Monthly Archives: March 2015

Women and Theatre: A few photos from ‘Clocking On’ performed at Small Heath Baptist Church on March 29th

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Last Sunday, Women & Theatre’s current heritage project Women’s Work reached its culmination with the public performance of Clocking On performed at Small Heath Baptist Church. The piece, seen by over 100 audience members across two promenade performances, explored the role of female factory workers in the First World War addressing themes such as the independence of women and the effect of loss on community. The piece, drawn from research with the descendants of Birmingham factory workers, took in a number of real historical events such as the rise of the Suffragette movement and the first all women football team.

The next phase of the project will be an exhibition visiting a number of libraries between April-June 2015. Further details about the exhibition and the project are available here. For an in depth look at how the project has developed why not look at the Project Blog

Spring 2015 is shaping up to be quite an exciting time for W&T and we’ll be keeping you updated with all of our upcoming projects and public performances. In the mean time we hope you enjoy some of the photos from Sunday taken by the talented Stephen Burke

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The Official Birmingham Hippodrome Blog: Cirque come to town for local drama pupils

With Cirque Eloize in town with their fantastic show Cirkopolis, dance and drama students from two local schools had the opportunity to come to Birmingham Hippodrome and learn some circus tricks from the (ring)masters themselves! 26 girls aged between 12 and 14 from Baverstock Academy in Druids Heath and Swanshurst School in Kings Heath descended […]

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Reciprocal Marketing

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It’s tough trying to flog a show when your budget is small and your potential audience is being shouted at constantly from all angles by other people wanting to sell them things. Reciprocal marketing is a classic free roll of the dice. The logic runs smooth: “your audience likes your theatre, maybe they’d like to hear about our theatre and similarly maybe our audience would like to hear about your theatre – you show yours ours now and we’ll show ours yours later”.

It’s important that cultural organisations help each other and that theatre companies stick together so we are both morally obliged and happy to tell you that the Hippodrome have got Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing opening on Monday. Now, you are reading the Stan’s Cafe blog, the interesting question is what are the chances that you will like Jonathan Harvey’s Beautiful Thing? I don’t know. I’m not even sure if I would like it.

In the past I would have assumed not – I’d have imagined that it would be too straight for my tastes (ironic given the play is about revealing to the world you are not straight). However, since the past I have come to recognize that I like most things so long as they are ‘good’ and I’ve heard many people say Beautiful Thing is ‘good’.

Also since my narrow minded past has departed I’ve learned to develop and affection for Coronation St. and spotted a few years ago on the credits ‘that man that wrote that play that I’ve never seen but that lots of people say is ‘good”. I’m sure I have liked episodes of Coronation Street that Jonathan Harvey wrote so maybe I would like Beautiful Thing.

If you are a big fan of ‘The Soaps’ and warming to the idea of a trip to the Hippodrome the following news is important to you. The cast is a mash up of big names from EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Coronation Street and Skins (which technically isn’t a soap but is a TV series – just showing off my popular culture knowledge here) – maybe those four fictional worlds colliding will fry your brain – or thrill your dopamine receptors.

That’s our half of the the reciprocal marketing push delivered on behalf of The Hippodrome, thank you for reading. If you also follow the Hippodrome on the social media expect to be reading all about A Translation of Shadows at some point. In fact we’ve missed a trick – “Why don’t you limber up for a visit to see Beautiful Think with us by catching Jack Trow perform Benshi to Yasujiro Ozu’s 1933 classic silent film Woman of Tokyo, in Stan’s Cafe’s MAKING SHADOWS as part of Flatpack on Friday 27th March.

Black Country Touring: Alchemedians – Comedy School with Hardeep Singh Kholi

As part of Alchemy 2015, up and coming British Asian comedians are being offered the chance to attend a workshop with comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kholi, perform during ‘Alchemedians’ at the Southbank centre and be Hardeep’s support for the … Continued

mid * point: Black Tonic Kickstarter – Less than a week to go!

Help us bring Black Tonic back to Birmingham in September 2015!

We’re into the final week of our Kickstarter campaign to support the 2015 tour of Black Tonic and we’re two-thirds of the way there with just over £2,000 pledged to date.

But we’re entering the all-important final phase: if we don’t reach our £3,000 target we won’t receive any of the money that’s been pledged to date! So now is the time to pledge if you haven’t already, and please share our campaign with all your friends and help us reach our target.

We’ve created some beautiful hotel-themed rewards, to thank you for backing this project. The Tea Towel, Limited Edition Framed Print, Card 3D Model Hotel Kit, and Do-Not-Disturb Door Hanger, all feature original hand-drawn illustrations created just for this Kickstarter.

Last week we released our Black Tonic HOTEL SET and other rewards include: priority booking, a signed copy of the script, a pair of tickets to see Black Tonic, having a name of your choice featured in the show, a hotel mini-break, and privileged access to the creative process.

Black Tonic is a theatre adventure in the bedrooms and corridors of a hotel for 4 people at a time. It offers a glimpse into the lives of the invisible workforce whose erratic shift patterns service our round-the-clock society.

We’re touring to Birmingham, Bristol and Bradford in September and October 2015 and we need your help to get the show on the road.

Check out our Kickstarter page for full details and make your pledge today!


Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Lecturns

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We’re all familiar with the phenomena whereby something goes from invisible to jumping out at you as your interest in its category changes. You’re thinking of buying a Honda Civic and you go from never noticing them to seeing them everywhere. For me now it’s Lecturns. We need one for A Translation of Shadows. We think we will get it built, so we need to design it and now I have an intense interest in lecturns. There was a beautiful one at the Barber Institute. This one is at Saltely academy. I like it a lot but it is wider than the one we will get designed.

We are doing a big project with Saltley after easter so I put the lecturn to good use introducing Stan’s Cafe to the assembled staff. As it was mock exam time the staff were all sat at individual exam desks, an unusual sight.

Today, without lecturn Jack and I rehearse Making Shadows for Flatpack Film Festival which opens TODAY and as ever is full of excellent film and film related good stuff.

The Other Way Works: Play your cards: time for the tech

We’re raising money to bring back Black Tonic in 2015. Back our Kickstarter campaign here.

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With the basic game mechanic selected for the re-worked scene, we were able to move onto how to technically realise this.

The task is to build a system that will sense the placement of a playing card onto the table at one of the points of the clock face, and trigger the playing of an appropriate sound file.
To tie in with the game mechanic, we only want the sounds to play when the numbered playing cards are placed in their correct position on the clock face (so a 3 of diamonds at 3 o’clock, for example), rather than just anywhere.

For the playback part of the system we are using QLab, a piece of commercial software used widely by theatre lighting designers for programming and running lighting cues for conventional theatre productions. David Haylock has found this to be a reliable off-the-shelf solution when he’s used it on other projects.

David is writing a bespoke programme to process the inputs from the sensing system and communicate them to QLab.

We haven’t yet finalised what kind of technology we will build the sensing part of the system with, but here are the two options we have explored so far.

From some preliminary research David suggested using RFID tags and readers to build the system. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is commonly used in the retail sector for theft prevention, and so the components are cheap and easily available. You’ll also be familiar with RFID if you use an Oyster Card on London’s transport system. Our plan is to put tags inside the playing cards, and mount small readers under the surface of our card table.

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We bought a few tags and readers, and David built a small test system. In its favour, RFID is quite stable and reliable. This is an important consideration if you’re relying on it to work, because it would spoil the immersive fiction if a technician had to come and help fix something during the scene. There is one major drawback though, in terms of it working with card games. Most card games (including our collaborative solitaire) involve stacking or creating piles of playing cards as part of the game play. RFID can’t really understand stacking (there are some complex workarounds, but basically stacking is out for our purposes). The RFID reader can only read the tag that is placed immediately on top of it. All tags piled on top of the first tag are blocked from being read, and so have no effect.
We think that this is a deal-breaker, so have looked around for other solutions.

David’s current avenue of investigation is image recognition, using a camera. David has recent experience of developing this kind of system from his work on the Playable City winning project ‘Shadowing’. He proposes using a PlayStation3 camera, which we will need to mount above the table looking down (with a birds-eye view of the card table). This part is relatively easy, we will just need to design our bespoke card table with a suitable structure above it to hold the camera. It is the recognition and processing of the images where the real work comes in.

A google search turned up several Open Source projects exploring this area, but after some investigation David has begun to write his own recognition programme. The recognition is a 2-stage process: 1 – the computer needs to recognise that it is seeing a playing card (markerless object detection); 2 – once it knows its a playing card, it needs to work out what number and suit the card is, by comparing the image it can see with the ones it has in its library and finding a match (Template Matching).

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The potential down-sides of image recognition is that the system is very sensitive to differing light levels, but we propose to create a reliable lighting state by mounting a downward pointing lamp next to the camera above the card table to eliminate this issue.
The positives for our purposes are that the camera and system together behave more like the human eye – the camera sees the card on the top of the pile, and will be programmed to respond to that by triggering a sound. We will also be able to use a standard cheap card deck, rather than having to make or have manufactured a special card deck with RFID tags inserted.

There’s a lot more still to discover and test before we build the final system. Then there will be lots more testing! We’ll then build all of this into a specially constructed card table, which will conceal all the technology hardware, keeping the interface as close to the experience of a ‘normal’ card game as possible.

The Other Way Works: Play your cards: Developing the game at the heart of the re-worked scene

We’re raising money to bring back Black Tonic in 2015. Back our Kickstarter campaign here.

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Some discussions with the show’s writer Clare Duffy helped to clarify our intentions for this re-worked scene: how we want the characters to be read; how we want the audience to feel; where the scene needs to get us to by the end.

Now we needed to find or create a suitable game mechanic to shape the audience’s interaction with the soundscape. I called on the services of games designer, and general genius, Holly Gramazio, to help us work out an elegant solution.

I was keen, if we could achieve it, that the interaction was actually the playing of a game, rather than an interaction that was essentially like pressing some buttons in a pre-defined or random sequence, which would likely be less satisfying.

Holly, David Haylock and myself spent an intense day of card-game-playing at the Pervasive Media Studio (its a tough job, but someone’s go to do it), trying out multiple types of existing and newly made-up card games. Holly’s inventive powers were put to good effect, and we came out of the day with the rough outlines of three possible options for games – each with a very different game mechanic. All three games were themed around the shape of a clock face (to tie in with our body clock theme), the first: a type of snap, the second: a simple betting game, and the third: a collaborative solitaire.

After some play-testing with friends and colleagues to test how enjoyable and easy to play each game was, and discussions with Clare the writer about which game type would fit best with the scene’s dramaturgy, I chose the collaborative solitaire.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable of the games, but game-play got easier as the game went on allowing players more ‘brain-space’ to listen to the soundscape that playing the game will trigger. It was also collaborative, rather than competitive, which seemed right as the two pairs who have been experiencing the show separately until this point, and may be strangers to each other, will join up in this scene and remain together until the end of the show. So building something together seemed preferable than potentially introducing friction that wasn’t helpful in terms of watching the rest of the show. It also fitted dramaturgically, as the players would be piecing together a picture of a clock face, card by card, whilst listening to sounds and snippets of overheard conversation that will piece together and illuminate previously concealed elements of the narrative.