Thursday was a dark and stormy night…but it all added to the atmosphere as Acting Out rehearsed our upcoming “Nightmare on Bristol Street” @TheWellington Hotel. Pieces included “Seasame Seeds of Rebellion” (humans plot a coup against the muppets), “The Gift” (shyster medium Ximines Griggs exposes the tricks of his trade), “Protection” (tempestuous sleb couple Rena and Alex realise they have more to be worried about that prying paps) and a read through of “Vegan Vampires” (what it says on the tin) in the bar.
This week’s blog is from Alan, who had this to say: ”
Rehearsals for our next performance are really ramping up and we now have a name – it’s full steam ahead for a Nightmare on Bristol Street.
We warmed up with some interesting reimaginings of song lyrics before our various sketches and pieces began their individual rehearsals. I am thoroughly enjoying developing my character especially his wandering accent! Great fun.”
How do you choose which shows to see at this year’s festival? Read all of the quotes below to get a taste of what is to come. Still not sure? Then click each one to find the full-length review the quote came from.
Friday 26th October
- Jumprov – “Very funny…kept the audience entertained and laughing”
- Pilot Season – “A quick-witted, very watchable ensemble”
- Concept – “A post-psychedelic journey deep into the centre of your soul”
Saturday 27th October
- Box Of Frogs – “Hilarity is guaranteed…I was in tears”
- Neil + 1 – “Funny and interesting … a truly unique experience”
- Criminal – “Twists and turns that would satisfy even the most die-hard Christie fan”
- Spontaneous Potter – “Perfect for Potterheads and muggles alike”
- North Coast – “Hands down, it’s one of the most fun shows we’ve seen all year”
Sunday 28th October
- Castles In The Air – “The whimsy and emotions of my daydreams live on stage”
- Bumper Blyton – “I wish I’d been able to go back and see a second performance”
- Impromptu Shakespeare – “A first class show”
Monday 29th October
- Fat Penguin Improv – “Fast-paced & energetic … plenty of laugh-out-loud moments”
- Watch This – “Moments which really stick with audiences…great fun”
- Beings – “A tiny piece of perfection in this shattered, tired world”
Tuesday 30th October
- Off Broad Street – “Hilarious, touching, warm and joyous”
- The Kneejerks – “An exceptional showcase of improv comedy”
- LoveHard – “The best of both the theatre and comedy worlds”
Wednesday 31st October
- Foghorn Unscripted – “A spooky but also humorously entertaining evening”
- Society Of Strange – “Dark twists and eerie storytelling…creepy and challenging”
Thursday 1st November
- Baron Sternlook – “Funny and heartwarming. A talented bunch.”
- Improvised Star Wars – “The cast threw out geeky references with aplomb”
Friday 2nd November
- Austentatious – “Always on the ball when it comes to comic timing…hilarious”
Saturday 3rd November
- Showstoppers – “Top-dollar amusement…It’s so polished, it defies belief”
The Birmingham Improv Festival runs 26 October – 3 November with shows at The Birmingham Rep and The Blue Orange Theatre. 22 shows, 9 days, 2 venues, no script. Enjoy.
Becoming a four year old.
One of the main reasons I took part in Lab week was that I had just finished making and touring my first show and was having a cliched artistic moment where I felt drained of ideas. I wanted to give myself the space to rekindle my creativity without the pressure of producing work or having to share an end product. I was in it for the journey not the destination. And what a journey it was. A week of artistic generosity, sharing and playing. We were introduced to Little Earthquake’s principles of devising, now I’m not usually one to find formulas for creativity but these ‘principles’ are just as much about breaking any kind of restrictions you might place on yourself artistically as they are about ways to make work. I found joy in losing any notions of preconceiving and playing in a space where ‘mistakes’ were embraced and celebrated.
A phrase that stuck with me was that becoming a good deviser was learning to become a four year old. Learning to play, learning to lose any notion that there was a right or wrong way, learning that none of it was about you but about everybody else in the room. It was about being silly, losing self-consciousness and mainly about having fun.
Lab week felt like a gift. It is so rare to have the space to just be creative without the pressure of creating work.
After Lab week I walked away not only feeling full of creativity and energised with ways of rehearsing and making work but I also walked away feeling like I’d met and worked with an ensemble of theatre makers who I would love to work with again. So often you meet other creatives at networking events over coffee or beer. You chat about your work and what you do and never feel like you fully share who you are as an artist or learn properly about the other people you talk to. Lab week gave you the space to meet new creatives and play in real creative environment, meet people you genuinely know you would like to collaborate with and gave you a shared language for devising which you can take into a rehearsal space. I left the week excited to take what I learned into my own rehearsals and excited about potential collaborations. I would love to redefine network events into creative workshops like this.
Lab week felt like a gift. It is so rare to have the space to just be creative without the pressure of creating work. To be able to meet new people and learn from so many artists. It felt like being handed an artistic toolbox tailored to you. It made me want to go forward and make work with clarity and commitment, to embrace mistakes, to be open to where ideas could go and most of all to make work which puts audiences first.
Follow Laura on Twitter here: @lauraryder5
This was such a great and fun week full of games, laughter and a lot of hard work, and I’m so glad I was a part of it all.
I took part in the lab week to help me get over that hurdle of ‘How the hell do I devise my own show?’, which was proving quite a big hurdle for me to overcome. I knew I needed to change my tactic (which used to be listening to Spotify and thinking about what my show could be, and that was about it), so being able to devise for a week with no pressure was a huge plus.
Now, after finishing this week of learning and devising, I still do think devising a show is a huge challenge. However, I now have the tools to do so with a bit less stress, dread and anxiety. So yay! The most useful tool over the whole week was probably the structure of how to devise. First we were told always to play – find the fun. Even just one day in the whole process of playing games, making stupid noises and dancing around will help you to be freer and more creative. Next, to generate. Quantity over quality rang in my ears as Gareth explained this stage, which was an enlightening moment for me. I always put so much pressure on myself to find pure gold in thin air, so to understand the concept of generating as much as you can in order to find the gems made so much sense. Next, to explore interesting aspects of what was generated means solid themes and material can start to emerge, and that is how a show is created. Seems so simple really! I’ll definitely be using this structure in my own practice. It feels light and fun and free, as opposed to dense and full of pressure and boring, as it was BLE (before Little Earthquake).
After finishing this week of learning and devising, I still do think devising a show is a huge challenge. However, I now have the tools to do so with a bit less stress, dread and anxiety
In terms of how this week made me see the Midlands theatre-making community, it made me realise just how much is going on. Every single person in the room had plans – big plans! And how exciting to be able to meet and talk to likeminded people, all there for the same reason. It was inspiring to see how vibrant the Midlands are in the arts and I can’t wait to see what is made. On a similar point, this week was about the Midlands – not Birmingham, not Leicester, not Derby. All of the Midlands. It really made me see the area as a whole and, if anything, introduced me to how easy it is to get to Attenborough Arts Centre!
East did indeed meet West, and we get on very well indeed.
You can read Hermione’s blog post on her website by clicking here.
Stephanie Ridings is a writer and performer based in the West Midlands. Her new show, The Fear of Fear, explores personal and universal fears to see if we have every reason to be constantly shit scared.
Ahead of the show opening at Warwick Arts Centre, we chatted to Stephanie about her own fears, the importance of good producers, and Dusty Springfield.
The Fear of Fear opens at Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday 3rd and Thursday 4th October 2018. Click here to book your tickets.
Gareth: To kick things off: A few years ago you made a show called Me, Mum & Dusty Springfield. What is your favourite Dusty song, and why?
Stephanie: You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me will always be special as I sang it at the end of the show but whenever I hear the intro it still makes me feel a bit sick. All I See Is You is a beautiful song. I love the drama in this sort of music, it’s life and death stuff.
Gareth: How would you describe your work for somebody experiencing it for the first time?
Stephanie: Accessible, sometimes visual, sometimes funny but usually trying to make sense of difficult subjects.
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.
Stephanie: Robert Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon – this piece is the first thing I saw of his work and I was just totally blown away with how beautiful it was. I can still really clearly see the final image of the show. All the elements that made up the show were phenomenal.
Forced Entertainment – I can’t remember the first piece of work I saw live but like most people I discovered these guys at uni. Their work was a massive turning point for me in how I looked at what theatre was and what it could be and of course they featured heavily in my dissertation. I loved that they didn’t always give you an easy ride.
Mouthpiece Theatre – I think these are a South African company who I saw by chance at the Royal Exchange Studio. It was a two hander and quite a physical piece and so inventive with the objects they used in the space. I remember walking away and not being able to chat as I was still so mesmerised by them.
I think the one thing all these companies had is they showed me there were other ways of telling stories which felt really exciting.
Gareth: What inspired you to make your current project, The Fear of Fear, and what can audiences expect from it?
Stephanie: I guess it started with watching too much Most Haunted whilst doing the Edinburgh Fringe. I watched that many episodes that I got angry that they thought the audience were buying it. I did keep watching though! And then I started to think about people playing on our fears for their own gain. That set me off reading and researching and wanting to know as much as possible.
Hopefully the audience will have some laughs balanced with some heavier emotional bits. I would like it to get people to reflect on their relationship with fear and if it is a positive or negative one and how that affects their day-to-day life.
I guess it started with watching too much Most Haunted whilst doing the Edinburgh Fringe. I watched that many episodes that I got angry that they thought the audience were buying it.
Gareth: As part of your work on the show, you launched a research campaign inviting members of the public to tell you about their fears. What do people seem to be most afraid of at the moment? And are those fears very specific to the world we’re living in now, or are they more timeless universal fears?
Stephanie: I think fundamentally we all fear the same things, unless you’re a psychopath. There were recurring themes definitely which were timeless and specific to now. Also of course there were some ‘interesting’ ones. I feel a responsibility to those who answered so I don’t really want to give too much detail.
Gareth: As part of the development for the show, you faced some of your own fears head-on. What were the worst and best parts of that experience?
Stephanie: The best parts were usually when it was all over, and I was going home, particularly where the caving was concerned. The best thing I did was to go on the world’s fastest zip line. The scariest part of that was watching other people do it and stepping up for my go, but actually from that point forward, it was more about adrenalin. There were some real lows in the cave for me, tied up with shame, which is a big feature of fear. If anything, the experience has made me a little more adventurous and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Image: Stephanie Ridings in The Fear of Fear (photo: Rachel Bunce)
Gareth: What do you do to switch off or decompress after a long day of working on a show about fear?
Stephanie: I’d love to say yoga or exercise of some description, but actually its usually a good TV drama or binging on a box set – something which provides escapism for a bit.
Gareth: When I’ve seen you perform, you always seem like you’re really enjoying yourself, but have you ever suffered from stage fright?
Stephanie: I’ve never thought, ‘I can’t go on’ or anything dramatic at the last minute (to date anyhow) but perhaps on the way to a venue or as the day gets closer, I’ve thought of lots of different ways I could get out of it, some fairly extreme. It passes though, mainly as you know you’ve made a commitment and it’s happening. I did some work on this with the brilliant Lou Platt for The Road to Huntsville and find performing much more comfortable as a result.
There were some real lows in the cave for me, tied up with shame, which is a big feature of fear. If anything, the experience has made me a little more adventurous and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Gareth: You write and perform your solo work, and also write work for other ensembles which you don’t perform in. How does writing for yourself and writing for other performers differ? And what do you think a writer brings to a performance of work they’ve written themselves which would be different if another actor performed it instead?
Stephanie: I tend to write characters for others and a version of myself when I’m performing, which is tied up in the sort of degree I did. We were trained to be performers rather than actors. With The Road to Huntsville and this latest show, I have been and experienced things specific to the work which makes it personal and real, which feels integral to the solo work I create.
Gareth: Many people would describe your solo work as autobiographical in some way, but it always succeeds in looking beyond your own personal experiences to explore more universal themes. When developing an idea, do you work from yourself outwards, or do you begin more widely and then reflect on things personally?
Stephanie: I usually start with the idea and how that sits within the world. I suppose I include personal elements to show how it affects an individual and hopefully then people can identify with that, and it resonates universally.
Gareth: You’re not a Westie by birth but you’ve been an adopted Westie for many years now. What drew you to make work in the Midlands in the first place, and how would you like to see the regional sector develop over the next few years?
Stephanie: I moved here with my partner when he changed jobs. I always knew I would continue to make work but actually it was genuinely one of the best things we ever did. Because I didn’t really know anyone, it forced me to go and connect with people. I knew Amanda Roberts from Manchester and she told me everyone was really friendly, but I didn’t really expect that to be the case. She was completely right, and those early friendships really helped me get going.
The things which are happening in the region are very exciting with Coventry as City of Culture and Birmingham hosting the Commonwealth Games, plus Birmingham being on the shortlist to be Channel 4’s new home. I think it shows regionally we are talking ourselves seriously and are being taken seriously. It confirms how much we have to offer, and I would hope the confidence in being recognised to host these events creates investment in the region and generates a brilliant legacy of art and culture.
Image: Stephanie Ridings in The Fear of Fear (photo: Rachel Bunce)
Gareth: You work with Pippa Frith as your Producer. Tell us about how you work together and how important you feel it is to have a good Producer by your side.
Stephanie: As long as I stay away from anything financial, we work really well together. This is our third project and so we almost have a shorthand for who does what. We’re also able to work remotely, which saves a lot of time. For me it’s absolutely essential to work with a good producer and someone you trust. I have done some self-producing in the past, but having someone like Pippa brings specialist expertise to a project which is invaluable. Also, I know if I try and do everything I probably will end up doing most things badly. Pip does go above and beyond and it’s very reassuring to know I can call her if I’m having a wobble about something and she just seems to know the right thing to say, which is priceless.
For me it’s absolutely essential to work with a good producer and someone you trust.
Gareth: Beyond The Fear of Fear, what are you planning or working on for 2019 and beyond?
Stephanie: On Thursday 11th October (the week after The Fear of Fear) I will be performing a short I have written for Theatre Absolute as part of their Are We Where We Are commissions. It’s a double bill with Cristina Catalina at the Shop Front Theatre in Coventry. Find out more here.
Next year is going to be more focused on writing scripts for others. I am currently developing something with the Birmingham REP and I‘m interested in doing a community project looking at isolation and loneliness, which involves tap dancing!
Gareth: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating a new piece of work?
Stephanie: I love research and I love knowing more about a subject than I need to so I can write from a position of authority, which feels really important to me. I always start with the story I want to tell, and everything grows out of that. So, what is the best way to tell this story and who are the best characters to tell it. A lot of marker pens and big sheets of paper later, I’ll have a better idea of what it is I want to say.
I really like the safety of having a script to go into rehearsal with. Having said that I love the cull and the changes found in the room and I’m not precious about things unless I feel really strongly and have a good argument for it staying. You can usually feel when something isn’t right though, and things which aren’t right for one show may be right for another so things are never entirely gone.
I’m the first person to want to hide in the corner of a room with a coffee when ‘networking’ is mentioned but I can chat to people no problem and that’s all your doing: chatting.
Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?
Stephanie: This was hard to narrow down to one piece of advice, but I’ll go with ‘networking is just chatting.’ That word can cause a lot of dread and I found it really challenging and maybe a little dirty for a long time because people put such an emphasis on it, but no one I asked seemed to be able to define what it involved. I’m the first person to want to hide in the corner of a room with a coffee when ‘networking’ is mentioned but I can chat to people no problem and that’s all your doing: chatting.
This week’s blog is courtesy of Simon Best, who had the following to report: ”
Yesterday two very different publications emerged featuring Stan’s Cafe content which, taken together, show the diversity of how writing about theatre is currently distributed.
Marissia Fragkou has authored a book Ecologies of Precarity in Twenty First Century Theatre. It’s always exciting to find a book whose title causes you to reach for a dictionary, especially when that dictionary doesn’t help at all. It seems the term precarity (which presumably prevents you having to get ugly with precariousness), wasn’t massively in use 39 years ago when I started secondary school and my parents gave me the edition of The Little Oxford Dictionary which still sits beside me ameliorating my poor spelling. Marissia’s book is published by Bloomsbury Methuen and currently marketed at University Libraries (RRP £75 but at the time of writing available from the publishers for £52.50) hopefully the paperback will be out ready for people’s Christmas stockings next year. Marissia is a good incisive writer so this volume is certainly worth checking out by those interested in the contemporary theatre scene.
By contrast Tracey Crossley and Niki Woods have edited Making Post Dramatic Theatre: A Handbook of Devising Exercises a couple of which are ours. This publication is exclusively available on the subscription based online platform Digital Theatre. It is targeted at young theatre makers or teachers of theatre to give them ideas for their own practical work. Once again The Little Oxford Dictionary doesn’t help but it is excused as Hans-Thies Lehmann’s seminal Postdramatic Theatre (which cites Of All The People In All The World as piece of such theatre) was only published in 2006.
By way of further contrast Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe, written with our collaboration with Mark Crossley (no relation of Tracy as far as we know) remains a massive compromise. There’s no dictionary challenging title, it’s for theory AND practice people, it’s out in old school expensive hardback, new school cheaper paper back and future school e-book with a non-subscription website based supplement.
If you’ve not yet had enough contrasts there are the 21 new Stan’s Cafe titles we are looking to publish in the next 12 months, but they are the subject of a blog post that’s yet to be written.
Photo Credit: Simon Davies
Some of you will know this story you’re savvy enough to stop reading if you have.
In 2005 a group of students graduated from Birmingham University and decided to form a theatre company. After much fraught discussion they decided to call their company Kindle. I don’t know for a fact that the discussion was ‘much’ and ‘fraught’ but whoever named their enterprise with speedy decisive assurance? Anyway, the point is they called themselves Kindle, they worked hard, started making shows, and became successful.
In parallel with this story is one about a graduate of Princeton University who, in 1994, decided to form an online book retailer. After ‘much fraught discussion’ he decided to call his retailer Amazon. He worked hard, started selling books and became successful.
In 2005 Amazon started work building an electronic book called Fiona. After some time it became clear that the e-reader could be great but that its name was rubbish so after much engaging of branding consultants they decided to call it Kindle.
By the time millions of Kindles were being sold around the world Kindle started to get fed up of sharing their name with an e-reader and all the questions and misunderstandings that involved. They decided to change their name.
Despite very little engaging of branding consultants they still came up with the name Kiln, a neat choice I’m sure we will all agree.
In parallel with this story is one about a graduate of Hull University who in 2012 takes over Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London. After working hard, making shows and being successful, the director leads Tricycle Theatre to a major refurbishment. After ‘much fraught discussion’, but possibly not very much ‘web-searching for to see if a theatre company already exists with the name you’d quite like to use for your theatre company’, she/they decide to call it… and here you’re all ahead of me – Kiln.
So poor old Kiln were called Kindle before Kindle and now they’re called Kiln before a much richer, more established and more prominent theatre based in London decide to be Kiln. Where from here?
Well Kindles are still called Kindles. Kiln complained to Kiln about the name Kiln, but Kiln really didn’t seem bothered about it at all – whereas Kiln, as you can imagine, are really quite bothered about it. So Kiln aren’t going to change their name, particularly after an expensive rebranding, despite sniffy columns and comments in The Guardian which also include numerous people saying what a rubbish name Kiln is! This just leaves Kiln who have decided to disband, not because of the whole Kiln thing, but because as a collective they felt they’d run their course and want to continue working in theatre as individuals.
So if Kiln are disbanding does any of this matter? Well, The Tricycle didn’t know Kiln were disbanding when they decided to cohabit their name – maybe Kiln didn’t know they were disbanding at that point, so there is a lack of respect in the decision, which is upsetting, original Kiln are sinking in the search engines swamped by new Kiln.
On 22nd September Kiln are holding a valedictory walk from Birmingham University to a pub somewhere across some hills, I hope to join them and celebrate their achievements and wish them luck with whatever they do next whatever they may call themselves.
Blog from Sayeed, keeping it short, sweet and spot-on: “Wow what another fun packed night at AO .”
SUN 2ND – THE GLEE CLUB
Box Of Frogs: Birmingham’s premiere Improv Group, bring you a night of high-octane improvised comedy nonsense, based entirely on your suggestions.
SUN 2ND – PATRICK KAVANAGH
Level 2 Showcase: The latest graduates from Fat Penguin’s Level 2 course put on a show to exercise their new comedy muscles.
THURS 6TH – THE VICTORIA
Baron Sternlook: Expect made-up songs, gripping drama & outrageous silliness every time.
SAT 8TH – HALL GREEN LITTLE THEATRE
Box Of Frogs: Expect the unexpected as quick-witted players conjure up hilarious spontaneous songs, sketches and scenes on the spur of the moment.
THURS 13TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH
The Armando Diaz Experience: Fat Penguin Improv show off their comedy strengths using Chicago’s most famous improv format.
MON 17TH – BLUE ORANGE THEATRE
Box Of Frogs: Monthly show in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter where audience members can join performers on stage.
WEDS 19TH – THE VICTORIA
The Kneejerks: A night of comedy and theatre, featuring sketches and scenes and all completely free.
WEDS 19TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH
Student Showcase: After 8 weeks of intensive training, see new improv performers in their very first comedy show.
THURS 20TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH
Fat Penguin Improv: The house team Bunkum Factory will take a very intimate look at the lives of the performers, then ruthlessly exploring the comedy within.
FRI 21ST – CHERRY REDS
The Improlectuals: An improv “super-group” made up of some of the finest improvisers from around the Midlands creating completely new comedy sketches on the spot.
THURS 27TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH
Fat Penguin Improv: Some of the best improvisers in Birmingham take to the stage to deliver high energy, high concept comedy.
FRI 14TH – ESQUIRES COFFEE
Coventry Improv: A free family friendly evening of improvised sketches and games.
THURS 13TH – THE LACE HOUSE
Gorilla Burger: Theatre karaoke where you can be the star. Or you can just sit back and enjoy an evening of unplanned, uncensored improv comedy.
SAT 15TH – THE ANGEL MICROBREWERY
The Vox Pops: This show takes true life stories, tears them apart and puts them back together in weird and silly shapes.
WEDS 26TH – THE ANGEL MICROBREWERY
Smash Night: Multiple acts spontaneously turn suggestions into scenes and stories bound to be breath-taking and bloody hilarious.
SAT 1ST – CRITERION FREE HOUSE
The Same Faces: Brilliant comedy sketches live on stage, in the style of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”.
WEDS 12TH – UPSTAIRS AT THE WESTERN
Uncle Armando: A single word inspires a headline comedian to tell us something about their life, which in turn becomes the basis for comedy scenes from the improv players.
FRI 21ST – CRITERION FREE HOUSE
Different Voices: Launch night for a new show showcasing improv talent from across the country. This month’s guests are The Committee.
FRI 14TH – DERBY THEATRE
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical: The Olivier Award winners bring their West End show to the Midlands.
THURS 20TH – ABBEY THEATRE
The Improlectuals: An improv “super-group” with nothing pre-scripted, so every show is a world premiere.
SAT 29TH – THE BLACK PRINCE
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.