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.

Graeme Rose's Blog: Revisiting #StopFoodCrime

On the back of the hugely successful Bullring performances back in May 2016, “The Hand That Feeds” was re-presented in Castle Vale, and then Victoria Square, Birmingham, at the invitation of Councillor Clare Spencer. River Rea productions have created a trailer which documents this latest chapter in the life of the project;

Consumers place a huge amount of trust in the labelling of our food, and in the  supply chains that deliver food to our shops, markets and plates. But how possible is it to know what it is that you’re really eating? The horsemeat scandal exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, and it was only through DNA testing of frozen lasagnas that the true meat source was identified. There have been countless other stories about Food Criminality – such as the tainting of Paprika and other spices,  the ‘cutting’ of baby formula in China, etc., but the idea of eating horsemeat touched a nerve at the heart of local sensibilities. That is why the story broke in the UK in the way that it did back in 2013.

Criminal networks recognise this vulnerability in food systems, and know that huge profits can be made – not just in the ‘dodgy’ low end produce but also high-end exclusive items. There has never been a greater need for adequate policing of our food supply networks. As UK food prices set to rise under the spectre and reality of Brexit, there will be increased temptation to ‘cut’ and dilute quality in the name of profit.

Prof. Chris Elliott, the scientific advisor on this project, was commissioned by the Government to write a report on the impact of the horsemen scandal. His Twitterfeed is an excellent way of keeping up to date with breaking stories which do not necessarily make it through to the mainstream media.

Enjoy your lunch!

 

 


Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Life changing opportunity?

You don’t have to dig very far into the history of Stan’s Cafe to find an acknowledgement of the influence of the artist/director Robert Wilson. A BBC Arena documentary showing clips of Wilson’s early works was an early inspiration and Stefan Brecht’s book about this work ‘Theatre of Visions‘ added to the mystique.

Since then Wilson has worked prolifically in opera, theatre and installations and set up what looks like a remarkable performance center (they say Center we say Centre – let’s call the whole thing…) in upstate New York dedicated to making new art. The Watermill Center has just opened applications for it’s annual Summer Program which, if you are a young artist working in almost any field, I insist you look at carefully as it represents an absolutely extraordinary opportunity. You work for a month in the summer with artists from around the world, there are lectures and workshops and practical opportunities galore – you need to pay for your travel there and back but the residency itself is free and accommodation and food are both provided free as well. The competition to get a place must be very fierce but who knows… someone must get on… in fact +80 someones get on each year, why not you?

What an experience it would be, honestly it would change your life – Watermill Center Summer Program

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant things our theatre-making friends are doing across the region and further afield.

mac birmingham has very recently welcomed a new addition to its Arts Team — the wonderful Jo Carr, who joins mac as Performances Programmer. Jo is no stranger to Birmingham’s arts scene — she’s a familiar face through her work with Untied Artists and as a producer, tour booker and project manager for companies across the region.

We checked in with Jo (sadly, not over a plate of mac’s cheese on toast, still officially the best in the city) to ask her about her new role and what exciting things lie ahead.


Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre which have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Jo: That’s a tough one and there are far more than three that have made a big impression, but I’ll go with…

The Street Of Crocodiles by Theatre de Complicite (as they were called then) at The National Theatre. I went with my Uncle Graham who was Head of Drama at Fern Hill Secondary School and his sixth form drama students. I think I was about 14 and it was all very exciting. We got a coach to London and I fell in love with the Southbank Centre and that whole brutalist concrete cathedral to the Arts. And then I saw this show where people were climbing up walls of books and dancing with chairs. And there didn’t seem to be a beginning, a middle, and end. And then I learnt that this whole production was based on a series of short stories! What? How does that work? I thought this was a play!

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture.

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture. Or doing Shakespeare! Performers could dance, or they could communicate pages of text just by using movement, or they could invent their own vocabulary, or speak foreign languages with no translations or apologies. It completely blew my mind. This would have been about 1986 so we hadn’t got to the point yet where we couldn’t leave the house without falling over another “Physical Theatre Ensemble”. It felt like proper exotic stuff that belonged in Belgium or Czechoslovakia, not right there in front of little ol’ me!

Second is A Woman In Waiting, written and performed by Thembi Mtshali Jones, and directed by Yael Farber. This was an engrossing and beautifully performed one-woman show by a Zulu woman about her childhood and upbringing in South Africa. It explored Thembi’s need to understand her mother’s decision to leave her in the care of an auntie, whilst her mother went to work as a wet-nurse for a white woman in another town – just so that she could earn enough to feed and school her own children.

I was project managing this show in Edinburgh in 2000 and it was really the first time I got to know a performer from another continent. Thembi was so generous with her personal experiences both on and off stage. At the end of each show, members of the audience would be waiting to hug her and to tell her how sorry they were for the devastating impact the actions of the Apartheid authorities had had on her life. We would all just stand around crying and smiling and nodding at each other – before having to do the 15-minute get-out!

Finally, Intimate History by Jake Oldershaw. I can’t not mention this piece of theatre because it was the first time Jake (now my partner) and I worked together collaboratively, and it was also my first experience of one-to-one theatre where a show is designed just for one audience member at a time. This piece did that so sensitively. It was just gorgeous! Jake and Craig Stephens wrote six individual pieces of music theatre inspired by Theodore Zeldin’s book An Intimate History of Humanity. Each mini-show was accompanied by original music from the brilliant Derek Nisbet on grand piano, and placed the solo audience member at the very heart of the story. Themes ranged from love, travel, loneliness and anxiety, and they all featured Jake’s incredible singing.

We did a run at Battersea Arts Centre during a festival there and the audiences loved it and kept coming back and choosing another one of the six shows that were on offer. It went to the British Council Showcase and caused much emotional kerfuffle between both male and female delegates from various corners of the world!

Image: Jake Oldershaw in Untied Artist’s Intimate History.

Gareth: What is your favourite memory of mac?

Jo: I have two…

Firstly, coming here on the very last day before it closed for the refurbishment in 2008. The building was full of people, the sun was shining, Talking Birds were performing The Whale outside, and I had only recently moved to Birmingham from London. I felt very much a part of a friendly, vibrant arts community here.

Secondly, coming back here as a mum with a small child and feeling that it was a safe, bright, welcoming place that would not judge me in my snot-smeared, baggy jumper, baggy-eyed state. There was always something on at the flicks, or in a theatre, foyer or gallery that we could be part of, have a conversation about, and be saved from the many black holes of a 15 hour day trying to educate/entertain/feed a child!

[I plan on] championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Gareth: What are some of the elements of your vision for the performing arts programme at mac birmingham over the next three years, and how would you like to use the different performance spaces available?

Jo: OK, well…

Early years and children’s work. Developing and diversifying the offer we have and making certain that families in the region think of mac first when they are looking for a theatre or arts experience for the young people in their care.

Championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Funking up the music programme a little. And I don’t just mean by booking funk bands – I mean broadening the offer and possibly working with other music promoters in Birmingham to do that carefully.

Looking at how we can use the park and outdoor spaces more creatively in our programme.

Thinking more about how older audiences are reflected and catered for in the work that we present and collaborate on.

Trying to work out how we can offer longer runs or regular slots to some companies where the work has that potential.

And finally, to try really hard not to eat the cheese on toast here more than once every two months!

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Jo: It’s really important, which is why it’s part of my plans here. We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology. The East Meets West Symposium was a great idea by the way – you must do it again!

Gareth: What advice would you give somebody who wanted you to programme their work at mac?

Jo: OK… Don’t ring me up with a 15 minute spiel about your last / current piece of work that I can’t actually go and see anywhere. Do introduce yourself and your work in a short email and follow that up with a well considered email that shows that you know something about the venue, spaces, programme, and audiences here at mac. Include a one-page summary of the company / show, including who the creatives are, what they do, what they’ve already done and what your ethos is, and tell me a bit about what you’re trying to achieve with this one piece of work that you have to get on somehow. Send me images, short promos or films of the piece, and send me dates of where I can see the show or the work that you have on now. Also send me details of when you want to tour it. Don’t be vague, be bold!

We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you like to bring to mac?

Jo: Oooh, it wouldn’t be just one…

Kate Bush, Nick Cave, David Byrne, Robert Lepage. Nina – Josette Bushell Mingo’s exploration of Nina Simone’s career and how it impacted on her own life. A premiere of a new Mike Leigh play. The Specials. Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.

I would get James Brown’s best backing band of all time back together and book them with a different vocalist each night. For a week!

I’d also commission a new piece of work for children and programme it here for a month and then send it on a national tour. Lastly I’d have a Birmingham version of Meltdown curated by and featuring a host of brilliant Midlands artists and performers spilling out into the park and our outdoor theatre.

Gareth: As well as being a Programmer, you’ve also worked as a Producer (mainly for the wonderful Untied Artists.) How do you think your independent producing experience will influence your venue programming work?

Jo: Prior to being an independent producer and one half of Untied Artists, I was Creative Producer for an NPO company for 6 years, and before that was a tour booker / project manager for UK Arts International working with children’s theatre, performance artists, dancers, mid-scale theatre and everything else in between. So I suppose I could say I have a very broad understanding of what it takes to try and exist and develop and get booked as an artist or company – and it’s bloody hard! I also like to think I have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t for a venue, and why. And finally I’d like to think I can say, “No thank you, that’s not for us” in a way that’s clear but not too brutal.

Gareth: Who has had the biggest influence on your career to date, and why?

Jo: All the artists I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with.

Gareth: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the independent performing arts sector at the moment, and how do you think we can overcome it?

Jo: Hmmm… Where does one start?

Funding and a lack of understanding of how a little money can go a really long way.

TV – there’s soooo much of it.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential.

And possibly most importantly the fact that we’ve been drip-fed a dangerously right-wing notion of what is normal and what is “good” and “bad” for us as a society by the media and the government for so long.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential; work that doesn’t have a story, engaging enough performances or a driving narrative at its heart; work that isn’t simply breath-taking enough in its own right to leave us astounded and / or delighted. Having said that I also like a good laugh. Honest!

Image: Pin And Needles’ production of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas.

Gareth: Amid the wealth of Christmas shows that Birmingham has to offer, mac is establishing itself as the venue in the city that caters for early years audiences and their families. Tell us about what we can look forward to at mac this Christmas.

Jo: From 30th November until 30th December, we present our main house show: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Merry Bloomin’ Christmas! – in his own words.

Father Christmas is a Pins and Needles and Lyric Hammersmith co-production that is beautifully performed by an ensemble made up of an actor, puppeteer and musician. The design is exquisite and very true to the original book, and the narrative is accompanied by a live Foley soundtrack — which in itself is great fun to watch.

Tickets for the show are selling fast so hurry up and get yours quick! Oh, and we’re also doing pyjama galas where you can come in your pjs for the 6 o’clock shows, have milk and cookies while you watch it, and then head home all ready to be tucked up for a cosy night’s sleep. Brilliant! [For more information about Father Christmas, visit mac’s website]

Besides those two corkers we also have Barbara Nice’s Christmas Cracker, an absolute must for one of the best nights out during the festive season — even the most humbuggy amongst you will enjoy it. It usually involves messy mince pie eating races, dancing in the aisles with strangers, a mass competition between two halves of the audience, and the best/worst raffle prizes known to humanity.

For a musical treat you can enjoy The Albion Band’s annual Christmas Show — fine folk indeed! And in the cinema we will have the much-anticipated arrival (in my house at least) of everybody’s favourite old brown bear… Paddington 2.

Gareth: We passionately believe that mac’s cheese on toast should be officially recognised as the best in the city. Are you as much of a fan as we are? Or is there something else on the menu you are most drawn to?

Jo: Please refer to my aforementioned comment relating to this culinary dilemma.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr appeared first on Little Earthquake.

MidlandsImprov.com: GIG GUIDE: DECEMBER 2017

Fat Penguin Santa

12 shows this month in Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry & Northampton.

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BIRMINGHAM

SAT 2ND – THE CRESCENT

Jumprov: Special Christmas show from the UK’s first diverse improv theatre company.

https://jumprov.com/

WEDS 13TH – THE VICTORIA

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

https://www.facebook.com/thekneejerksUK/

THURS 14TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH

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

https://www.facebook.com/FatPenguinImprovComedy

MON 18TH – BLUE ORANGE THEATRE

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

https://www.facebook.com/BoxofFrogsImpro/

THURS 21ST – PATRICK KAVANAGH

Fat Penguin Improv:  Special Christmas show where Santa and the house team Bunkum Factory bring audience wishes to life.  

https://www.facebook.com/FatPenguinImprovComedy

THURS 28TH – PATRICK KAVANAGH

Fat Penguin Improv:  Comedy sketches based on a true story, as told by a special mystery guest.  

https://www.facebook.com/FatPenguinImprovComedy

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NOTTINGHAM

THURS 14TH – THE MALT CROSS

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.

https://www.facebook.com/missimp.co.uk

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LEICESTER

MON 18TH – UPSTAIRS AT THE WESTERN – The Same Faces

The Same Faces:Uncle Armando” show where the group perform scenes inspired by comedian Stella Graham.

https://www.facebook.com/TheSameFaces/

 

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COVENTRY

THURS 7TH – WARWICK UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

The Improv Musical/WITS: A one hour musical receives it’s only performance, followed by an improv battle royale with 12 performers competing against each other.  Raising money for Care 4 Calais.

https://www.facebook.com/theimprovmusical/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/warwickimprov/

FRI 8TH – ESQUIRES COFFEE HOUSE

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

https://www.facebook.com/wowimprocomedy/

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NORTHAMPTON

SAT 30TH – THE BLACK PRINCE 

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

https://www.facebook.com/TheSameFaces/

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Have I missed a show?  Get in touch and let me know.

facebook.com/midlandsimprov/                                    @MidlandsImprov


MidlandsImprov.com: There’s more to improv than “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

WhoseLineIsItAnyway

Thousands of people would be happier and have more joy in their lives if they really believed what I’m about to say:

There’s more to improv than “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Don’t get me wrong.  “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” was great.  It ran for a decade on Channel 4.  It was funny.  It was clever.  People still remember it despite it finishing nearly 20 years ago.

Here’s what I remember.  Clive Anderson acting as a gameshow host.  Greg Proops pretending 6 foot long chili peppers were earrings, or babies, or whatever.  Ryan Stiles being a superhero with an unusual power, or hosting a party where Tony Slattery is acting like an elephant.

Scenes were short and funny.  Crazy and disposable.

Yet the improv I’ve seen in real life has been much more than that.

I’ve seen scenes ranging from five seconds to five minutes.  I’ve laughed more at what the characters have done than the clever words they’ve said.  I’ve watched sad, quiet realistic moments and expertly crafted horror and musicals.  I’ve enjoyed watching the journey of a character and seeing them get their hearts desire.

More than that, I’ve seen moments where the performers have had glorious triumphs and complete failures.  Both extremes lead to joy when there is a mood that celebrates what is happening right here, right now.  And I’ve had countless hilarious you-had-to-be-there moments, where there’s so much going on that trying to explain the joke is pointless.

There’s a hundred different flavours of improv out there.  “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” was just one of them.  Treat yourself to another.


Fierce Festival: *Club Fierce Klaxon* Tomorrow night with SHOUT Festival!

There’s nothing we love more than an impromptu party and we’re thrilled to be throwing one tomorrow night for SHOUT Festival at AE Harris.

Get down to see Rachel Clerke and the Great White Male’s fab gig/show Cuncrete, then stick around afterwards for a very handsome all-female line up of DJs and performances.

We’re delighted that Lucy Hutson will be bringing her performance ‘Grindr vs The Women’s Institute’ to Birmingham for the first time and winner of the UK’s premiere Drag King competition ‘Man Up’ Manly Stanley (pictured) will really get the party started. The perfect soundtrack will be provided by Cassie-Philomena Smyth and it’s all included in the cost of a Cuncrete ticket. Show is at 8pm, party from 9pm. DON’T MISS IT.

Saturday 18th November, AE Harris. Get your tickets here.

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Time In Time Critical

Traditionally theatre is a place set apart from the tyranny of time. Once ‘the curtain goes up’ at the advertised time and ‘latecomers’ have been admitted or repulsed, chronological time is banished, we are free to be suspended out of time, removed to another era, shuttled backwards and forwards through the ages. In the theatre we are released from temporal concerns; except of course we’re not.

The human bladder is resistant to theatre’s temporal slight of hand, the bum cheeks ditto. Last trains, last buses, last orders and expiring parking meters all remain resolutely rooted in a steadily marching ‘here and now’, dragging us back to glance at our ticking watches in the auditorium’s gloom. Even without these humdrum nagging externalities time is still free to torment us in the theatre; surely genuine prisoners can be no more acutely confronted by time’s implacability than the inmates of a dull theatre show.

In Time Critical we acknowledge all these tensions and do away with furtive glances at watches by placing time on stage. After my brief introduction the show runs for a precise duration, each of two performers is presented with their own allotted time measured out on the competing sides of a chess clock. Throughout the show one or other side of the clock is counting down to zero depending on whose side of the story is being cold. When a performer runs out of time they stop whether their script is completed or not.

The show is designed to allow barely enough time to zip through the material. If the performers lose their way, grow too expansive in their delivery or relax too fully into the audience’s warmth then they don’t make it to the end of their script. In Time Critical, as the title suggests, the tyranny of time is not banished from the theatre but moved centre stage.

Last week we were asked about Time’s position in the show during a post-show discussion. We we re-rehearsed these thoughts on the relation between Real Time and Theatre Time. We spoke about the show modelling the lived experience of a long life in which time appears to accelerate with age, years flashing by with ever increasing speed as your life extends. We spoke about our interest in formal constraints, the restrictions we place upon ourselves and our shows as a source of creative tension forcing us towards invention and fresh thinking. We spoke about this Theatre as Sport racing to an unpredictable conclusion. We spoke about many things, all of them valid, but what we didn’t speak about, because we forgot about it at the time, was Time Critical’s engagement with the existential nature of time.

The show’s original rationale was to celebrate our 25th Anniversary by spending 25 minutes addressing World Events from the last 25 years and 25 minutes addressing Stan’s Cafe events from the last 25 years. With the show’s revival and reworking this year we added a minute on for each side. This huge restriction clearly forced us to made radical choices about what to include in each narrative and how much time to allocate to each event. These choices reflect our choices in life. We each have a limited lifespan of indeterminate duration, we must choose how to allocate this time. We have to prioritise; we have to decide what is a ‘waste of time’ and what is an essential use of time.

In the show Craig challenges Amy/Rochi* about her decision to spend time performing the Defence’s opening statement from the OJ Simpson trial when “there’s a lot [of World Events] to get through”. Such judgements are personal, hence Amy/Rochi’s reply “It’s my time, I’m doing it”.

Of course for many OJ Simpson’s trial was a World Event but for OJ Simpson it was also a personal event and Amy/Rochi’s story is an event in the world and so a World Event, just one that is not the subject to much publicity that OJ Simpson’s story – though it is now the partial subject of a theatre show.

In the tit-for-tat battle that niggles away through Time Critical Amy/Rochi launches her own attack and questions Craig about his priorities:

R/A: Why are you going to the Isle of Wight?
C: To visit my girlfriend’s parents.
R/A: Girlfriend?
C: Yes, Charlotte Goodwin.
R/A: Why’ve you not mentioned her before?
C: We’ve only just met.
R/A: And she wasn’t worth mentioning!
C: I didn’t say that, look I’ve not got time for this.

Sometimes we don’t recognise the importance of certain moments when they happen and sometimes we get caught up in things that are unimportant at the expense of that which is of value.

Immediately after Amy/Rochi has related the appalling horror of the three day Dubrovka Theatre siege, Craig describes Stan’s Cafe spending two days pretending to be astronauts on a fake station on the Wolverhampton-Birmingham Metro Line. Amy/Rochi’s blunt question is intended to carry the weight of conscience: “Why?” Why do we spend our precious time doing this when there are so many other more serious things going on in the world? Stumped for a more articulate response Craig’s answer is despairing, disarming or defiant: “Art”.

So why do we believe in art enough to spend such time on it? In the show we spend lots of Craig’s time re-enacting moment from old Stan’s Cafe shows, why do we value it enough to allocate it this time? Because it helps us process the bombs and the famines, the inventions and disasters, the squabbling and financial exploitations; it is an escape and a reward, it is an alternative world and our own world remade, it is an endeavour to make this place better, this time better. This is why we give theatre the time.

So if the questioner from that Q&A is reading this here is your answer: “time is at the heart of Time Critical in the same way it is at the heart of our lives”.

* Rochi Rampal was part of the original devising team and performed the 50 minute version in 2016. Amy Taylor stepped into the revival and reworking of the show and performed the 52 minute version in 2017.

This post also appears as an essay in the Helpful Things section of this website.