Monthly Archives: February 2016

Black Country Touring: Great feedback for ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’

My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding has already toured across the country to both rural and urban areas, as the show is set to return this Autumn we thought we’d share some great feedback from the last tour…. “I’m writing a final … Continued

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Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Made Up North East


Marlien van Liempt has been working with us since January as a placement from University of Birmingham’s MRes Directing course. For about a month she was been researching statistics for Of All The People In All The World in Freiburg, researching materials for Trailblazers at the Council House, preparing materials for Matholympics at Washwood Heath Academy and administering casting for Made Up. After all this office based work it seemed only fair to offer her a chance to be part of a research trip to the North East of England for Made Up, arranged for us by DEP Arts and Arc Stockton-on-Tees as part of their Reach audience development project. Here is her report:

James asked me whether I wanted to come on a trip to the North East of England to do research for Stan’s Cafe’s new production, Made Up. Although I wasn’t going to say “No” to any chance I got during my placement, I was a bit concerned about the actual research and audience development. It seemed to me that half of the population was already an expert on the subject. But perhaps women don’t often share their thoughts and feelings about lipstick and moisturizer, eyeliners and eyebrow pencils, at least, not with the men in our lives.

We spent two days driving around North Yorkshire and Northumberland in what turned out to be a true road trip, complete with me reading the map incorrectly on several occasions, English dishes in local diners (a true delight for a foreigner) and a bleak walk along a seafront.

On the first day I woke up early and wished for a world in which no one wore make-up. But I wasn’t bold enough to go without it, I felt I had to at least put something on as we were going to talk about it all day.

So on we went to Saltburn-by-the-Sea, where in the beautiful community theatre, The U3A Play Reading Group showed us the delight of being a retired woman: these awesome ladies spend their Tuesday afternoons reading plays, drinking tea and cracking jokes. Their kindness and humour was truly inspiring. They told us about the role make-up has played in their lives and many admitted to still ‘making it up’ as they go along. This in contrast to the beauticians in the local spa who explained that they can do ANYTHING with make-up, including making a man’s beard disappear. I have been wondering ever since how they would do this.

The Washington Theatre Group women were very honest in stating if they were wearing no makeup they’d rather walk into a room full of men than women. Speaking to Drama Students from Stockton Sixth Form College we had our eyes to the world of Youtube makeup tutorials and beauty blogs (we now know what contouring is). Over the days it became clear that makeup has everything to do with confidence. Even if that confidence appeared to have nothing to do with the gaze of men: it is all about getting the feeling that one is “ready for the day”.

Driving home in the night, my terrible map skills led us off course and James swerved the car to follow brown signs to the impressive statue of the Angel of the North. It suddenly rose in the dark and covered the stars. We pulled over and I noticed I was trembling as I walked up the hill towards the statue. But I learned one really important thing on this trip: The Angel of the North might be scary at night, it is nothing compared to what most women feel when they have to walk into the beauty section of a department store: that is true horror.

Black Country Touring: Fab Family Entertainment for March

We have three great family shows coming up in March across the Black Country… Box Tale Soup will be at Sandwell Arts Cafe with their family friendly version of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’  suitable for 7yrs +. Free entry on Sat … Continued

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» Theatre: The Secret of Happiness


Are you stressed out by life? Are you struggling with the daily grind? Rich Stokes has the life hacks that will help your life run more smoothly. With innovative ideas on everything from parenting to earwax, Rich will reduce your stress and make you a happier person.

Join him on Saturday 27 February at mac birmingham to find out ‘The Secret of Happiness’. In a new show exclusive to mac, he will combine stand-up, songs and poetry, in which he will attack the main issues threatening today’s society – including ukuleles, internet stalking and taking your children to school.

Tickets can be booked here.

Little Earthquake: Young Producers at NRTF 2015

In July 2015, Gareth and Philip were invited to deliver a presentation about our Young Producers project at the 2015 National Rural Touring Forum Conference at Wymondham College. Below is the transcript of the presentation.

This presentation took place on 15th July 2015 at the National Rural Touring Conference at Wymondham College.


Hello! I’m Gareth Nicholls, and this is Philip Holyman, and we’re the co-Directors of Little Earthquake, a theatre company based in Walsall. Two weeks ago, we finished touring our latest production, which was made in a very special way…

[The curtain raiser film featuring twelve of the Young Producers taking about the process was shown here for the delegates.]


What you just saw is the little film which opened every performance of The Boy Who Became A Beetle. The show was made as part of our yearlong Young Producers project in which 100 children in Years 4, 5 and 6 at five Black Country primary schools were given the opportunity to be centrally involved in the development and creation of a new production for young people and their families.

The Young Producers project has been a six-way partnership between: Little Earthquake (as the artists who delivered the creative process and made the show); Black Country Touring (who built the relationships and led the Young Promoter work); Arts Connect West Midlands (our regional bridge organisation, who are supporting and sharing the learning from the project); the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton (the major venue); Arts Council England (the major financial supporter); and the five schools (in Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton.)

Last September, we visited each group and pitched three different ideas for three different shows — the Bee Show, the Pig Show and the Beetle Show. The Young Producers voted in secret in our mobile polling station — and the eight Core Producers sat around a boardroom table (with us and their teachers) and made the final decision. No adult ever got to cast a vote. You’ve probably guessed by now that the Young Producers chose to make The Beetle Show.

The Young Producers worked with Phil on ideas for characters, events and narrative structures before he started to work on the script. They helped to recruit their own designer and composer from a field of 120 international applicants and worked with them on how the show should look and sound.

The show visited each Young Producer group during the pilot tour earlier this Summer [2015] alongside visits to theatre spaces in the Midlands. The Young Producers worked with a graphic designer on bespoke poster campaigns for those performances at their schools, and they worked with Natalie Kidman from Black Country Touring on the marketing, Box Office, Front-of-House and stage management of those events.


We’ve wanted to make a family show for a long time. We applied unsuccessfully for a commissioning opportunity in the Midlands in 2012 to make the Bee Show, and afterwards, Black Country Touring approached us to find a way of making a family show together.

Their Young Promoter process was already well established (as it is among several other schemes here). For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, Young Promoter groups choose a show from a touring menu and promote it in their local venue to a local audience. Young Producers was conceived as a backwards extension of that — instead of selecting a finished show, the young people would be actively involved in developing what the show would be from its very beginning.

We wanted to make a show which wasn’t just an adaptation of a popular children’s book/film/TV show. We also wanted to make something more substantial in terms of production values: not the usual two-people-and-a-suitcase kind of show. We also wanted to work with young people who don’t normally get to take part in projects like this — schools which aren’t in catchment areas of larger regional theatres and who can get overlooked by participatory projects. We wanted to show young people that they could have creative careers too — that people like us were once children like them — and that if we can do it, they can, too.


At first, there was a lot of suspicion from the Young Producers — they were not used to anyone giving people their age any power to make important real-world decisions. We had a policy that there was no such thing as a bad or stupid idea: we would take everything they offered seriously. They tested the limits of that policy – and tested the tolerance of their teachers at the same time. We would get them to elaborate on anything they offered — which quickly burst the bubble of anyone being impish or provocative.

The vote changed everything — they saw professional artists taking their ideas on board and developing them, respecting them — and it increased their feelings of investment and ownership. By the time the creative team came in for their design and music sessions, they found themselves working with some very passionate collaborators who had very clear and very ambitious ideas about what they wanted.

At the same time, there was a sense from the Young Producers that we’d never manage to realise their grand visions. They all had limitless imaginations in terms of TV, film and video games — but they had a very low opinion of what could actually be done live, theatrically, in the same physical space as them.

Ultimately, the gala premiere exceeded their expectations. In June, the first performance of the show was an exclusive event, just for the Young Producers and project partners: complete with red carpet, paparazzi, VIP passes and cupcakes. It was the first time all of the groups had come together, and there was a general sense of the show being bigger, funnier, better than they’d thought it would be. There were ripples of excitement during the performance as they recognised things they’d suggested or designed which had made it into the show.


At the NRTF Showcase in York last year [2014], I heard that family shows don’t do well on rural tours because villages only have small numbers of families with children to constitute an audience.

The schools performances were the best attended ones on this tour for two reasons: because the Young Producers mobilised the audience which they had on their doorstep and celebrated the localness of the event; and because they created an environment which gave audiences of all ages something to access and something to enjoy. If there are two things which characterise the rural touring experience for me, it is those.

This was an urban tour but in many ways, it worked just like a rural one. Black Country Touring’s audience data shows that the majority of people at community-promoted shows like this travel less than 3 miles to the venue. If theatre comes to that potential audience, there’s a much better chance that they will support it.

We initially recommended the show for age 7+ based on the age of the Young Producers in the groups who were making the show with us — but based on the audiences who came to the tour, we know the show works well for much younger children (4+) as well as for adults who aren’t bringing any children with them at all.

The Young Producers were constantly encouraged to think about their own family networks — about who would be coming and what each of those people would like and what they’d want. The Young Producers built a social event package for children and families and adults which placed the show at its centre and gave different age groups an experience they could all share. Schools became hubs to engage local communities — so on a rural tour, maybe there is potential for work like this to find a home in a school hall rather than a village hall?

We’re currently looking at the logistics of touring the show — the touring period and touring model are not fixed at the moment to allow us to gauge interest from venues and schemes, which will help us to make the best case for further investment from partners and supporters.

We’re looking at how to engage people with the way we make the work, as well as with the work itself. We’re very open to the possibility of creating new productions through a similar kind of process, and not just limited to young producers: working with multiple promoter groups within an individual scheme, or with multiple schemes across a much larger geographical area, to develop and tour of new shows.

As we said, the schools we worked with aren’t the sort that usually get to take part in projects like this because they’re not based close to the venues which traditionally carry out this kind of work. We’re assuming it’s the same situation for audiences and promoters who aren’t based close to metropolitan venues, either.

We’re a small, non-venue-based organisation and it’s much easier for us in many ways to bring projects like this to you: our schedules can be more flexible as we are less bound by programming seasons or booking windows; our small staff team means participants and promoters build close and consistent working relationships with us; we are able to tailor the projects we develop to reflect the interests and requirements of the people we work with, resulting in a genuine collaborative partnership.

6: To Close

A detailed case study is being created by Kate Organ ([former] Arts Adviser to the Baring Foundation) which looks at the value and impact of the whole project, not just on the young participants but also on the art, the artists and the audiences. It will bring the results of this whole experiment together and we will make that case study available to NRTF members when it’s complete [due Spring 2017.]

Before we go, we’ve put together a little montage of images from the gala event and from the production, set to some of the original music from the show. Luke, the composer, sampled some of the Young Producers’ own compositions into this music. On behalf of everyone involved on the project, thanks for watching and thanks for listening!

[A montage of gala and production images, accompanied by music from the production, was shown here for the delegates.]

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Little Earthquake: Arts Council England Case Study: Young Producers

Our year-long Young Producers project culminated in a brand new production for young people and their families, The Boy Who Became A Beetle. Both the Young Producers project, and the resulting production, were funded by Arts Council England who published a case study about their investment. You can read the case study below, or on the Arts Council England website here.

This article first appeared on the Arts Council England website on 13th January 2016..

Here’s what happens when 100 eight-year-olds produce a professional theatre show…

Two theatre companies in the West Midlands have been working with 100 children aged 8 to 10 to produce a professional theatre production.

The project has inspired the young people to be creative, make decisions and learn practical business skills.

Pupils from one special educational needs (SEN) school in Wolverhampton and four primary schools across Sandwell, Dudley and Walsall took part in the project. Together, the children worked with Little Earthquake and Black Country Touring to become Young Producers.

For many of the young people it was their first experience of theatre.

Over the course of an academic year, Little Earthquake’s Gareth Nicholls and Philip Holyman and other professional members of the creative team led workshops at each school.

They encouraged the Young Producers to make all the creative and business decisions that go into a professional theatre production.

The pupils decided on the show’s themes, helped to develop the story and contributed to the script. They helped to recruit the creative team and influenced the music, costume and set design.

Once the show was in rehearsals, the pupils took on the role of Young Promoters. Working with marketing professionals and a graphic designer, they crafted promotional campaigns to get audiences through the door.

In less than 10 months, these Young Producers played a fundamental role in creating and producing The Boy Who Became a Beetle.

This original play was inspired by the story of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It was billed as a funny, messy and moving show for everyone who knows what it’s like to feel different.

Created by Little Earthquake with lots of input from the pupils, it told a story of standing up for the powerless and celebrating unconventional families. It combined emotional truths with visual and physical comedy.

All of the five schools hosted a performance of the production for their local community. At each venue, the pupils were responsible for stage management, Front of House and running the box office.

Around 700 people watched the play in their local community before it toured around the region.

At Arena Theatre, mac Birmingham, Oakengates Theatre and Warwick Arts Centre, the play drew family audiences of over 500 people.

The Young Producers were all welcomed as VIPs to a special red carpet premiere at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre. The event was a unique opportunity for the pupils to see their hard work come to life on a professional stage.

The Young Producers were all welcomed as VIPs to a special red carpet premiere at Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre. The event was a unique opportunity for the pupils to see their hard work come to life on a professional stage.

For many, it was also their first experience of visiting a theatre.

The Young Producers project was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Talking about the funding and why it matters, Peter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said:

“Every child has the right to a great cultural education; one which fuels their imagination and teaches them practical and creative skills. The Young Producers project is a great way to bring arts and culture into the classroom and we’re proud to have invested in making it happen. It’s projects like this which are helping to inspire the young people who will go on to shape the future of our creative and cultural industries.”


The idea behind the Young Producers project was to involve young people in the creation of a new, professional touring show for families. The first aim was to introduce pupils and their teachers to professional theatre making by involving them in the creative and business decisions that go into the production process.

The second was to give families in the West Midlands opportunities to see new, professional, family friendly theatre. With this in mind, the Young Producers’ goal was to design a new play to entertain and engage children aged three and older.


Through the workshops, the Young Producers learnt the skills and expertise needed to make and market great theatre. By being part of the production process, pupils gained the confidence to be creative, make decisions and respond to challenges. It was an opportunity to work as part of a team and to see their ideas valued as equal and important.

One pupil said: “I never had ideas that actually went into a real show before.” Another explained: “I promoted a cool, exciting touring show.”

For the schools involved, the Young Producers project was an opportunity to explore different ways to teach new skills.

Some teachers reported improvements in attendance from young people with previously low records. Others noted how pupils who previously struggled to engage in small groups began to contribute more and more in each workshop.

Some teachers reported improvements in attendance from young people with previously low records. Others noted how pupils who previously struggled to engage in small groups began to contribute more and more in each workshop.

“It was intriguing to hear the children’s conversations about the importance of roles and their evolving realisation that initial views of one person being the ‘most important’ were incorrect,” explained one teacher.

“The group now has a greater understanding of the many people that are crucial in the creation of a theatre production.”

At the end of the project, teachers also saw increased involvement from parents. There was a greater understanding of the creative industries as a source of learning and their role in the local economy.

One parent commented: “It’s fantastic seeing families enjoying it, [I’m] proud of our children who organised it.” Another audience member said: “It’s encouraging seeing young people putting on a first class show.”


Schools which brought a whole class or year group together for the project gained the most continuity and impact of teamwork. This approach also allowed teachers to cross-reference the project with the wider curriculum.

Enabling pupils from SEN and mainstream schools to work together had a positive impact for the young people and their creative decisions. This integration defined the themes the children chose for the play: inclusivity and equality.

A challenge of the project was the need for long-term scheduling and the balancing of complex curriculum demands.

Time constraints often meant pupils from the five schools could not work together in the same place. However, the red carpet event was a successful opportunity for the pupils from all five schools to celebrate their achievements together.

Little Earthquake is now working on new creative projects but hopes to tour  The Boy Who Became A Beetle in 2017. Black Country Touring is planning a smaller, shorter pilot project for a Young Promoters Festival. The aim is to build on the successful elements of the Young Producers project.

Commenting on the project, Philip Holyman, co-Director of Little Earthquake said: “Each Young Producer, teacher, school, artist and audience member has had the chance to learn and to share, to come together and to be entertained through this project. It was a very special demonstration of the personal and professional value to individuals and to communities of having arts on their doorstep.”

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Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Mayor Meets the Mayor


So everything that I said in yesterday’s post would happen has happened. The council house was overrun by teenagers. They all looked very smart in their school uniforms and those whose schools didn’t have uniforms still looked smart. It was a fantastic mix of young people from across the city and although, predictably, things were a little tentative initially people soon started warming up.

We had invited a number of local politicians, public sector workers and activists to the event in order stop this area of life feeling so distant from the Trailblazer‘s lives and it was gratifying how many of these people made time to come and then to join in with the activities.

Lunch seemed to be fairly well received – which was one of my major worries – and, regulated by the Birmingham made ACME Thunderer we kept to time and entered the council chamber at 13:00

The presentations were great. There was a lot of talent on display and enough confident young people for the adults to have do very little. The voting was close. The technology ran smoothly. The speeches for Mayoral office were all impressive. We had given the speech writers quotes from earlier historical speeches to appropriate and re-purpose. The results were genuinely moving and a new Executive Mayor for 2030 was elected.

The current Lord Mayor received his copy of the map graciously. A late draft of the Prezi was shown and everyone left about ten minutes early with their maps and certificates.

We tidied up, went for a small celebratory sit down and I started to relax for the first time since October.

Black Country Touring: Women’s Comedy Cabaret

A night of stand-up comedy, fun, and laughter… BCT Promoters the Wolvereanz invite you to join them for an evening of comedy hosted by circuit headliner Mrs Barbara Nice, celebrating International Women’s Week featuring new talent from their stand-up comedy course. The … Continued

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Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Trailblazers: In A Visible City

Photo: Kate Green

So the Trailblazers’ map has been published and today will be presented by 2030’s newly elected executive mayor to the current incumbent The Right Worshipful, The Lord Mayor, Councillor Ray Hassall.

Today is the conclusion of Trailblazers: In A Visible City, a project that stated in October. It is the day when you casually saying “and then the whole thing concludes with the participants taking over the council house for the day” finally has to happen. We have twelve artists lined up to take 120 14 & 15 year olds through four workshop activities. They vote in the council chamber. The wave placards, the vote on a new city budget and coat of arms, that they have designed, there are speeches for the new mayoral post and then there is the presentation.

The map can be viewed as a Prezi and the project’s photographs can be seen on bhamtrailblazers on flickr. The videos linked to from the Prezi can be seen on our new YouTube channel – in fact they are currently the only content of our bew YouTube channel Stan’s Cafe Theatre.