family photos and coffee machine out on his desk quickly because form suggests that unless he’s decisive he’ll be off before he’s had a chance to choose what glories from the Arts Council collection to hang on his office wall and make himself at home.

The business of government is a peculiar business, indeed it rarely resembles any business I know. How would we look upon a business that appoints someone to a role they are almost entirely unfamiliar with and which they haven’t applied for, leaves them in that post for approximately eighteen months, until they are almost beginning to get a feel for the lie of the land, then ships them out for another job, which they didn’t apply for and know almost nothing about? How would you look upon a business that does this not as an aberration but apparently as a matter of policy? I’d look upon them and think “you’re no threat”.

I hate the term ‘reshuffle’ when applied to Government, somehow it exposes too explicitly the game playing nature of politics, it also suggests a randomness, a limited set of options that might just bring us better results if we play these same cards in some different order.

Part 2
To be honest I’m also not that keen on the term ‘reshuffle’ applied to Stan’s Cafe. Here things are different, the Secretary of State has been in post for over 26 years and in this situation departments can get stale and complacent, inflexible, narrow and set in their thinking; in this situation there’s every chance that everybody would benefit from a change, fresh thinking, new energy and different perspectives. So the question came up at the last meeting of the Stan’s Cafe board “Is James Yarker still the best person to lead Stan’s Cafe?”

The Charity Commission asks this question of all organisations led by their founder who are applying for Charitable Status. It’s a fair question, they need reassuring that the charity is to be run for the benefit of the nominated beneficiaries and not its founder.

In their great wisdom and having considered many options the Board of Directors decided I’m still delivering the goods and so a reshuffle has been avoided, for now.

Of course one of the main reasons a reshuffle isn’t required is that the shuffle was done in 2015 when Roisin joined us as joint CEO. The Secretary of State now has twice the brains and twice the energy, we are hydra-headed and we are a threat!

Part 3
But surely there is one business that everyone acknowledges is more crazy that politics and changes its leadership at an insane rate as a knee jerk response to any temporary downturn in performance or popularity, surely the post of football manager is less stable than being a Secretary of State in Her Majesty’s Government…

Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark, Gary Rowett, Gianfranco Zola, Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill. Birmingham City 7 managers since November 2007.

Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood, Remi Garde, Roberto Di Matteo, Steve Bruce. Aston Villa 8 managers since August 2006.

Tony Mowbray, Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson, Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel, Alan Irvine, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew. West Bromwich Albion 8 managers since October 2006.

… all of our local teams have had FEWER managers than we’ve Secretaries of State for Culture in the last decade and WE’RE the ones continually being urged to think more strategically!

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Job Opportunity Project Manager

It’s almost a secret but for nearly a year we’ve been running twin after-school Drama Clubs in East Birmingham, one in Saltley Academy and one in Washwood Heath Academy. Last summer they came together to perform Us and Them by David Campton.

This year Drama Club will be devising its own original production, plus there will be a stand-alone Easter Holiday Drama Week also in East Birmingham. We are looking for an experienced and enthusiastic freelance Project Manager to logistically deliver the twin Drama Club production and the Easter holiday drama week.

Drama Club is part of a wider audience development project Stan’s Cafe is undertaking in Washwood Heath and offers the opportunity to be part of a creative and inspirational project for young people in the area.

Find out more and download the job description here. Applications close on Monday 22nd January 5pm and interviews will be held on Wednesday 31st January for shortlisted candidates.

Please submit a CV, plus a completed equal opportunities monitoring form and covering letter explaining why you’re suitable for the role to GIG GUIDE: JANUARY 2018

14 shows this month in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry & Northampton.







Freewheelers:  Experimental theatre from musical group Off Broad Street and female duo Squidheart.


Fat Penguin Improv:  Show featuring the house team Bunkum Factory and special guests Box Of Frogs.


Box Of Frogs: Monthly show in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter with all your favourite improv games.  Absolutely free – ‘laugh, or your money back!’


The Kneejerks: A night of comedy and theatre, featuring sketches and scenes and all completely free.


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory will amuse and delight along with a special guest.


Fat Penguin Improv:  First performance by graduates of the Fat Penguin school.


Baron Sternlook: Scenes, songs and an entire musical based on your suggestions.




And Another Thing!:  What do you always wish you had told somebody? An entire one-act play created each night by the University Of Nottingham Improv Society.


Smash Night: Multiple acts spontaneously turn suggestions into scenes and stories bound to be breath-taking and bloody hilarious.




The Same Faces: Quick fire sketches in the style of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”


The Same Faces:Uncle Armando” show where the group perform scenes inspired by comedian Iszi Lawrence.






The Same Faces:  Monthly Northampton show, taking ideas from you to make brilliant comedy sketches live on stage.


Have I missed a show?  Get in touch and let me know.                                    @MidlandsImprov REVIEW OF THE YEAR: 2017

wordcloud 2017

There were 275 improv shows in the Midlands during 2017.  That’s five shows a week across Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry & Northampton.  Hidden away in small theatres and rooms above pubs across the country, there are great nights of entertainment all around you if you know where to look.

The highlight of 2017 was the Birmingham Improv Festival.  Filling an entire week in October, it featured 24 different groups from across the country performing to packed houses every night in the Blue Orange Theatre.  I loved seeing so many great shows on my doorstep and discussing them afterwards with fellow audience members & the performers themselves.  Click here for a quick review of every show.

Despite seeing most of the shows at the Festival I only found the time to write a full review for one of them.  Ten Thousand Million Love Stories provided “an intimate and honest portrayal of the many sides of love”.  It’s those quiet emotional moments which stay with me, despite having a bigger reaction during the show to the joyful silly bits and the impressive skills displayed by Heather & Jules.

Other shows I reviewed in 2017:

Several local groups took their show on the road during 2017.  The biggest splash was made by LoveHard, a duo who perform mostly scripted theatre shows with room in each performance for moments of improvised fun.  Broadway Baby praised them as “unparalleled in comedy writing and delivery” and Voice magazine said they were “an unforgettable Fringe experience”.  Twitter fans called them “simply hilarious”, “brilliantly entertaining” and “tear-jerkingly funny”.  You can read the full collection of audience reviews here.

Other shows that went on tour and got big audience reactions in 2017:

My most popular blogpost this year wasn’t about a local group or event.  It was a more general essay about how much more there is to improv than quickfire gags.  Improv does this well, but if that’s not your thing you probably think improv isn’t for you.  Yet improv can do all sorts of comedy, and indeed all sorts of theatre.  There is something for everyone in an artform that melds itself to change with every audience.  Yes, there really is more to improv than “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.