Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog: Theatre lights go dark for the planet…

This Saturday (29 Mar), all unnecessary lighting outside and inside Birmingham Hippodrome was switched off between 8.30pm-9.30pm as part of Earth Hour 2014. Earth Hour was famously started as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then it has grown to engage more than 7000 cities and towns worldwide encouraging individuals, communities, households and businesses to turn […]

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Cannon Hill Collective

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For a while now, and particularly this week, we – mostly Craig – have been lending some assistance to a group of young artists the Cannon Hill Collective at mac birmingham. They have been working on a mini festival. This weekend is the weekend when they do their thing. So we encourage everyone to drop in and see what they are up to. Their stimulus has been ‘art for social change’ so expect plenty of provocation and food for thought and maybe even ACTION.

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog: World War I remembered in World Premiere…

As part of the forthcoming anniversary of the onset of WWI, this weekend Birmingham Hippodrome, in partnership with Women & Theatre and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Museum (Royal Warwickshire), presents an exciting new performance inspired by the experiences of young soldiers from Birmingham during WWI titled THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIERS. Presented in promenade, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIERS is […]

Graeme Rose's Blog: The Norman Beaton Fellowship

The Norman Beaton Fellowship is an initiative to encourage the inclusion of regional voices from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’ in BBC Radio Drama. The Fellowship is launched as a competition to attract voices through a series of regional heats, followed by a Semi-Final and Final – both hosted by the Radio Drama Company studio at BBC Broadcasting House, London.

I first become aware of the competition when it was co-administered by Birmingham-based producers Kate Chapman and Peter Leslie Wild back in the mid-Naughties. The remit of the Fellowship was and is partly to offer pathways for actors of Black and Asian heritage, for whom access might not be so readily obtained via the traditional training routes via Drama schools. A criteria for NBF is that applicants should have no accredited Drama School training (a ‘Soundstart’ sister award scheme, the Carleton-Hobbs Fellowship, is designed to offer Drama School graduates the same opportunity).

This year I was invited to apply for the NBF via The Birmingham Rep, and after succeeding in the regional heats round and then the London Semi-final, I revisited Broadcasting House last week to attend the NBF Finals along with 11 other  performers from across the UK. From a series of rigorous on-mic recorded challenges (pre-selected monologues prepared in advance, sight-readings handed out 15 minutes beforehand, duologues and 4-way dialogues prepared overnight) the studio judging team selected two winners, whose prize is a 5-month contract as part of the BBC Radio Drama Company. Friends Sarah Thom and John Flitcroft won top prize and runner-up respectively back in 2012 and Sarah has been regularly on radio ever since.

The Winner’s list for 2014 was published here today.

….No, I didn’t win, but am very happy to have been awarded one of the consolation runners-up prizes, with an RDC recording promised for later in the year…  All in all, it was a great opportunity to feel the white heat of the recording studio and to see first-hand the whirring machinery of the Corporation in its glitzy new surroundings in W1.


Black Country Touring: Bash Street Theatre @ Dudley Deaf Club

Last Tuesday Dudley Deaf Club were mesmerised by a fantastic performance by Bash Street Theatre…   Based on an old victorian music hall variety show, The Last Illusion delivers silent comedy, illusions and entertainment for the whole family to enjoy. The audience made … Continued

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Vegetable Professionals

Eight years ago we spent a fun week with Forestdale Primary school with some sharp knives and a pile of fruit and veg. The result were some excellent diorama cityscapes which the children exhibited at the Birmingham Open Markets.

Now, our Agent in Switzerland has dug out an example of what happens if you set a full-on photographic studio the same challenge. The results are pretty spectacular, but the only thing I am jealous of is that they had the idea of powering the lights in their model using lemons and we settled for sunlight. Next time we’ll crank it right up.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Adrian Howells

Shock and sadness hit the Stan’s Cafe office earlier this week as Craig’s Twitter antenna picked up the shocking news of Adrian Howell’s death.

I’m not going to gush here because I only met Adrian a few times and so barely knew him. I respected what I knew of his work but never experienced it. With the limited capacity of those pieces I had access to there was always a queue and I always felt others would get more from it than me. But he was always very friendly and great company. Reading the heartfelt tributes from so many people is moving, not least because it is a stark reminder of how difficult it can be for some to truly access the love that surrounds them.

I am grateful to Robert Pacitti for digging out this excellent obituary in The Scotsman. It filled in lots of gaps I knew nothing of. I am also grateful to Andy Field for writing this lovely piece in The Guardian.

It is good to see Adrian publicly acknowledged as he is privately appreciated. I will miss him in my own small way but my heart goes out to all those who are grieving. In a grim irony with Adrian gone they need someone to embrace them.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Wim Mertens

This morning our Agent in Leeds prompted me to re-listen to a bit of Wim Mertens.

Back in the day (at Lancaster University) the notion of anyone composing a soundtrack for your show was pretty fanciful so a high premium was placed on long evocative pieces of instrumental music. Many of us were pretty clueless on that score, Philip Glass was the ‘go to’ section of the Record Library (as it is still for many in TV) but one tape wasn’t his and wasn’t in the library and thus had a very high premium on it – I think I heard a copy of a copy and made a copy of that – Wim Mertens: Maximising the Audience.

That was the piece you wanted for your show. Hell’s teeth you could read the phone book or push a shopping trolly on stage to that and your audience would weep in spite of themselves. It was so good a mate and I dared each other into each buying – direct from the record company in Belgium, using most of our worldly wealth – a massive seven disc set of Mr Merten’s work, ear unheard.

Tense weeks passed as we tortured each other with imaginings of how terrible the results could be. We pretty much shat ourselves when the first half the first disc – For Amusement Only – appeared to be studio recordings of the sound effects from a Space Invaders machine. The second half of that disc, barely better, was someone honking intermittently on a clarinet, bassoon or similar. Our nightmare was looming horrifically real. Disc 2 was Maximising the Audience: the very least we had expected and a crumb of comfort for providing the couple of minutes of the last track which was missing from the pirate cassette copy. Eventually, in the later discs, things started to come good as minimal minimalism became the maxi-minimal lushness we had hoped for.

Of all the seven discs Disc 2 remained the gem for theatre, of course it was; Maximising the Audience had been composed by Mertens for Jan Farbre’s The Power of Theatrical Madness (1984). A legendary (and apparently very long) dance/theatre show which, when it visited the Albert Hall, was supposedly the source of such audience discontent that those booing and whistling in the stalls were shouted down by those enjoying it in the balcony, who were all in turn shouted down by a man screaming “can you all be quiet – I’m trying to sleep!”

Anyway, I can’t comment on that show, it was ‘before my time’ (I can confirm that on the dance floor Stan’s Cafe cut a better dash than the Jan Fabre company – as proven in Hanover 2000 “Play that Funky Music White Boy”). What I can also confirm is that the two problems with appropriating Maximising the Audience for your show now are:

1: You really do have to pay the royalties.
2: It’s so brilliant it’s a cliche.

Of course using the music in rehearsal is different. You’re getting your own soundtrack composed now, but it’s going to be a while. You’re running some improvisations, you want to set the tone, give the performers a bit of help: reach for the Mertens. I can further confirm that the two problems with appropriating Maximising the Audience for your rehearsals are:

1: You could read the phone book to it an people will weep in spite of themselves.
2: You could push a shopping trolly around the stage and people will weep in spite of themselves.

You have no idea if the improvisations are any good because the music is so good (this is why we deliberately screw the beautiful music up in The Cardinals by playing it off cassettes, through a dodgy cassette player into a microphone and then through the venue’s P.A., we quote the fact we are catching a tow off Bach, Mozart, Part et al), It’s only use now is if you are trying to convince a bunch of students that doing very little can be way more powerful than doing a lot. Insist they do very little slap this on and once half the group have reported back to the other half through their tears how good it was you’ll struggle to get them to move a muscle on stage they’ll be so into doing very little.

Anyway that’s a very long introduction to a full Wim Mertens concert available on YouTube. The title track of Maximising the Audience is in there; Whisper Me – the real weepy one, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not. Get the phone book out and follow this link.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Post Deadline Post

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It’s a delight, the sky is blue, the sun is warm, flowers are out and our Arts Council Application has been committed to the ether. If you are in the privileged position of being one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organizations you are only required to submit a funding application every three years, but when that time comes, as it just has, the pressure is on.

Along with our board of directors we have spent a good amount of time thinking about the future, business planning, drawing up budgets. Looking three years ahead is a subtle business, blending knowledge, with expectation, a touch of guess work and a touch of aspiration. If you become too pragmatic and conservative your vision becomes dull and plodding, swing too much the other way and it tips from being fantastic to fantastical and lacks credibility.

I partially ascribe to a school of magic in which saying you’re going to do something makes that thing happen – providing that after you say it you put a massive load of work into making the magic work. Unfortunately this form of magic is not deemed a sufficiently sound business model to balance an ACE application on, they are more keen on methods and evidence.

They are also keen on target audiences. Their mission: Great Art and Culture for Everyone requires us to identify who out of ‘everyone’ we’re going to provide art for. They can then survey all their applicants and check that cumulatively ‘everyone’ is covered. Unfortunately whilst always thinking about audiences when making a show we’re never thinking about what ‘kind of people’ they are. In the past we’ve always sidestepped that ‘What is your Target Audience’ question by answering ‘people with open minds’. This was mainly because in the past the sense was you were being asked to identify by people by age and race – which always seemed both ageist and racist. Now however things have got more subtle.

At core we probably mostly appeal to ‘Urban Arts Eclectics’ and maybe ‘fun fashion and friends’. In recent years maybe we’ve been pick up more ‘traditional culture vultures’ and ‘mature explorers’. With students we probably deliver ‘bedroom DJs’. Our mates are probably ‘time poor dreamers’. I’m officially ‘Family and Community Focused’ and thus not interested in anything fancy our outside my local setting. I’m not sure if those who eat down the road before coming up to @ A E Harris allow us to also reach ‘Dinner and a Show’. Then our work outside theatre venues and in and around schools starts deliver ‘Limited means Nothing Fancy’ and so it goes on. I ranted an raved for a bit but my resident sociologist calmed me down and sent me back to my computer.

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It’s not all be tough. I did a productive solo session in The Talbot, Stourbridge where I got in touch with my inner ‘quiet pint with the match’ (segment type: not currently engaged). Charlotte put early drafts together, helped with fact checking and ensured I didn’t crash the ship by going off on one. Craig provided sub-editing, spelling and grammar checking services. Members of the board delivered further sub-editing, oomph, the occasional key phrase and the vital instruction – stop waffling, tell us what you’re going to do and prove it. There were a couple of late nights and we pressed the ‘be gone’ button a full hour before the deadline.

Now we wait until 1st July to get the results back.

The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog: One Man casting announced!

Did you know that the National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors has now been seen by over 1 million people worldwide? Well, now is your chance to see the global hit as it arrives here at Birmingham Hippodrome this May…and we are very excited to bring you details of the excellent cast fresh […]