Author Archives: Stan's Cafe Theatre Company

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Book Royalties

The publishers Bloomsbury have a series of tabs at the top of their website to steer visitors towards the category of book they are searching for: Fiction, Non-fiction, Academic, Children’s and Harry Potter. What an unbelievable cash cow that young wizard must be for everyone involved!

We’ve just received the first royalty cheque from our very own cash gerbil Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe. It may not have been a big cheque, but it was a good feeling to know the book is out there being bought and (hopefully) read.

Given that we are currently being undercut by our own publishers and assuming that for such books sales tail off rather than snowball, we have perhaps had the best of things financially; nevertheless we will continue to reap practical benefits as those eager students who regularly email us asking ‘how do you get your ideas?’ or ‘how do you devise your shows?’ can now be pointed to the book rather than having to be written more bespoke answers and pointed towards our magical Harry Potter Helpful Things tab.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: This

This – a new performance from Tate n Lyle on Vimeo.

One privilege I have is that people often invite me to art stuff and occasionally I able to attend. Yesterday at DanceXchange a duo called Timber and Battery shared a work they have in progress called This. Avid followers of this blog will know that I have reservations about the ‘WiP’ concept but this was fun and very much resembled a finished performance.

This is currently a 30-40 minutes long structured improvisation in which two performers explore the fabric and function of two fold-away tables. A time-lapse video (posted above) gives you some sense of what happens but also completely misrepresents the piece.

As audience members we are free to explore, to watch from a distance or come close and inspect how the mass produced objects have gained individuality through use. The performers help us study each table’s detail, the rivets, the hinges, the caps, coated metal and polymer. We have demonstrated to us each table’s geometry, it balance points, movements, squeaks and judders. We watch with concern as the material limits of each table are tested in ways the designers and manufacturers can never have imagined them being tested.

This stripped-down, performance style with its limited vocabulary of isolated words “this”, “that”, “here” is direct and engaging, bringing to mind the playful work of one of my performance heroes Gary Stevens. With the occasional lull I enjoyed This very much.

Afterwards there was a bit of a chat with the artist for which four of us audience stayed to contribute our observations. If This comes near you I’d urge you to see it and tell me what you think.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: A Capital Image

As much as we’d love to think of our shows exclusively as works of art they are also inescapably products. These products need to be sold, to sell them they must be described and describing them can be difficult, especially when the shows have yet to be made.

We recently faced this challenge describing our new show THE CAPITAL. Tickets have just gone on sale for premiere performances at The REP in October so back in March and early April we were focused on describing the show for prospective audiences using just 150 words and an image.

With an unmade show this process of description becomes a part of its making. Our responses to different drafts of text and image teach us what we want do and don’t want this embryonic show to become.

In the first of a three part series about ‘marketing as making’ Simon Ford gives us a generous insight into the steps and missteps, cul-de-sacs and leaps of inspiration that took him from Graeme Braidwood’s photo of Amy to an image that we are happy describes an aspect of THE CAPITAL as we wish it to be. To read his ‘entertaining and informative essay’, follow this link.

You can see what The REP made of our text and image by following this link to their website.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Sustainable Development Goals

Global Festival of Action took place earlier this week in the modestly titled World Conference Centre, which is a beautiful facility built in Bonn as home of the West German parliament just before reunification moved parliament to Berlin. Last year this was the Global Festival of Ideas but now is deemed time for action.

Delegates gathered from around the world and the opening plenary session reinforced a message that this was to be a festival not a conference. Alongside official welcomes from representatives of the German Government, City of Bonn and United Nations we were led in a bout of meditation and a somewhat self-conscious few minutes clapping along with a beatboxer whilst ‘making some noise’ for Y? (a very friendly and enthusiastic rapper from NYC). There were numerous exhortations to blitz Social Media with ‘our message’ and to encourage us Yusuf Omar, a very high energy young man from Hashtag Our Stories demonstrated how it only takes 60 seconds to shoot, edit and post a video on a phone in order to our ‘message out’ there. It was dazzling display achieved on a phone considerably more powerful than mine.

The ‘message’ referred to throughout is the urgency of addressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. The festival made an immediate impact as I arrived not knowing what the goals are and now I do – though, unlike most delegates, I am as yet unable to refer to them by number alone.

1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere.
2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.
8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
9: Build resilient infrastructure, inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.
10: Reduced inequality within and among countries.

11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.
13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
14: Conserve and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.
17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development.

In foyers spaces stands showcased initiatives, approaches and new technologies. I plugged myself into both a 360º VR movie experience and then a full on walk through VR experience which captured the interior of a large block in Berlin that had been occupied and re-decorated by artists shortly before its demolition. It was breathtaking.

In familiar conference style there were plenty of Breakout Sessions to choose from and with Action as the aim many had a practical dimension. I attended the two which looked most like the session I was due to contribute to on Thursday morning – my idea was to pick up some tips of what to do and what to avoid, how many people to expect and how engaged they were likely to be.

At first my plan appeared to have backfired as the incredibly bright and positive photojournalist Ulla Lohmann’s session started by encouraging us to find a unique story that would ideally give us access to unique photographs. Her example was travelling to Papua New Guinea, learning Pidgin becoming adopted by a remote tribe and strike up a deep and trusting relationship with an elderly chief who as determined that he wants to revive an old tradition of being mummified and placed in a niche high above the tribe’s village in order to protect them post death. As a result Ulla was able to photograph a couple of practice embalming carried out on two pigs, before capturing the real thing once the chief died.

Ulla spoke about the ethical dimensions of sharing this story with the world via National Geographic and later gave us insight into how her very positive personality and honest approach allows her to gain access to take the photographs she’s after. As an encore and demonstration on how to construct and pitch a photo story she shared with us shots of her and a team of scientists abseiling into an active volcano. You should check her website out, she is a remarkable woman.

Somewhat rattled I then attended a session that promised to use Design Thinking to develop innovative project ideas in an Open Situation Room environment. Here a women who works for the Swiss Government shared with us a challenge she has been set by her boss to ‘support movements’ in an effort to advance the SDGs. The rapid fire approach of 5 minutes to discuss this, 5 minutes to agree that, 5 minutes to explore the other was frustrating and the dynamics of my group didn’t help. I took this as a warning to be heeded in running my session the next day.

I ducked out of the SDG awards ceremony on Wednesday evening, choosing instead to catch up on some Stan’s Cafe work and go for a run along the Rhine – a beautiful route.

Theater Bonn had invited me to provide the ‘interactive’ element of their session. For 25 minutes participants were shown photos and film clips while Nicola Bramkamp, Artistic Director of Theater Bonn and Andrea Tietz, producer of Save the World explained their belief in art’s power to effect social change. Then Nick Nuttall, Head of Communications and Outreach for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change backed up that opinion, explaining how politicians are empowered to make important decisions by the mood of public opinion, which in turn is shifted by a range of factors, including art projects.

Finally I had a room full of SDG activists to get interactive with. I’d decided to keep things really simple and walk them through one of my approaches to ‘having good ideas’, with their concerns as the subject of their creative thinking. So, having grouped everyone according to the SDG they were most passionate about, I encouraged participants to list challenges they face communicating the urgency of their chosen SDG to the public. Having done this I encouraged them to think of the artistic form that would most elegantly solve this problem; in other words look for the form that most elegantly matches up with the content of what they are trying to communicate. The groups then pitched their favourite idea in a single sentence. And that was 40 minutes.

I’d tried to leave the maximum time for discussion and debate. Some of the ideas that emerged I would happily have pursued and people seemed to enjoy themselves. Presumably the people who got little out of the session zoomed off without saying anything and those who got a lot out of it lingered to explain why and say thank you.

Job done, time to find the U-Bahn station to the Hauptbahnhof to Klön to Brussels Midi to London St. Pancras, walk to Euston train New Street, my bicycle and home by 11 thanks to the hour gained when crossing the channel.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Creative Learning Recruitment


With a busy term of work planned for summer 2018 we are recruiting five part-time freelance Creative Learning Associates to deliver a range of exciting projects in primary and secondary schools. We are looking for a variety of practitioners with specialisms including maths, drama, costume making and poetry and makers/sculptors.

To find our more about these roles and the particular projects please download the Creative Learning Associate Summer Call Out information sheet HERE.

To apply please send a C.V. and a covering letter explaining your interest in and suitability for the role(s), to our Creative Learning Producer – Lucy Nicholls, via email:

Please also complete and send the equal opportunities monitoring form available HERE on our website.

The closing date for applications is Thursday 5th April, 6pm. Shortlisted candidates will be asked to attend a workshop on Monday 16th April.

You can discover more about the history and range of our Creative Learning work by visiting the Education and Training section of our website HERE

We look forward to hearing from you.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Unlocking Anti-Semitism

On Tuesday, Darius Jackson from the University College London, Centre for Holocaust Education, came to Saltley Academy and lead a twilight teacher training session called Unlocking Anti-Semitism. He was there because we are about to start working on The Merchant of Venice with the English Department and Year 8 students and it seemed sensible for us to arm ourselves with a bit of knowledge about the history of Anti-Semitism before we start.

I’d met Darius about six months before when attending a day-long course about teaching the History of the Holocaust prior to making Zigi Doesn’t Hate with students from the Jewellery Quarter Academy as part of a city wide Echo Eternal project.

Both training sessions were a treat, it was great to be back at school as a student. I spend so much time leading stuff it is great occasionally to follow stuff.

Their approach seemed so simple and sensible: University College London have a team of historians and educators who strive to define and support best practices in Holocaust Education, in order to do so they research common misconceptions among students and the needs of teachers, they then develop educational approaches and resources that address these problems and spread these as widely as they can through events such as the training session I attended at Nansen Primary School.

Here are some of my notes from the day written up:

Students are almost never taught about Jewish life and their contribution to Europe culture immediately before 1933 but are almost always taught about Anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews at the time – as a result students struggle to replace the caricatures with any other image of Jewish people!

Confused about exactly what the Holocaust was? That’s okay, definitions do vary and are subject to debate but definitions are always most helpful when they are precise, so the the tightest definition of the Holocaust is most useful. Try something like “the systematic murder of approximately six million Jews in Europe between 1941 and 1945.” This tight definition doesn’t include people murdered by the Nazis within the same system but this does not deny the horror and tragedy of these events. The systematic murder of Roma within the same period has its own name Porrajmos.

Note the term ‘murder’ in this definition. We should try not to use the language of the perpetrators, the Nazis may talk in terms of ‘extermination’ but we don’t want to; vermin get exterminated, the Jews were murdered.

We should be careful in imagery we choose to use in order to show respect both to the victims and those we are teaching. In their training the centre use images of piles of shoes off wedding rings, the images are upsetting but dignified.

Use individual case studies, stories of people before numbers, remember the Holocaust was not homogeneous, peoples’ experiences varied according to time and place.

Then of course there were lots of extraordinary facts that, despite thinking I was pretty clued up on the Holocaust caused me to realise how embarrassingly little I know about it. As the Holocaust was run by the state it hadn’t occurred to me they had to buy train tickets for everyone going to the camps! Where did they find the money? By selling the property of their victims, in this way The Holocaust was self-financing.

Anyway, I came away really impressed by the teaching and thinking “The Holocaust is a modest but compulsory part of English Key Stage 3 History Curriculum (which only applies to the dwindling number of schools still under Local Authority control). Imagine if the whole curriculum in every subject were subject to a similarly dedicated and professional team working on it in the same way. Our education system would be world beating!”

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Black Men Walking in Coventry + Choke

Coventry is already reaping a dividend from its forthcoming City of Culture status: it’s become a Stan’s Cafe theatrical destination of choice. Last week we were there to see Graeme surfing Chris O’Connell’s script in the Theatre Absolute production Choke and the week before two trips went to the Belgrade Studio to see Tyrone Huggins in Black Men Walking presented by Eclipse Theatre. Both trips reminded me how much I like going to the theatre.

Black Men Walking took us up into the Yorkshire Dales with three seniors from a walking club. Their characters and back-stories unfold amiably through the show until they meet a young woman at the walk’s summit. Inevitably the weather closes in injecting some peril into proceedings, but the show’s main agenda is exploring the relationship between these black men and the land they walk on. The young woman, full of dynamic energy, questions what she perceives as the men’s passive approach to staking their claim in contemporary British society.

The text by Testament weaves lovely poetic passages into the show’s easy dialogue. Sometimes the poetry slips into song and dance lurks on the fringes of the show. Obviously when staging a show set on a walk the big challenge is to stop the characters striding off the stage whilst keeping a sense of them being in motion, this felt like the most awkward element of an otherwise accomplished show through which we are drawn by four engaging performances.

Choke is set further out, on the east coast of Scotland, in the luxurious mansion of a Big Pharma millionaire. Stu has been doorstepped by Rob, an old university buddy crazed and desperate to be cut open by his old pal to alleviate some mysterious inner agony. From this launch pad the characters’ backstories spool out rapidly to include literary stardom, medical trials death, divorce, near death by pretzel and a potential cure for AIDS. Explained in chronological detail the show sounds absurd but in action with O’Connell’s lean dialogue batted back and forth between Graeme Rose’s frenzied Rob and Matthew Wait’s smooth but often exasperated Stu it works really well. The show’s energy and bravura panache keep you hooked. Pause too long and I suspect it would all collapse but it doesn’t pause and it’s played with total conviction and it is a highly enjoyable blast.

Part of the joy of Choke was being in Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front theatre, it’s a kind of warmer retail version of our venue. You buy your ticket, there’s no fuss, you walk in, watch a show close up, buy some reasonably priced drinks, have a nice chat, go home – lovely. Let’s get back there in March for the Shop Front Festival.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Translanguaging

On Friday I learned that Translanguaging is a term for communication that involves slipping between languages both verbal and visual. On Friday in an outhouse of Aston Hall I joined artists from a range of disciplines to learn about a research project investigating Translanguaging conducted by academics from a number of British Universities. Each academic had just 15 minutes to share with us a sample of their research. We watched a video of a butcher at Birmingham indoor market engaging with a customer who wants to buy some pork belly. We studied a short transcript of a consultation in which a Polish(?) speaker is helped through an application for disability benefit. We listened to an audio recording of a football coach run through a warm up routine with some young children and another recording of someone explaining their plans to start up a Polish Cafe in Leeds(?). Finally we conducted a textural analysis of a text message conversation that switches between Chinese and English.

In the afternoon the artists took over with half hour long sessions – from a menu of options I selected to learn about Clare Patey and her Empathy Museum, then to hear more from Mohammed Ali MBE about his Knights of the Raj exhibition.

You may ask what was I doing there, how did I earn my coffee and cold buffet lunch? Officially I was there to see if there were any connections between the research and Stan’s Cafe’s art but I don’t think I earned my lunch. Of course any research exploring the limitations of language, it’s slippery nature is going to connect with or performances, we’re big into being playful with language – throwing ugly phrases like ‘big into’ into the mix Etc. Be Proud of Me was largely about this, tourist phrasebooks supplying us with 50% of the show’s text. We regularly abandon verbal language entirely to let visuals speak.

It was interesting to see how these Linguists/Sociologists work, though I would have liked to have been able to stay ‘after hours’ a bit to interrogate the academics on their ambitions for the overall research. As an ignorant bystander it seemed like a lot of effort was going into recording and theorizing things those of us who live in multi-lingual environments – or who go on holidays to places were we don’t speak the local language – feel we know anyway. Presumably this is exactly the befuddled critique that drives them bananas.

My biggest take home idea? Well the transcripts they have made of the interactions they have recorded would make fun scripts to play with them because of course no one would ever dream of writing (or staging) them.

My take home work? I enjoyed hearing about Caroline Tagg’s PhD thesis from March 2009 about the language of text messages – so I’ve downloaded that to read.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Building Resilience #2

September was Salford and January has just been Bristol. At We The Curious we, a bunch of curious arts organisations, learned more about resilience at the feet of Arts Manager International. Last year we were tutored in the fundraising cycle, this year it was about board development, individual and corporate giving.

First up was Michael Kaiser, using as series of great stories to illustrate his learning points, stories of running a Ballet Company in Cowboy country (Kansas City), brokering a ludicrously high profile series of marketing opportunities for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, traumatic board meetings early in his tenure at The Royal Opera House and getting ambitious at the Kennedy Center.

Following both lunch and Mr. Kaiser was a rough gig for Nicole Kidstone. She was walking us through a cycle of Prospecting, Cultivating, Soliciting and Stewarding donors when her gig got rougher still – delegates started to question the ethics of doing research on people to establish their wealth and propensity for charitable giving before asking them to support their cause. Many people seemed to think that this strategy was about being nice to people in order to get to their money – a counter argument rang out that most organistions in the room were happy enough to take money from the National Lottery that disproportionately comes from less affluent members of society so it was a bit hypocritical of them to start having qualms about asking more affluent members of society to contribute.

Here was were Ms. Kidstone came into her own, giving us a glimpse of her professional skill, the prosaic power-point mode was dropped and she gave a convincing demonstration of how her strategy is to be nice to people because being nice to people is nice; if people donate, continue being nice to them, if they don’t donate – continue being nice to them. It was all easy and genuine charm – we share a love of art and what it brings, we both want to make this happen, we all bring what we wish to the party and together we make it happen. For some this all seemed underhand, for me it made total sense encapsulating our approach (mostly minus the asking people for money part – we’ve not being going heavy on our Scheming Friends effort).

Day 2 was over to the familiar incisive, witty charms of Brett Egan who led on the Corporate Giving strategy and introduced us to the video embedded above.

We wound up proceedings with a Bret/Nicole double act role playing with delegates how a Solicitation conversation might run. In their polished American tones it had all sounded very natural and easy, in our mealy mouthed apologetic British tones less so, but it all comes down to practice.

We’ve got some very big plans brewing over the next five years so we’re going to have to get practicing, with the voices of Arts Manager International ringing in our ears it all seems possible.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Reshuffle Pt 1 – 3

Part 1
Matthew Hancock, appointed on Tuesday, is now the ninth Secretary of State to be custodian of Culture in under eleven years. See how many of these you recognise:

Jeremy Hunt was David Cameron’s first Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, remember how he was lightening quick to offer his department up to the treasury in the first round of ‘austerity’ cuts. Presumably this showed he was made of the right stuff as he soon got whisked off to become Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. In this case ‘soon’ was after 2 years 4 months in the job, which makes him comfortably the longest serving Culture Secretary since Tessa Jowell who served six years under Tony Blair (Gordon Brown ripped through James Purnell, Andy Burnham and Ben Bradshaw in a fraction under three years).

Maria Miller stepped in after Hunt for 1 year 8 months; she had a slightly less onerous job than him as the Olympics were not under her purview. Sajid Javid managed 1 year 1 month. I’m afraid I genuinely don’t recall John Whittingdale at all but I’m sure his 1 year and 2 month reign was a triumph. Midway through her 1 year 6 month tenure Karen Bradley managed the transition into being Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I hope The Right Honourable Matthew Hancock gets his gonks and family photos and coffee machine out on his desk quickly because form suggests that unless he’s decisive he’ll be off before he’s had a chance to choose what glories from the Arts Council collection to hang on his office wall and make himself at home.

The business of government is a peculiar business, indeed it rarely resembles any business I know. How would we look upon a business that appoints someone to a role they are almost entirely unfamiliar with and which they haven’t applied for, leaves them in that post for approximately eighteen months, until they are almost beginning to get a feel for the lie of the land, then ships them out for another job, which they didn’t apply for and know almost nothing about? How would you look upon a business that does this not as an aberration but apparently as a matter of policy? I’d look upon them and think “you’re no threat”.

I hate the term ‘reshuffle’ when applied to Government, somehow it exposes too explicitly the game playing nature of politics, it also suggests a randomness, a limited set of options that might just bring us better results if we play these same cards in some different order.

Part 2
To be honest I’m also not that keen on the term ‘reshuffle’ applied to Stan’s Cafe. Here things are different, the Secretary of State has been in post for over 26 years and in this situation departments can get stale and complacent, inflexible, narrow and set in their thinking; in this situation there’s every chance that everybody would benefit from a change, fresh thinking, new energy and different perspectives. So the question came up at the last meeting of the Stan’s Cafe board “Is James Yarker still the best person to lead Stan’s Cafe?”

The Charity Commission asks this question of all organisations led by their founder who are applying for Charitable Status. It’s a fair question, they need reassuring that the charity is to be run for the benefit of the nominated beneficiaries and not its founder.

In their great wisdom and having considered many options the Board of Directors decided I’m still delivering the goods and so a reshuffle has been avoided, for now.

Of course one of the main reasons a reshuffle isn’t required is that the shuffle was done in 2015 when Roisin joined us as joint CEO. The Secretary of State now has twice the brains and twice the energy, we are hydra-headed and we are a threat!

Part 3
But surely there is one business that everyone acknowledges is more crazy that politics and changes its leadership at an insane rate as a knee jerk response to any temporary downturn in performance or popularity, surely the post of football manager is less stable than being a Secretary of State in Her Majesty’s Government…

Alex McLeish, Chris Hughton, Lee Clark, Gary Rowett, Gianfranco Zola, Harry Redknapp and Steve Cotterill. Birmingham City 7 managers since November 2007.

Martin O’Neill, Gerard Houllier, Alex McLeish, Paul Lambert, Tim Sherwood, Remi Garde, Roberto Di Matteo, Steve Bruce. Aston Villa 8 managers since August 2006.

Tony Mowbray, Roberto Di Matteo, Roy Hodgson, Steve Clarke, Pepe Mel, Alan Irvine, Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew. West Bromwich Albion 8 managers since October 2006.

… all of our local teams have had FEWER managers than we’ve Secretaries of State for Culture in the last decade and WE’RE the ones continually being urged to think more strategically!