Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Beth Shouler

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.

Beth Shouler is Nottingham Playhouse’s recently appointed Artist Development Co-ordinator and she’ll be heading up Ampilfy, the Playhouse’s new programme of work which reimagines the resources and opportunities being made available to local theatre-makers.

We checked in with Beth to ask about what she and the Playhouse have in the pipeline, to find out how her background as a maker will influence what she plans to do in her new post, and to reflect on the collapse of Nottingham’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

You can find out more about Nottingham Playhouse’s Amplify here.

Gareth: Congratulations on being appointed as Artist Development Co-Ordinator at Nottingham Playhouse, where you’ll be leading Amplify, the venue’s new artist development scheme! Can you tell us a bit more about the scheme and the ways in which local artists can get involved?

Beth: Thank you! It’s a really exciting time at Nottingham Playhouse as we begin a fresh chapter under the new artistic leadership of Adam Penford. Our region is full of talented artists and we want to help them flourish.

The scheme is in its early days but there are various things in the diary. There are Plug Ins which are opportunities to meet Adam Penford (Artistic Director) and Fiona Buffini (Associate Director) before a show. There are scratch nights to try out new work, ideas submission windows (there’s one currently open at the moment) where you can submit a script or proposal for a show, and surgeries around the business side of things. There are all sorts of plans on the horizon and it’s important to us that what we offer is genuinely helpful and not tokenistic. So the programme will evolve as we go along and find out what is needed to invest in local producers, designers, directors, theatre-makers, performers and writers.

To join, have a look at the information of our website which tells you what to do if you’re an individual artist or a company. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll also get access to discounted tickets and 25% off food and drink in the Playhouse Bar and Kitchen. Basically, all I need is a current CV and a brief letter telling me about yourself.

I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring in to Amplify to run a workshop?

Beth: If I had an unlimited budget, there are various artists I’d love to bring here, partly in recognition of the broad range of artists in the region. Sally Cookson would be high on my list as a director and deviser, someone whose career is extraordinary and who came up through the regions. I’d love Kully Thiarai to do some training on visionary leadership and making things happen – she’s so inspiring. When I did the Royal Court Writers Course, Chloe Lamford came to talk about her role and completely shifted the way I think about design. I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

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

Beth: I remember watching A Clockwork Orange by Northern Stage at Derby Playhouse in the late nineties when I was in sixth form. I’d never seen any physical theatre or something with such a strong aesthetic, so that was a defining moment when I knew I wanted to work in theatre professionally. It was visceral and got under my skin and made me feel things. Probably the first moment I felt politically engaged. I remember not sleeping afterwards as my brain pondered so many big questions about the world.

De La Guarda at the Roundhouse changed the way I thought about narrative and the audience experience. Who knew that being drenched with water in January would be such a thrilling, nonsensical and ultimately amazing experience? The sense of theatre being a party the audience was invited to has stayed with me. I love the way that theatre brings a cross-section of people together in a shared memory. I get frustrated when the experience is elitist or requires insider knowledge or is just dull. Dullness will be the death of theatre.

Boy by Leo Butler is one of my favourite plays of all time. I’ve worked with a lot of young people over the years and this is one of the most sophisticated and subtle expressions of youth. Throughout my career, I’ve moved increasingly towards working with writers and developing voices and I’ve always had a real passion for ensemble plays with large casts. This exemplifies all that is good about writing in theatre. Sacha Wares’ production at the Almeida was stunning. I suppose this also illustrates my passion for stories about young people that don’t just perpetuate lazy stereotypes.

Gareth: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing independent artists and companies at the moment — both in the Midlands, and in general? How would you like to see the sector develop over the next ten years?

Beth: Theatre is expensive to make and the legacy of austerity is that everyone — from organisations to audiences — is strapped for cash. The other real problem is how the arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice. We need to find ways to get rid of invisible barriers and not let privilege be the deciding factor in who gets to make theatre.

The arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice.

We’re going to have to get creative about building interesting partnerships and opportunities that think outside traditional structures. The growth of digital technology offers new ways to engage and interact with audiences and potentially offers new ways of working that we’ve not thought of before.

As the world increasingly becomes less personal, with fewer opportunities for people to come together in a space to tell stories, there is something incredibly profound about the theatre experience that no other art form quite replicates. That USP is something we can really promote. I grew up in a family where hospitality was a key component of our values and, as people are increasingly hungry for human connection in actual time and space, theatre can grow community in a new way where hospitality and relationships are key, rather than something that is transactional. It’s about the experience.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. What challenges do venues in particular face in offering support to local artists?

Beth: There are general challenges we all face such as limited funding and a risk-averse climate. Specifically at the Playhouse we have a 90-seater studio and then a 750-seater main house so finding opportunities for artists who are ready to make work for a space that is bigger than a studio but aren’t quite ready for a 750-seater is something I’m aware of. Sometimes the decisions a venue makes can seem baffling to those outside, so trying to make processes and decisions that affect freelancers clear and manage expectations are priorities for me. The other side is I get to advocate for freelancers in our building and to other organisations which is great.

Gareth: A lot of your work to date has been around developing new writing. Which writers should we look out for who you think are currently producing the most interesting new writing, and what is it about their work that excites you?

Beth: Mufaro Mukabika and Jane Upton are two local writers whose work is incredible. Both just won major awards and I am so proud as I’ve known them since they were starting out and watching the way they’ve developed their process has been fascinating. Their stories make me feel things. I respond to some writers quite cerebrally but their work always punches me in the gut. I’m looking forward to reading more scripts and championing new talent from this region. I’m bored of UK culture being defined by the North / South divide. There’s a distinctive Midlands voice to be heard.

Gareth: You grew up in Nottingham and have been visiting the Playhouse since you were a child. Tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve had there.

Beth: The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’. My first assistant directing job was on A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and I specifically remember this feeling of butterflies and excitement the day we started tech and I was sat in the empty auditorium as it all came together, feeling like I belonged.

Gareth: Brexit has meant that Nottingham’s bid to be the 2023 European Capital of Culture has been stopped in its tracks. What would being Capital of Culture have meant for Nottingham — and what would it have meant to you, personally?

Beth: Oh, it’s just frustrating and sad. It would have been an amazing opportunity for Nottingham. There’s so much potential in this city. It’s vibrant and exciting and full of creatives plotting and doing amazing things.

The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’.

Gareth: Throughout your career, you’ve worked a lot with youth groups and children, as well as with professional artists. Are there any ways in which your work with one group has influenced your work with the other group, and vice versa?

Beth: In a practical way, it started out as a way for me to make theatre and climb the ladder in a city where very few directing opportunities existed. I found out very quickly that I really love working with young people. There’s a fearlessness in the creative process I find inspiring. They assume you know what you’re doing and embrace risk with real enthusiasm – I’ve flooded rehearsal rooms, created food fights on stage, worked in the dark, set up all sorts of mess and chaos and they’ve brilliantly just gone with it. They’ve shaped me as much as I’ve shaped them.

Increasingly, there are a number of artists like myself who make professional work with young people and are blurring the boundaries of what can be made. This has allowed me to work on a much bigger scale earlier in my career and create a different kind of experience for the audience. I remember watching the first performance of Girls Like That by Evan Placey down at Theatre Royal Plymouth and the energy of the 20 in the cast was something else. It made the hairs on your neck stand up. They had 5 performances to get across this story that really mattered to them and they went for it. However, there are limitations in terms of content, rehearsal time and ability when working with younger actors.

Working with professional actors allows you to find real depth in the performance and you can really riff off the other creative expertise in the room in a totally different way – it isn’t all on you to hold it together. I also get to be a director and not have to do at least 3 other roles in the room alongside. And usually you don’t have to ask people to give the flirting a rest mid-rehearsal! Professional actors don’t leave learning their lines to the last minute either. I worked on one really physical show and one of the actors turned up on Day One with their lines basically learnt so we had real freedom to find the physical shape of that show and that was a real treat. You have the luxury of time to explore the possibilities of the play and to push everything. Actors come back in each day having worked on things at home so you’re constantly moving forward and striving for brilliance. You also get to stay in the world of the play for an extended period of time which changes your relationship with it and gives it focus.

It’s important for me to work on both. One encourages me to be risky and playful, the other pushes me for artistic excellence and depth.

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?

Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you.

Beth: Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you. Take initiative (especially if you are a woman, as often we apologise for our existence). Buildings want to know you are a leader and can be trusted. I am part of collectives in Plymouth and Nottingham where we began to do interesting things and the buildings came on board to support us because we showed we were bold, resourceful and competent with what we had.

Don’t bitch about anyone – this industry is tiny, your paths will cross. Don’t be entitled but at the same time don’t be afraid to ask for help: artists are really generous towards each other.

I wish women were less self-deprecating. I get far more men emailing me about their work or things they need. Women are too scared of getting it wrong or making some sort of faux pas. Take unnecessary apologies and the word ‘just’ out of your emails.

Do something each week that is nothing to do with theatre – the bubble is not always helpful.

Sorry that was more than one!

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

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Maison Foo

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: Maison Foo’s Memoirs Of A Biscuit Tin

Maison Foo is a madhouse of mischievous theatre-making, led by co-Artistic Directors Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe, who draw on puppetry, clowning and physical theatre to create work which is surreal, soulful, satirical and sentimental.

We caught up with Bethany to find out more about the Derby theatre scene, balancing parenting with producing, and a heads-up on A Thing Mislaid which they’ll be touring in Autumn 2018.

You can find out more about Maison Foo here:


Phil: How would you describe your work for somebody experiencing it for the first time?

Bethany: Visual Theatre… a bit clowny, a bit puppety/objecty… often absurd with a social conscience… usually mischievous with a penchant for tickling audiences’ imaginations.

Phil: You spoke on our Organisational Development panel at the East Meets West Symposium last year, and a phrase you used really stuck with us: “Theatre can be the break that makes a difference”. Can you tell us a bit about this idea and how important it is to you as both a maker and audience member?

Bethany: That is a quote from a nurse at Derby Hospital, who stopped for a theatrical brew outside the hospital entrance at Tea Bar, our street theatre pop up cafe. She said the unexpected encounter “was the break that made a difference and she would go back to work now refreshed”. It is this kind of reaction that drives a lot of our participatory and street theatre work.

Through this work, we often look at how we can make people feel more valued, feel like they matter, gift them a moment of comic surreal escapism. It’s such rewarding work when you, as an artist, can actually help someone’s wellbeing – refresh someone, lift their spirits and make their day through a totally unexpected creative encounter.

Through our work, we often look at how we can make people feel more valued, feel like they matter, gift them a moment of comic surreal escapism.

I think this ‘making people feel they matter’ is a thread throughout all our work on some level. Even when audiences engage with us in more traditional settings like studio theatre spaces, we hope they are able to escape with us into another world, to take a break to disconnect from day-to-day life, and reconnect with what it is to be human. We hope that from that break, people leave refreshed or with a slightly different perspective on the world.

Phil: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Bethany: Hmmm… lots of things have an impact on me as a theatre maker, and more often than not it’s not theatre! It could be a documentary, or music, or a piece of art, or the philosophy behind an artist’s work that inspires me. For example, Dali and Surrealism — not necessarily the paintings, but the creative movement and thinking behind Surrealism. The absurdity of placing objects in a totally different place to where you would normally see them and what that does to the audience has definitely had an impact on me.

I’d say us Foos are like magpies; we take a pinch of this from one influence and blend it with a scoop of that from another. If I had to pick one major moment in my life, it would be seeing DV8’s Strange Fish as an A-Level Dance student way back when. That has to go down as a moment when my thinking about what theatre could be really opened up. Such a major impact and I only ever saw it on DVD (well probably video tape actually! Shhhh!)

There was one particular moment in that piece that caught the attention of my inner magpie: the character ‘Nigel’ was weaving in and out of the two female performers. He was trying to talk to them whilst they tried to ignore him and get away. His dialogue was mumbled, jumbled and nonsensical, but the emotional feeling and clarity of the unsaid was so clear and resonant. BOOM! At that moment, my world changed and I’ve been obsessed with creating physical moments that speak beyond words ever since.

I think if I had to pick a third thing, I’d probably say Charleroi Danse’s Kiss and Cry which has been a recent influence. It’s a piece of object puppetry that manipulates miniature worlds that are filmed using a live camera. That sparked such excitement in me and has led to our own live camera language that we’re developing for the new show, A Thing Mislaid.

Phil: You both have children (affectionately known as The Foolets). Has becoming parents had any unexpected influences on your work, both in terms of its creative content and the logistics of running a company and touring?

Bethany: The Foolets have highly influenced how we make work and how we run a creative process. We now work in a different rhythm. We tend to rehearse three days a week over a longer period, and some days we have to finish at 5! #shockhorror! We used to rehearse and work six days a week and stay until silly o’clock if anyone would let us.

It’s interesting thinking about the discussions happening at the moment around mental health in the sector. Again and again, you hear how people are always pushing themselves beyond their limits for not a lot of money, scared of slowing down, missing out, needing to make work a priority every second of every day.

The Foolets have taught us to let go of that fear — that it is totally okay to find your own rhythm and go at your own pace. It may take us a lot longer to make work now, but we are healthier for it, and the creative process seems a lot richer too. Working three days a week on a show allows us to maintain a work/life balance. It gives us space to breathe and gain a greater sense of clarity from one week to the next. And guess what? Nobody in the industry has shut the door on us for doing so. Partners and venues are still just as supportive.

So theatre-makers without children: if you need to give yourself permission to slow down a bit and go at your own pace, maybe it’s time to get a Flour Baby!

Image: Maison Foo’s A Thing Mislaid

Phil: Your website sections are very neatly divided up into the different rooms of a house. Would you ever consider making theatre that was performed inside your audience members’ homes? Or would you ever welcome audiences into your own homes?

Bethany: I already have when training with the London School of Puppetry! I hosted an evening of living room theatre with three other puppeteers. It was great! Us Foos love performing in different spaces. One of my favourite alternative space performances we’ve created was time travel clubbing in QUAD’s lifts!

It’s interesting thinking about the discussions happening at the moment around mental health in the sector. Again and again, you hear how people are always pushing themselves beyond their limits for not a lot of money, scared of slowing down, missing out, needing to make work a priority every second of every day.

Phil: A few years ago, you became one of the very first Associate Companies with In Good Company, the East Midlands artist development scheme. In what ways did that support benefit you most?

Bethany: Wow! I don’t know where to start…

I could talk about all the amazing support we got like cash, rehearsal space, and mentoring, but that’s all outlined on their website. I could talk about how wonderful Ruby Glaskin and Emily Coleman (IGC Producers) are. Or how grateful I am to Sarah Brigham for having the vision of IGC as an Artist support scheme and making it happen, with bells on, in our region! Or Natalie Ibu for charging in with creative gusto when setting the whole scheme up…

But I think I’m going to focus on the long-term relationships it has helped us build with other artists. Before In Good Company, artists in the East Midlands were a lot more disconnected. IGC has brought us together. And the artists that were in our ‘year group’ (LaPelle’s Factory, Spiltmilk Dance, Nonsuch Theatre and Zealous Theatre) are all now genuine theatre-making friends. The type of friends that really support each other, the type you can pick up the phone and ask silly questions to, the type that are always really excited to bump into each other.

IGC led to Maison Foo being an Associate Company at Derby Theatre, who ultimately supported us getting back on the theatre horse post-maternity leave. This helped us to learn how to juggle our real babies with our theatre baby!

Phil: What more do you think can be done to support independent artists across the Midlands?

Bethany: There is so much brilliant stuff already going on to support independent artists in the region, especially early career artists, which is blooming amazing. The difference in the region from when we began is phenomenal. It’s still tough out there though, whatever stage you are at.

So as a company in its tenth year of survival (we are now apparently ‘mid-career’ #yowsers!), it feels right to think about what companies like us are currently up against…

There is so much brilliant stuff already going on to support independent artists in the region, especially early career artists, which is blooming amazing. The difference in the region from when we began is phenomenal.

So they are probably in their 30’s, maybe have a family or are wanting to start one, or maybe looking for a bit more stability. They are at a point where they can’t ask people to work for free and can no longer work for free themselves either, as they no longer live with their parents.

They have perhaps achieved a lot of their initial early career goals, and are maybe having or have recently had the “who are we/where are we heading” wobble!

They probably find maintaining the stamina and drive to keep the creative fire ignited very hard when they’re exhausted from the long-term struggle of making it work financially.

It’s at this point that walking away to find a ‘proper job’ (as parents call them) is often the way people go.

So my ponder is… What more can be done to support these Midlands mid-career artists so they can continue for another ten, twenty, thirty years? As a sector we are in danger of losing their experience and their knowledge.

If it’s financial stability they need and that’s something venues can’t offer, what could our regional venues to do help and support these artists move towards a more sustainable future? If match funding is needed, for example: rather than a ‘sorry we haven’t got any money to commission with’ from venues as a conversation ender, how can this be turned into a conversation starter? Could venues and companies work together to find a way of leveraging the match fund from another source through the venue, that then becomes the match for the company? Or are there ways in which venues and companies can work together to achieve collective goals like developing and delivering an outreach programme together?

I think if it weren’t for Derby Theatre, we would have been one of those companies to hang up their boots at the ‘mid-career’ door. Don’t get me wrong: we are still having our wobbles and we are currently in the midst of a massive organisational restructure post-maternity, but we don’t feel alone. We feel we have a friend to wobble with and a friend saying ‘it’s okay to wobble, we are here, our door is open and we are working it through with you’. Because of that, we actually feel excited about the future. I think the more that venues can be that friend and have a more bespoke and honest relationship with artists, then the better we will all be.

So artists: let’s not be afraid to talk about it! We have a responsibility to ask for what we need. And venues: let’s continue the conversation beyond ‘sorry we want to, but we can’t’ and think creatively around our relationships and how we can work together to sustain the future of theatre making in the region.

Phil: You first came to national attention with your highly acclaimed sell-out show Memoirs Of A Biscuit Tin at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. How important do you think it is for artists to take their work to Edinburgh?

Bethany: Oh Edinburgh! Edinburgh, you insane, cruel, sexy, addictive thing!

I think it’s not the be-all and end-all but it’s not called the best showcase in the world for nothing. We’ve been twice and both times, we have benefited. The second time nearly killed us though and we will think hard before returning!

If anyone ever asks me advice about Edinburgh, my first question back is always ‘why?’ followed by a load of other questions like…

‘why do you want to go?’
‘why do think this is the right time for you to go?’
‘why is this show the right show to take?’
‘what do you want to achieve by going?’

There are hundreds and hundreds of shows at the festival, so the clearer you can be about what you want to get out of it, the more likely it is you will get something out of it, and not be lost in that epic sea of shows.

We didn’t rush into going. The year before we took Biscuit Tin to Edinburgh, we went up for a few days to research. We went and met with Edinburgh venue programmers, watched companies similar to us and then we made sure that the show was one we felt was good and was ready to put out there for critics and industry to come and see. It also gave us a year to raise the thousands of pounds we needed to invest (no, it’s not cheap!) and ask advice from those who had been there and done that.

Our advice would be — get a brilliant team behind you — invest in a good press officer (worth their weight in gold) — and a brilliant technician who can work quickly to make your show still look great under Edinburgh restrictions and with a five-minute get in!

Phil: Tell us a bit about A Thing Mislaid, the brand new show you are developing.

Bethany: A Thing Mislaid is a show about two lost clowns, who meet somewhere on the way to nowhere; and a thing mislaid, a thing without a flock, a thing on a journey to find home.

Oh Edinburgh! Edinburgh, you insane, cruel, sexy, addictive thing!

The show blends puppetry, objects and live camera with clowning and humour to tell its tale, travelling through miniature worlds and surreal realities.

The piece started life back in 2015 under the title The Granddad Project, when Kate and I looked further into a curious commonality we both shared — our migratory heritage. This set the seed for a new piece of work that built on our exploration of migration, journey and home, asking the question: where do we belong?

Excitingly, A Thing Mislaid has been commissioned by China Plate, Warwick Arts Centre, mac birmingham and In Good Company, and we shared work-in-progress performances last year at the First Bite and Bite Size festivals. We plan to tour the show throughout the Midlands in Autumn 2018.

You can see some pics and our teaser trailer here.

Alongside the show we are also developing a Refugee Friend Scheme, working with Derby Theatre, Derby Refugee Advice Centre, Attenborough Arts Centre, Journeys Festival and Talking Birds. The scheme will help break down barriers that refugees and those currently seeking asylum face through a program of creative participatory events.

Phil: What was the last thing you mislaid, and did it ever turn up again?

Bethany: A travel cot! Seriously, I can’t find it anywhere and it’s not exactly a small item either!

Image: Maison Foo’s A Thing Mislaid

Phil: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating a new show?

Bethany: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

We spend time finding the right people to be lost with! You can’t devise without jumping into the unknown — a lot! You need people around you willing to jump off that cliff with you daily. People that are playful, generous, big-hearted and willing to give, try lots of ideas, and not get precious about discarding the ones that don’t work. And we are not just talking performers! We work that way with our designer, musician/composer, producer… Everyone.

Phil: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre 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?

Bethany: Enjoy failing! It’s one of our mottos that we magpied from Improbable! To us, it means being open and honest and saying I don’t know what I’m doing but that’s okay. I may fail, but if I enjoy the process and let go of the fear of failure, then that is when the exciting stuff happens — when you put yourself out there, when you take risks. You can’t make things without trying things. I’d say about only 20% of ideas actually make it into a show.

Enjoy failing! It’s one of our mottos that we magpied from Improbable!

And don’t just enjoy failing at the theatre making bit. Enjoy failing at all the other stuff too — the marketing, the producing, the general management, the accounts, the van driving… When you do something for the first time, you don’t really know how to do it until you’ve done it. Learn from doing.

So try to let go of the fear and jump in! Don’t be afraid to ask people lots of questions as they were blagging it just like you only a few years previously. I suspect they still are, they are just a bit further down the road of blag!

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

Little Earthquake: Gareth Joins the Board of ITC

We’re thrilled to announce that Gareth has joined the board of the Independent Theatre Council (ITC).

ITC supports and develops the professional performing arts in the UK and represents a community of over 450 companies and producers. They offer advice on management, financial and legal matters, peer learning, training opportunities and a professional network.

Of the appointment Gareth said: “I’m really excited that I’ll get to work with such an inspiring team in helping to shape the future of an incredible organisation. Huge thanks to ITC’s Communications Co-Ordinator Thea Stanton for planting the idea in my head in the first place, and to existing board member Jenny Gaskell for her awesome moral support. And a massive thanks to the legends who nominated me: Deborah Kermode (from Midlands Arts Centre), Sophie Motley (from Pentabus Theatre), and Janet Vaughan (from Talking Birds).”

As part of the process, Gareth was asked to give a short election speech at ITC’s AGM in February. You can read about how Gareth pledged to support ITC as a board member below.

“I can still remember my first nervous call to ITC. It was about Rates of Pay and Jackie guided me through that now familiar factsheet without judgement and with clarity and kindness. For over a decade ITC has supported Little Earthquake every step of the way, and now I’m excited about the prospect of giving something back.

I only have a minute, so here are three things I’d love to help ITC achieve over the next few years:

Firstly, I’d like to push for even more training sessions and opportunities to engage with ITC outside of London, and in doing so, help to increase ITC’s visibility across the country.

Secondly, I’d like to find ways of building ITC membership amongst very new artists and companies. Those theatre-makers who are still in the first two years of making work, so they are only kept awake at night by their brilliant ideas, and not the fear of neglecting their legal obligations.

And finally, I’m passionate about building a stronger sense of community and democracy amongst theatre-makers. I strongly believe that we’re all on the same team, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel that way. I’d therefore like to encourage more interaction and peer-to-peer support and learning between ITC members themselves through social events and online platforms.

Every member of ITC is independent but I don’t want anybody to feel that they are on their own. To borrow a quote from mac birmingham’s Debbie Kermode as she spoke at our recent East Meets West Symposium: “Individually, we are all unique in our offer to audiences, but together, we are stronger.”

Thank you.”

The post Gareth Joins the Board of ITC appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Fierce Festival: The Live Art of Sociology

We’re delighted at the publication of a new book by Fierce trustee Cath Lambert that draws heavily on Fierce’s histories and methodologies.

The Live Art of Sociology attends to the importance of ‘the live’ in contemporary social and political life. Taking existing work in live sociology as a starting point, this book considers some of its aspirations through unique empirical investigations. Queer and feminist theory and methods are also employed in exploring the challenges of researching live experiences and temporalities. With case study examples ranging from the work of live body artists to experiments in curating sociological research, Lambert successfully demonstrates the diverse ways in which art can provide the aesthetic and affective conditions for social and political disruption.

The book reflects on Fierce’s work – there’s something of its history in here, and discussion of Fierce projects by artists including Graeme Miller, Monica Ross, Mette Edvardsen, Ron Athey, and many others.

Cath Lambert is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, UK.

Buy it here.

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!”

Graeme Rose's Blog: Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder

Last April, on the 60th anniversary of my great uncle Fred Jeffs’s untimely death, I marked the occasion by writing a blog post “Murder By Person Or Persons Unknown“. I’d visited the press archives at the Library of Birmingham, and sifting through pages of journalistic speculation about this remarkable case helped me renew my determination to respond to a family story which I’d first learned about in my early teens, but which had so many questions unresolved.  What ignites fascination and intrigue more than an unsolved murder…? An unsolved murder, perhaps, that occurred on your doorstep.

In November I responded to a call-out from the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s ‘FURNACE‘ programme, which invited ideas for new Community Theatre projects. My suggestion was a research project inspired by the Fred Jeffs case involving the participation of local residents of the Quinton-Warley-Langley neighbourhoods, all adjacent to Fred’s old shop – ‘Jeffs confectionary & tobacconists’ – which stood at 12 Stanley Rd. (a shop now occupied by CBC bikes).

Jeffs Shop

I am pleased to say that the project idea was accepted by The REP, and in the past weeks I have been researching the story, and preparing for some sessions at the libraries of Bleakhouse, Thimblemill and Quinborne, (as well as William Lench’s Trust, Quinton) which will take place in the coming fortnight.

Flyer Front

I’d love to meet with people who remember Fred and his shop, or who came to know about the murder story through local folklore. I’m interested to know more about the man and the circumstances of his death, not just from the newspaper headlines, but from the time-honoured storytelling tradition that survives from hearsay, rumour and – in the absence of proven facts – speculation. It took me no time at all to realise that the memory of Fred and his murder still resonates in the consciousness of local people in Warley. So I have set myself the task of gathering a consensus of information by interviewing local people about what they know – and also what they don’t know, about the case.

If you would like to contribute, please do get in touch with me. Information boards have been put on display in Bleakhouse and Thimblemill Libraries, postcards about the project are being distributed, and you can visit and contribute to a Facebook page – Fred Jeffs: The Sweetshop Murder on which I’ll be posting regular updates.

If you live in the Warley area, know about the case, or even remember it, do let me know. Together we can build a picture of life in Quinton in the immediate post-war years, help create a creative response and – who knows – go a little bit further to solving the case!


Who was Fred Jeffs?

Why would anyone want to murder him?

What happened on that fateful final night of Fred’s life; the short Good Friday – 18th/19th April 1957? And what does the evidence suggest?

Someone committed the crime, but why were they never traced?

How did the police investigation develop, and why did the trail eventually dry up?


Get in touch with Graeme by e-mailing or calling 07854 873277

Furnace is The Rep’s pioneering community engagement programme. It gives people the opportunity to make theatre with professional artists and create something new that celebrates them and their community. Find out more at GIG GUIDE: MARCH 2018

17 shows this month across the Midlands, covering  BirminghamCoventry

NottinghamLeicester & Northampton.





LoveHard:  A mix of scripted and improvised humour from this comedy double act.  Part of “Off The Rails” night in Kings Heath.


Fat Penguin Improv:  Show featuring the house team Bunkum Factory and special guest Horatio Gould.


Knightmare Live: Enter stranger.  Multiple dungeoneers enter Lord Fear’s catacombs.  Each show is different, each room a new challenge.


Freewheelers:  Experimental theatre from local acts including double act SquidHeart and musical group Off Broad Street.


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory will amuse and delight along with stand up comedian Chris James.


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


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


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory will amuse and delight along with stand up comedian Ben Hanlin.


Jumprov:  Comedy, games, music & entertainment from the UK’s first diverse improv group.  Go for the laughs, stay for the after party.


Fat Penguin Improv:  The house team Bunkum Factory will amuse and delight along with guest performers The Improlectuals.




The Improv Musical:  More instant songs following the success of their sell-out performances in Warwick & the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.


Coventry Improv:  A free family friendly evening of improvised sketches and games.


Coventry Improv:  An evening of improvised humour from Coventry’s premier improv group




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.


Smash Night: Multiple acts spontaneously turn suggestions into scenes and stories bound to be breath-taking and bloody hilarious.




The Same Faces: “Uncle Armando” show where the group perform scenes inspired by comedian Naz Osmanoglu.




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


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