Author Archives: Stan's Cafe Theatre Company

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!

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Job Opportunity Project Manager

It’s almost a secret but for nearly a year we’ve been running twin after-school Drama Clubs in East Birmingham, one in Saltley Academy and one in Washwood Heath Academy. Last summer they came together to perform Us and Them by David Campton.

This year Drama Club will be devising its own original production, plus there will be a stand-alone Easter Holiday Drama Week also in East Birmingham. We are looking for an experienced and enthusiastic freelance Project Manager to logistically deliver the twin Drama Club production and the Easter holiday drama week.

Drama Club is part of a wider audience development project Stan’s Cafe is undertaking in Washwood Heath and offers the opportunity to be part of a creative and inspirational project for young people in the area.

Find out more and download the job description here. Applications close on Monday 22nd January 5pm and interviews will be held on Wednesday 31st January for shortlisted candidates.

Please submit a CV, plus a completed equal opportunities monitoring form and covering letter explaining why you’re suitable for the role to

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Resolute

Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film The Sacrifice opens with its main character planting a thin barren tree, he is helped by a small mute child to whom he tells a story of a monk who does the same thing and asks his novice to water the tree every day until it comes to life. After three years of daily watering with no apparent reward, suddenly the novice discovers the tree covered in blossom. Alexander goes on to propose that doing the same thing at the same time every day, no matter what that action is, must change the world in some way. The small mute child is seen through the course of the film lugging a bucket of water to their tree.

This discipline of doing something every day of the year has been much on my mind lately. I’m a big fan of resolutions – New Year and other kinds. I don’t hold to the cynical defeatist stance that resolutions are always broken so making them is pointless. It’s not true all resolutions are broken and those that are must remain held for some time and are worth the resolve for the time that they are led. I believe in redemption and new starts.

Last year my resolutions were to run more and read more, both were achieved but neither was an ‘every day’ resolution.

The Godfather of ‘doing something every day’ is Tehching Hsieh, whose legendary One Year Performances I find inspirational for life, work and the combination of the two.

This year I am not competing with Tehching Hsieh but choosing three very small ‘every day’ resolutions. Last year’s resolutions are now life-style habits so they no longer count as resolutions. A more ad hoc resolution will be to re-watch all seven canonical Andrei Tarkovsky films – anyone who wants to join me in this is very welcome it will change the world in some way.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Doctor compose yourself


When Birmingham Conservatoire approached us about hosting a PhD studentship we considered some obvious options, retrospective surveys, philosophical reflections, contextual and comparative studies but ultimately composers want to compose and we want to both avoid the obvious and collaborate on making exciting new art. So a new plan has been hatched.

We are collaborating with Birmingham City University offering a PhD studentship to spend an extended period of up to three years as Composer in Residence at Stan’s Cafe. The plan is for this artist to become part of the team exploring how they can ‘add value’ in unexpected new ways. This figure won’t replace our existing musical collaborators composing music for shows, but prompt new interventions in unexpected corners of the company, to work with us innovating and exploring. It’s open ended and we’re very exited about the possibilities, we hope some exciting and talented composers apply.

Here’s where the official details and application are.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: New Door


One of the great things about being a theatre occupying factory space is that you can save masses of money by leaving things pretty bleak and claiming this bleakness as ‘post-industrial chic’. As those of you who have visited us will know we’ve been enthusiastically living ‘post-industrial chic’ for years and this approach has suited us well, but recently a problem has emerged.

We rent our space from A E Harris and Co (Birmingham) Ltd & Chapman Driver Seating, they make stuff out of metal (including seats for drivers). As a consequence of their making stuff out of metal their aesthetic is less ‘post-industrial’ and more ‘current-industrial’, which means they’ve recently had all their bits of the factory painted with a natty blue and white theme. Now the main doors to our venue no longer look chic they look chit.

So the time came to get the doors painted and after Craig had stripped off the old paintwork, primed the wood and reinforced the insides we put the call out for artists who would decorate the door for us.

As a company that normally receives commissions it was a treat to be able to offer a commission to other people and we were really delighted and grateful to receive ‘over fifty’ submissions (52 – thank you all). This ushered in the nightmare that comes of being a commissioner, we had to reject 51 applicants. Generally speaking the pitches fell into three board categories: graphic design-ish, graffiti-ish and painting-ish. We corralled our favourites in each category, we decided which categories we were most interested in commissioning from, we got to a shortlist of 3, met these artist, talked through their ideas and despite loving loads of the 52 possibilities we were all very happy with our final choice.

Louise Byng and Laurie Ramsell have been sheltering under a ratty tarpaulin in the pissing rain transferring their design from A4 to door size. It’s looking really good already as I write this with three days to go before the unveiling.

We liked the boldness and wit of their design, which references that doors are the entrance to a theatre space in playful way. They use the structure of the door in their design and allow for the fact that often half the door is propped open.

When we set out on this process I couldn’t have imagined that we would have ended up with anything like this, but now this is it it feels right, which must be one of the joys of commissioning art.

We’d like to thank Louise and Laurie for their generosity of spirit, skill and enthusiasm. We wish them huge success in their careers; we hope that they get picked up by influential agents; that their work comes to be hung in prestigious galleries around the world, that it becomes sought after and sold for astronomical sums (particularly the earlier ‘Paint on industrial door’ works).

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: The Camp – research


While noble volunteers were generously donating their labour scrubbing 4000 years of dirt from @AE Harris I was fulfilling the duty of anyone called James by driving a car full of American visitors around the English countryside. Fortunately our travels took us to Stonehenge and through Avebury which allowed my guilty conscience to excuse my absence from cleaning duties – suddenly I was on a research trip.

Stonehenge has been transformed by its new visitor centre, the rocks remain the same but their place within a landscape of barrows and other prehistoric architecture is suddenly made clear in a way it never was before. Not having a road pass 5m from the monument has helped the vibe of the site and that vibe will crank right up if the nearby A303 ever does get put in a tunnel.

For our 48 hour performance The Camp we aren’t pretending to be from pre-history but it does involve living in an Iron Age fort so hanging out at Stonehenge and cruising through Avebury was another welcome opportunity to mull over the unknowable nature of the deep past.

On a more practical level, this morning we had a production meeting with Densie and Kay who are collaborating on costumes and Yinka who is lashing together ideas for a structure. We spent a bit of time in the meeting treading water, talking around possibilities not making much progress, more time passed and were in danger of merely kicking all our problems down the road in the vain hope that when we next meet up with them they will have solved themselves. Then the breakthrough came and as is often the case it came in the recognition that we needed to change how we were working on the project. Rather than refining designs on paper and screen we needed to gather materials together and improvise, working things out by eye and intuition in the physical world. This approach applied across to costume and structure with shared materials being used where possible should help give the piece an aesthetic coherence. Time will tell.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Rock Hard

There’s a gem of a museum embedded in Birmingham University and now this fact has been acknowledged nationally. The Lapworth Museum of Geology has just been shortlisted for the Art Fund Museum of the Year award. Roisin and I went there this afternoon to learn about what all the fuss is about and it turns out the fuss is about a beautifully designed, beautifully laid out museum full of amazing objects.

It’s geology so there are precious stones and rocks that are stunning, there are clever features about earthquakes and volcanoes. The place manages to feel clean, fresh and modern whilst retaining a sense of academia and the tradition of the Victorian collector. It’s a serious museum but there are elements of wit, especially in a playful floor level ‘secret museum’ for youngsters not tall enough to see in the glass boxes. You are welcomed by a dirty great dinosaur skeleton but at the back you can find a fossilized fly in a case next to a fossilized ant.

There was much to learn but my key take-home knowledge today was Mohs’ scale of hardness, which I’m going to test on Broad Street tomorrow night. Basically the rule runs if I can scratch you and you can’t hurt me then I”m harder than you – gettit?

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Very Difficult Maths


With a busy office full of people I often plug myself into some music and headphones in order not to distract or be distracted by those around me. However today I hadn’t got to that point when I heard Lucy ask our current university placement Laura to help her with a problem…

“I want to drive around a number of schools to drop off leaflets and I wonder if you could just work out for me the quickest route to go between the schools?” Laura, great enthusiastic placement that she is, said “yes of course”. Lucy then added “It’s a problem I’ve tried to work out in the past but never really found a good solution”. She needn’t have been embarrassed about not having found a good solution, she had inadvertently stumbled upon one of the more famously complex problems in mathematics. The problem for Laura is that factorials quickly get involved. Each new school added to the list increases the number of possible routes between schools exponentially. Very quickly the problem becomes so complex that if Laura could program a computer to check all the possible solutions that computer could still be working on a solution not just when she’s gone to the kitchen an made us all a cup of tea using the world’s lowest powered kettle, but when the universe has grown tired of waiting and put out the lights. In fact if Laura can come across a mathematical method for resolving if this class of problem will ever be solvable in a ‘reasonable’ length of time then she could claim a $1,000,000 prize from the Clay Mathematical Institute. How do I know all this? I have just listened to a podcast all about P vs NP the conundrum of these problems on which a lot, including all current internet security hangs (I love In Our Time).

When I shared this information with my work colleagues oh how we laughed. Then I plugged into Thomas Tallis

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Artist/Designer Call Out


We are looking for an Artist/Designer to design and create an image for the main entrance doors to Stan’s Cafe’s performance space @AE Harris. At the moment the doors are looking rather tired and battered and we want to transform them into a distinctive and welcoming entrance.

You can download an ARTIST BRIEF which gives more details and contains images and dimensions.

To apply please send your full colour design in a digital or scanned format along with a brief CV or biog. We’d be grateful if you could also download and complete the Equal Opportunities Monitoring Form

Please submit to Laura Killeen, General Manager, at by 10am on Monday 15 May. You can also contact Laura if you have any further questions.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: The joy of index

worries from Oli Clark on Vimeo.

I love lists. I don’t love them in the classic interview answer way: “I’m a very organized person, I love making lists”; I love them in the cliched contemporary theatre director way: “I love reading lists”.

Lists are a simple way of breaking away from the tyranny of ‘the story’ because they don’t share the rules of a story. They have beginnings, middles and ends only in so far as there is always the first entry, the last entry and some in the middle.

Lots of people share my joy of lists; a few weeks ago I attended a performance which was an hour long list of Worries written by Lucy Harvey and read by Michael Wolters and Paul Norman. I enjoyed the performance very much up to a point and beyond that point I enjoyed considering why I’d stopped enjoying it so much and that led me to consider the challenges of sustaining a really good list.

Long standing friend of Stan and counter of sneezes Peter Fletcher is approaching the tenth anniversary of his legendary list Sneeze Count. His approach is for an almost arbitrary event – a sneeze – to trigger a miniature fragment of autobiographical writing. It’s a great list.

Of course I tend to enjoy most the purity of the found list, such as the list of all the Top 40 hits that start with the word Love, which provides the text for our radio piece Love List. A few days ago I was sent a very pleasing list painstakingly put together by the excellent Dr. Mark Crossley, it is the index for our forthcoming book Devising Theatre with Stan’s Cafe. I enjoyed reading it so much I thought I’d share one of my favourite sections with you. This may be in breach of copyright but we’ll risk it.

tasks / task-based, 15, 24, 28, 55, 61, 64-69, 90, 102-103, 110, 113, 118, 142, 160, 170, 174-176, 179, 185, 189, 213, 224, 230-231
Tarkovsky, Andrei, 112, 141, 143-144, 236
tea, 62-63, 73, 149,
tension, 41, 52-54, 59, 84, 100, 130, 172, 182, 185, 227-228
Terry and June, 66
Text, xv, 28, 95-120, 163, 200, 226, 231, 234