Monthly Archives: July 2017 GIG GUIDE: AUGUST 2017

Fat Penguin guests



[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Sheraz Yousaf come to life.  



[LE1 5JN]

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



[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Thomas Rackham come to life.  



[NG1 6FG]

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.





[CV1 1JD]

Wow Impro:  Free comedy night from the Coventry-based improv troupe.







[B1 1BN]

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


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Sean Sellers come to life.  



[B18 6AD]

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




[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Kate McCabe come to life.  



[NN1 4AE]

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


[B13 8BX]

Fat Penguin Improv:  See the unscripted stories from deep inside the mind of a standup comedian Marshal B Anderson come to life.  


Have I missed a show?  Get in touch and let me know.                                    @MidlandsImprov REVIEW: BARON STERNLOOK’S IMPROVISED MUSICAL

Baron Sternlook pose (2)

Baron Sternlook are back.  This Birmingham-based musical group have several years of experience, including two runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, but until recently have been on hiatus.  Their return means Midlands audiences can now see them create a fun one hour show filled with drama, comedy & music.

In this performance, the audience picked the title to be “Imperialism in Venice”.  The scene was set by an opening number featuring a gaggle on gondoliers singing about their love of the water, and then we met an American couple on a marriage-strengthening holiday in Italy, the husband having planned every last detail while the wife searched for a bit more excitement (“Holiday by spreadsheet”).  This excitement came from several sources – an Italian lothario intent on capturing an American, the rise and fall of the gondoliering empire, and a tourist office staffed by a woman from Dudley.  The show included a range of songs in various styles, including one whose title was dictated by the audience in advance (“There’s always time to pee”), and one performer singing both halves of a duet.

The group are particularly strong at adding humour to each scene in a way that doesn’t overpower the action.  In this performance there was a chance to enjoy each performer struggling to add authentic Venetian details to the show,  typified by the street seller hawking berets, Big Bens and Taj Mahals.  And of course there was a satisfying reference to Birmingham having more miles of canal than the Italian city.  My favourite moment was the moral at the end of the story, where the tourism worker that learned that being Italian isn’t about where you are born or what language you speak, it’s about loving a place and choosing to call it home.  Funny and heartwarming.  A talented bunch.


Baron Sternlook’s Improvised Musical perform in and around Birmingham, including the Birmingham Improv Festival in October.




Check out our incredible programme of live art, theatre, music, activism, interventions, installations and the ever-popular Club Fierce!! 50 events; 6 world premieres; artists from 12 countries; over 13 venues across the city; for 6 days. FIERCE IS BACK!

Read the brochure and plan your highlights; tickets go on sale next Monday, 24th July, 10am.

A Friday to sunday Weekend Pass that gets entry to the following eight ticketed shows is available for the heavily discounted price of £65/£55. Only 100 of these passes are available, so don’t hang around!

Women and Theatre: Summer Times performances

We are in our final week of performances of our new seasonal show, Summer Times.  Researched with older adults from across a variety of Birmingham communities, the production shares stories of summer from Poland, Ireland, South Asia, China and the Caribbean.

Join us for this entertaining production involving drama, music and movement.  Performances are FREE, so just come along!

Public performances:

Monday 17 July at 2pm & 7pm – POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF

Wednesday 19 July at 2pm – Birmingham Settlement, 359-361 Witton Road, Aston, B6 6NS

Friday 21 July at 2pm & 7pm – Oasis Centre, 69b Splott Road, Cardiff, CF24 2BW

Women and Theatre: Summer Times performances

We are in our final week of performances of our new seasonal show, Summer Times.  Researched with older adults from across a variety of Birmingham communities, the production shares stories of summer from Poland, Ireland, South Asia, China and the Caribbean.

Join us for this entertaining production involving drama, music and movement.  Performances are FREE, so just come along!

Public performances:

Monday 17 July at 2pm & 7pm – POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF

Wednesday 19 July at 2pm – Birmingham Settlement, 359-361 Witton Road, Aston, B6 6NS

Friday 21 July at 2pm & 7pm – Oasis Centre, 69b Splott Road, Cardiff, CF24 2BW

Little Earthquake: The White Rabbit In The Room

At the 2017 National Rural Touring Forum conference, Phil gave a keynote speech entitled The White Rabbit In The Room (dressed in a big bunny outfit, of course). In the speech, he encouraged delegates to be more open about recognising the value of failure when it comes to learning from those projects for children and young people which just don’t work out the way their makers had hoped. The full transcript of the speech can be found below.

Hello everyone. My name is Phil. I’m one of the co-Directors of a theatre company called Little Earthquake. I’m also a member of the NRTF Board. And I hate the term “family-friendly”.

I hate it in the same way I hate terms like “weekday vegetarian”. If you’re going to do something, make a commitment to doing it properly. If you really want to help the little animals, start eating them on no days per week, rather than just the two.

And when you say you’re family-friendly, it’s probably children and young people whose engagement with your work you want to build most. So instead of just being friendly towards them — start showing them that they are absolutely essential to what you do now and what you want to do next — with their families and without their families — all the time.

Because while you may not be able to exist in the future without them, young people are perfectly capable of seeing a future for themselves without you in it.

Making something good happen with young people is a bit like Katrina and the Waves winning Eurovision. The triumph is intense but also brief. It feels like the world is watching! But their attention wanders, because someone else is always doing the next amazing thing that outshines yours. You comfort yourself with knowing you once did something amazing, too, but soon, the memory of it shrinks into the past until only a dedicated search on your website or maybe on Arts Professional proves it ever happened at all.

Little Earthquake’s Katrina and the Waves moment was our Young Producers project which started in 2014 and ended in 2015. Teaming up with Black Country Touring, Arts Connect (the West Midlands bridge organisation) and the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton, and with hefty investment from Arts Council England, we spent a year with 100 primary schoolchildren who essentially commissioned and co-produced a mid-scale family musical based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis. We’ve talked about it at NRTF Conferences before. There’s a detailed case study on the project by Kate Organ – and we have little cards with the web link on them, if you’d like to find out more.

But what felt so important and urgent at the time has now largely faded into the background. Instead of clinging onto that past glory, we need to keep doing more work with young people which is important and urgent. But the trouble is… Like many people here, I’ll bet… We get it wrong as often or maybe more than we get it right. I’m fairly sure what got me onto the NRTF Board was my supposed status as a “CYP expert” but some of our failures have been catastrophic.

In preparing for today, I came to a serious realisation. It’s important to recognise and share success when it happens — but it’s just as important to be open and vocal about the times when we mean well, try hard and still fall flat on our faces. Really listening to other people’s noble and sometimes epic failures has to be one of our best ways to stop wasting public funds and most of all, to stop wasting people’s (particularly young people’s) time, money and goodwill.

In 2014, we staged Bunny Games at the Library of Birmingham, a screening of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with me and Gareth in these top-to-toe rabbit suits, village fete games with carrots as the prizes, and bingo with a pop-up ball machine. All the adults involved in the planning thought it was a MARVELLOUS idea. On the day, when one of the organiser’s children saw me like this and burst into tears, I feared we’d made a terrible tactical error.

Good weather and bad marketing meant we scraped 23 people into a 400 seat venue. The game of Bunny Bingo was an interminable nightmare I will never forget. It was such a sad experience that when Bob Hoskins passed away that weekend, it almost felt like we were somehow to blame. That same little girl saw me again recently, and three years on, I’m convinced she recognised me as the big white rabbit of evil.

The difference between Young Producers and Bunny Games seems clear to me. When there’s time and space for young people to be involved from an early practical stage, what we do together is a real collaboration with benefits for both sides. When young people are brought in after most or all of the decisions about them and their experience have been made, they simply become recipients of a thing which some adults have decided about on their behalf.

Speaking at the Family Arts Conference in March, Kate Organ talked about projects involving older people, which she has explored and written about in her former role as Arts Adviser to the Baring Foundation. “Participation is critical to making something that matters,” she said. “Without genuine consultation, it won’t work.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible for adults to come up with projects and schemes which will interest and excite and be a good experience for young people — but most of the time, they do just get what adults decide to give them.

It’s fine for us to be the ones who might come up with an initial idea — it’s part of our job as creative leaders — but I bet there’s always a moment when getting young people involved in shaping and developing those ideas with us, and keeping them involved, will help us to make something together that we could never hope to achieve on our own. They may not be experts in the process of making theatre — but they are experts in their own experience. And in our eyes, that should make them invaluable.

What has always encouraged and moved me about the rural network is the depth of the personal relationships, knowledge and discussion between audiences and promoters, between promoters and schemes, and, increasingly, between all of those people and artists as well.

It feels very realistic to me that a network which has already got thousands of adult-to-adult conversations at such a well-developed stage could easily turn more of its attention to having better conversations with young people, too.

HOWEVER… I often find myself overhearing or being reminded that if you ask any young person, the village hall is the last place they’d be seen dead in their free time.

People do have their own cultures and the arts don’t have a place in everyone’s lives. Young people are no different.

“We’ll never engage or attract all the young people but we must keep trying so that they can make that choice.” [TC Peppercorn, Education and Outreach Co-ordinator at Artrix, in Arts Professional, November 2013]

So if the conventional spaces are an issue, do things somewhere else. If the numbers of young people in a given place are an issue, do something with the young people you have got, or look for ways, times and places where you can do something with more of them. If the work you’re offering is an issue, offer something else.

I suspect a lot of us are scared of the Arts Council’s Goal 5 — scared that our young audience numbers aren’t high enough, or that we don’t have enough young audience members who are demonstrably engaging more, or that we don’t have enough young audience members who are living in the right postcodes.

At some recent fundraising training, Joanna Ridout gave a very profound piece of advice. Define your KPIs before your funders do. I’ve been really inspired by this idea: that we should use our expertise, experience and knowledge of the people we are working with to define what impact we’re looking to achieve, how we’ll measure it and what success will look like.

At the moment, we often let our fear get the better of our wisdom, and when it comes to Goal 5, in the rush to offer something which will help us hit the back of the net, many of us end up scoring an own goal.

Until we’re more prepared to say what isn’t working and why it isn’t working, and unless we’re prepared to ask for help in finding different approaches and solutions, we’ll all keep falling into the same old traps or, worse, for fear of failing, we’ll end up doing nothing at all.

Peter Brook once speculated on why young people will spend a fortune on trainers and not on theatre and he reached a simple conclusion. It’s “because the theatre has let a lot of people down over the years, and trainers haven’t.” Let’s make today the day when we start closing the gap in that race.

For the remainder of the session, you’ll split into two groups. You’ll spend half the time next door, being inspired by the wonderful work of The Bone Ensemble, with an extract from their brilliant show, Where’s My Igloo Gone?

And you’ll spend half the time in here inspiring yourselves and other delegates with the opportunity to hatch plans for brilliant work for children and young people which takes full advantage of what you know, what you have and what you can give.

I’d like to say a big thankyou to you all for listening — and I hope you enjoy the rest of the day!

The post The White Rabbit In The Room appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: An Update On Our 2017/18 Mentees

“The mentoring that we received from Little Earthquake has been an invaluable experience for us as individuals and for our company. The whole day was really well planned and catered to the company’s needs, focusing specifically on our biggest hurdles that felt a lot smaller at the end of the day! The mentoring has given a huge boost of confidence and set realistic standards of budgeting and the business side to running your own theatre company. What was particularly great about the scheme is that Phil and Gareth made us feel so comfortable, helping us to set realistic goals for the future. We really can’t praise them enough for all of their help.”
– Catherine Butler and Jessica Barber from Lynnebec

We’re a quarter of the way into our first annual Mentoring Scheme, and it’s been an eventful time for lots of the companies we’ve been working with. Between them, they have lots of productions scheduled across the coming months, and it is our great pleasure to share some of them with you! There’s been particularly good news for our two primary mentored companies just lately, with both Notnow Collective and Noctium making successful applications to Arts Council England for support for their current projects.

Notnow Collective

Fresh from their Highly Commended appearance in the Suitcase Prize strand at Pulse Festival, Notnow Collective conclude their current phase of development work on DadMan: The Bath-Time Warrior with a performance at Derby Theatre as part of DEparture Lounge, a baby-friendly matinee at 2pm on Saturday 22nd July.


Noctium, meanwhile, are gearing up to continue work on Hymns for Robots (the show formerly known as The Woman and the Wobbulator), which includes a pay-what-you-can sharing at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry on Friday 22nd September.

Paperback Theatre

Paperback will be wielding their killer hockey sticks (maybe literally, maybe just metaphorically) as they take George Attwell-Gerhards’ new play We Need To Talk About Bobby (off EastEnders) to Edinburgh, where you can find them at Zoo Southside Studio every day from Monday 14th — Monday 28th August at 12.40pm.

Rogue Bones  

Rogue Bones are presenting the regional premiere of Vinay Patel’s Free Fall as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. It’s a two-hander about a girl on a bridge and the toll-machine supervisor who may (or may not) prove to be her unlikely saviour. Free Fall runs at 53two (a former car showroom now repurposed as a performance space) between Monday 24th – Wednesday 26th July.

Tin Robot

In the year when H.G. Wells’ legendary story celebrates its 210th birthday, Tin Robot returns to the Old Joint Stock with The War of the Worlds. Owing precisely nothing to Jeff Wayne or Steven Spielberg’s musical and cinematic versions, this is highly likely to be closer to the naughty brilliance of Orson Welles, whose 1938 radio re-telling terrified an unsuspecting public. Will Tin Robot cause panic on the streets of Birmingham? Find out for yourself between Tuesday 25th – Tuesday 31st October (except Sunday 29th October, when there’s no show – even Martians need a day off.)

Gritty Theatre

Phil has also been working with Dominic Thompson from Gritty Theatre through the Uprising Leadership Programme, and as part of an incredibly busy summer, the company is taking two shows to theSpace at Surgeons Hall in Edinburgh. Luke Barnes’ Bottleneck (performed by Dom) runs in rep with Tom Wells’ About A Goth between Friday 4th – Saturday 19th August. About A Goth also squeezes in a pre-Edinburgh preview at the Crescent Studio in Birmingham on Thursday 27th July.

The post An Update On Our 2017/18 Mentees appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… BAM (Babies’ Academy of Music)

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.
Image: Sam Frankie Fox (left) and Ricardo Rocha (right) during at BAM concert at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Photo: Sam Slater. All permissions granted to use images by parents and guardians.

BAM! is the name — and the sound — of what happens when the wild and wonderful voice of Wales collides beautifully with a Portuguese music-playing pioneer and his array of international instruments.

We checked in with Sam Frankie Fox to find out more about her and and Ricardo Rocha’s interactive concerts for the under-4s (and their families).

For more information about BAM, visit:

Gareth: Why did you decide to set up BAM: Babies’ Academy of Music?

Sam: Back in 2011, Ricardo and I performed in a childrens’ festival called Pinhal das Artes, in a pine wood forest in Leiria Portugal. Audiences regularly describe it as ‘the Woodstock for kids’. The work there was of the highest standard, not patronising at all and the atmosphere throughout the festival was magic. We learnt that in these types of settings, families really know how to party!

Ricardo has also performed as guest soloist for another project by the same organisation called Concertos para bebés (concerts for kids). These are world-class 30-45 minute shows for babes in arms, all set in the round where children are free to roam and interact with the musicians and their instruments. Short bites of well-known classical pieces are performed by a 6-piece band and mixed with the original contributions of the guest soloist.

These two shows / experiences were instrumental in inspiring us to build a show specifically aimed at babies /Early Years’ audiences, where we could draw on our range of skills and interests in music and theatre.

Gareth: What is your earliest memory of music?

Sam: Bashing about on the family piano trying to play all of the notes at once using arms, elbows and toes!

Gareth: Throughout your careers, you’ve both made a vast range of work with all sorts of different people. Describe some of the people or companies who have had the biggest impact on each of you and on the work you make.

Sam: Well, we have both worked for a number of different companies both as founding members and as freelancers. Along the way there have been way too many influential people and organisations to name here, but we really must mention Teatro do Montemuro where we met and who furnished us with the opportunity to perform music and theatre pieces between both our home countries of UK and Portugal.

Projects and companies that are dear to us personally are theatre company KILN based in Birmingham (of which Sam is a founding member and Co-artistic director) and Porto music duo Lufa-Lufa and storytelling collective Cegarrega (Ricardo being one of the lead artists in both).

Gareth: Your work with BAM is very different to some of the previous work you are known for. How has that previous work influenced the way you approach working with babies?

Sam: I would say that I’m mostly known for being a small person who makes a lot of noise! Whether in theatre shows or in bands, telling stories through sound and voice is definitely my thing and this has been most notable in Music-Theatre productions The Furies and Lady GoGo Goch (by KILN). Technically you could call what I do ‘extended voice’ or ‘whole voice’ work, but really it’s just about using the voice as an instrument to thrill and surprise. So I’ve approached BAM work like I would any other project and tried to find meaningful and exciting ways to use voice and sound to create a distinctive atmosphere. I’ve found that in fact I can be even more experimental and expressive with my voice in BAM shows. Of course the babies are in preverbal stages of communication themselves so sound play with babbling and extreme range of sound (high peep sounds, low gravelly qualities of voice) aren’t weird or uncomfortable. It’s all just play and expression. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely soothing lullabies in our repertoire and lots of standard song-shape numbers, but we approach it all with a healthy experimental spirit.

I would say that I’m mostly known for being a small person who makes a lot of noise!

Gareth: In what ways has working with babies, and their parents and guardians, surprised you?

Sam: We recently did a performance in the Family Tent at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, programmed to play two slots at 11am-ish and 2pm-ish. We anticipated they might be fairly sedate affairs, with families snuggling up for some musical fun pre and post lunch. This assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth…we experienced a stage invasion, chanting, and towards the end of the second show a little boy was getting so into it that he stripped naked and danced around head-banging to Ricardo’s Portuguese accordion songs. It was all very rock and roll!

Gareth: Tell us about your favourite and your most challenging gig with BAM.

Sam: We’re just getting started to be honest, so only have a handful of gigs under our belt. We do have an outdoor gig in Mac Birmingham’s arena theatre early next month, so we’re looking forward to the challenges and delights of performing in the fresh air. *please don’t rain, please don’t rain, please don’t rain*

Gareth: A question about Ricardo’s musical heritage. We were at a wedding recently in which your band Kiriki Club were playing. The song which got the crowd most excited was a Portuguese number. How much do you explore music from international cultures with BAM, and why do you think it is so important for children to hear this from such a young age?

Sam: Yes so Ricardo and I also perform in a Birmingham-based band called Kiriki Club (Ricardo on guitar and myself on vocals and harp). Like in all our work, we relish in the performing of songs in different languages and from different cultures. We also like to get people up dancing, so that’s our general rule with that project is to get people moving and feeling the song in their bones. If the drive of the song has this affect, and people are happily having a boogie, the other job is to find ways to convey meaning through musical and physical gesture. So the audience feels like they “get” the song without literally understanding the lyrics. With BAM, we make a point of performing in multiple languages as well as made up languages. We feel quite strongly that there’s too much emphasis on language in a lot of songs and music for early years, and in our experience find that children tend to respond better to pulse, rhythm, melody, timbre etc when there isn’t the distraction of the English language dominating every song. It’s also a real treat, in a mixed city like Birmingham (youngest city in the UK dontcha know?) to see the flickers of recognition in the childrens’ and parents’ faces when we perform a song in their mother tongue or a familiar language.

We feel strongly that there’s too much emphasis on language in a lot of songs and music for early years.

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are performance 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?

Sam: Go out and make the work you want to make. Even if you have to rehearse in your own front room and perform it on the street, in a park or online. And all the while try to stay connected to who your audience is / might be. Don’t listen to too much feedback and let your work be diluted either. Obviously if you’re hearing the same things over and over about your work then it’s worth listening to / addressing, but mostly take risks and make the art that feels most expressive and honest.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… BAM (Babies’ Academy of Music) appeared first on Little Earthquake.