Tag Archives: Education

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Inspired Illustration

Thursday evening started five weeks ago, maybe two months ago. Thursday evening started when I sent a speculative message to our friend/collaborator Mr. Courage. It started when I first thought that publishing all Stan’s Cafe’s old scripts would be a fun thing to do, but only if they appeared in a set of 22 very slim volumes.

“[Gareth] If you were teaching design at university would it be an interesting / useful / mutually beneficial / noteworthy undertaking for Stan’s Cafe to ‘commission’ you and your students to design the set”

On Thursday evening @ A E Harris over forty first year illustration students from Birmingham City University exhibited their response to our front cover design challenge. Each book in the series was allocated to two students who were furnished with scripts, essays and notes on influences from music, film, the visual arts, history and science. They had five weeks to explore, experiment and deliver a cover inspired the something in that content. The results were spectacular.

On show were prints, A0 photocopies of designs and, most compelling of all, sketch books in which it was possible to trace thinking and inspiration, experiments and blind alleys. To see so much enthusiasm and time and effort and imagination and passion invested in reinterpreting our back-catalogue was very touching.

Some designs were very simple to link to shows: A portrait of Franz Ferdinand with an overlay of dominoe shards and blotch of blood. Paper airpalanes throwing fighter jet shadows on a children’s playground. A Who’s Who of rice grains dressed up for different jobs. A crown hovering above a crowd. A minuscule row of tulips set in a tiny bottle.

Some designs were more tangential – a rat in a blindfold (The Black Maze), JFK in the Oval Office flanked by the flower filled silhoettes of women (The Cleansing of Constance Brown), A series of cartoon ghosts each with a Z on their floating white sheets (Tuning Out With Radio Z)

Some required you to know a show quite well. A paranoid interior finds a hand descending on a cactus (Memoires of An Amnesiac), Satanic blood soaked stag antlers (Finger Trigger Bullet Gun). A text “We’re Spilling Blood” (Voodoo City)

Still others required deep investigation into the workbooks: a host of papier-mâché eyeballs (weirdly spot on for Simple Maths). a collage including a robin was hung for Twilightofthefreakingods where the workbook showed more apt images.

I loved it, we loved it, it was loved. When the books are published we will try to remount the exhibition and share it more widely, then you can love it too.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: No longer live from the national theatre

Photo by Mark Barnett

On Friday I suffered a mild, but nevertheless unexpected attack of ‘post-show blues’. The affliction is widely acknowledged; after a period working intensely with a group of people on show the euphoria of the last night’s performance is often followed by aching induced by the show’s sudden absence and a sense of bereavement brought on by no longer being part of that closely bonded team.

I thought I had developed a cast-iron immunity as the stress of overlapping projects inoculates against the absence and full time colleagues and a loving family mask bereavement. However, travelling back from Leicester following the third and final performance of Live From The National Theatre I couldn’t quash a sense of the blues mixed with a certain melancholic satisfaction of a challenging mission accomplished.

The devising process had been quite stressful as right up until the last minute it was unclear whether the cast were going to gain enough focus and confidence to pull their show together. It was very touching to see how nervous many of the cast grew as the performances loomed. It was equally touching them to greet friends and family before and after the performances but what set this show apart from previous student shows we have worked on was that it came right at the end of their final year. For some students this was their last day and the show their last act at university*. In this context it was little wonder that emotions were running high.

As the cast called for a whole group photograph it was satisfying to recognise that we weren’t part of the group but had facilitated the group developing this euphoric sense of conclusion to their studies.

Graduating confronts most newly birthed ex-students with an intimidating and bewildering series of questions and options as to what happens next in their lives. Keenly empathising with this agoraphobia added to my sense of compassionate affection for the team. Watching east midlands dissolve into west though the train window I fell to speculating what would become of these engaging young people. I wish them well.

* This statement perturbed lecturers who have vivas booked with the students next week!

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: De Montfort University Show

Trailer made by final year students at De Montfort University.

We are down to the knuckle chewing last few days before Live From The National Theatre opens. This is our collaboration with final year students at De Montfort University in Leicester. There was a phase when we regularly made shows with university students but this is my first effort for a decade and with Craig, Lucy and Amy off to Dartington to help students at Plymouth University make their own shows it feels an apt moment to talk about making shows with students.

Whilst a student I saw Steve Shill’s stunning collaboration with DMU – Ode to St. Cecilia and shortly after that Forced Entertainment’s DMU collaboration – whose precise title eludes me but was something, something in the Koda Coloured Cities I think. These shows were an intriguing glimpse into what artists I admired chose to do with bigger casts than they could normally muster. It’s only when making these shows yourself that you grasp the full complexities of the challenge for everyone involved.

Making shows as part of a university course are a special sub-category of devising practice. Where normally the show is the be all and end all, here this drive is tempered by the educational setting. We are booked in order that students should learn from our aesthetic and working practices but at the same time we must give the students the best possible chance to contribute and present themselves well for their assessments.

We work with big companies – in this case 19 – which is fun, but they have not explicitly chosen to work with us and we have not auditioned them, so we have to especially generous towards each other. Different students have different interests and competencies; where possible we seek to accommodate these whilst giving everyone an equal chance to shine, which sounds like bland education speak but is actually an exciting artistic challenge.

Our basic solution tends to be coming up with a concept and creating a structure for these shows are robust enough to carry content created by a wide range of students. We mix ensemble sections that take advantage of our big numbers with solo or small group slots that allow freedom for students to generate and polish more of their own material.

Inevitably some students thrive in the ensemble environment but need to be supported to make more of their individual slots, others seem happy with their own aesthetic and struggle to relinquish this in committing to the common cause.

Some groups are very cohesive whilst others a riven with old grudges, rivalries or resentments; in all groups some students have the show as their primary life-focus for the duration of the process while others are ambivalent at best or are juggling pressing demands from other quarters of their lives. It doesn’t do to be too highly strung as a director in these circumstances.

It is easy to empathize with the excitement, frustrations and fears these students are going through. It was the feeling of collective work in a common cause making Figures Walking Into The Sea with my fellow second year students directed by Pete Brooks at Lancaster University back in the late 1980 that cemented my love of ensemble devising.

I always want these shows to be wildly ambitious, even if this means we bump up against the boundaries of what is possible in the time available, or the skills or experience or budget at our disposal. If we’re not ambitious we’re not giving students a true Stan’s Cafe experience and if we’re not ambitious then we’re not learning ourselves and this becomes just a job of work for us and if we wanted a job of work we’d get proper jobs.

On this occasion we have nothing to do with the assessment of students, perhaps now that the university / student relationship has become so much more contractual having us visitor types chip in our thoughts is ruled out, everything is very codified and spelt out. This is a relief as marking is never fun – though usually less impossible than it first appears to be.

What I miss about marking is the sense of closure it brings and the chance to reward those whose contribution has helped the show along and whose commitment to the ensemble has been invaluable. As it is the only thing we can offer those who excel is the faint possibility that at some time we will be able to offer them something that doesn’t really resemble a proper job – but who wants a proper job.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Creative Learning Recruitment


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

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

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

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

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

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

We look forward to hearing from you.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Unlocking Anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graeme Rose's Blog: Backward Looking

Earlier this year while working for the Ministry of Truth (Creation Theatre’s 1984 at Oxford Maths Institute), my friend and erstwhile MTO collaborator Dazz Joyce introduced me to “Looking Backward 2000-1887” – Edward Bellamy’s time-travelling Utopian novel set in Boston in an imagined 2000AD. I immediately latched on to it as an ideal subject for a devised project with final year undergraduates at Birmingham University.

It’s now just a couple of days after the final performance in the George Cadbury Hall, Selly Oak. The project was not without its challenges; a huge amount of my energy going into the distillation of a script rather than the open devising that I’d anticipated. But such is the nature of devising; where you are developing a methodology at the same time as  generating material. Looking Backward became something of a literary exercise, with great demands placed on the students to wrestle with syntactically complex texts. All said, I feel blessed to have worked with such a warm-hearted, generous and talented team who created something I feel very proud of. Below is a copy of the Programme Notes, accompanied by stills from the show.





The object of this reading is to assist persons desiring to gain a more definite idea of the social contrasts between the 19th and 20th Centuries. The author has sought to alleviate the instructive quality of the book by casting it in the form of a romantic narrative, not wholly devoid of interest on its own account…

…So writes Edward Bellamy, in his Preface to “Looking Backward 2000-1887”.


Whether Bellamy’s ‘romantic narrative’ fully pulls our attention away from those “instructive” qualities remains questionable, but “Looking Backward” certainly deserves more recognition for the huge impact it made on its first readers when it was published in 1887. Bellamy was then a struggling young writer in a small industrial town in Massachusetts. His book not only inspired a wave of time-travelling literature (including that of H.G Wells), but also spawned a whole political movement. Groups of thinkers and activists would form ‘Bellamy Clubs’ to debate the radical ideas promoted in this Utopian vision for the Industrial Age.



Bellamy’s protagonist in the novel, Julian West, is an insomniac, kept awake by the troubling hubbub of contemporary life. But thanks to the interventions of a mesmerist he slips into a profound sleep in his secret underground chamber, and survives a catastrophic house-fire, only to be re-discovered and awoken in the year 2000. His new hosts then give him a tour of the changed world.


The theme of ‘Waking Up’ is a metaphor for the modern condition which causes Julian such angst. He is a sympathetic witness to the miseries of those less fortunate than him, but also realises his privilege has only been made possible on the backs of others’ labour.



So why choose “Looking Backward” now? Bellamy writes in 1887 but attempts to project a future 2000AD, the supposed culmination of a century’s worth of enlightenment and human progress. (Bellamy himself uses the expression ‘evolution’, which betrays the influence the Darwinians had on his generation.) But it is significant that the ensemble that presenting for you today – all born in the fading light of the 1990’s – are the first generation to have no actual memory of the 20th Century at all! Sometimes referred to as “Generation Z”, this digital-literate and socially-conscious generation start only with the Millennium. Their future lives will help shape a very different – perhaps smaller – world in which ‘Globalisation’ and ‘Climate Change’ loom large.


Theatre offers us an opportunity to model alternative realities and it is in this spirit we present a re-modelling of Bellamy’s Utopian landscape, as imagined from a 1887 perspective. But as we listen to Bellamy’s descriptions of an evolved future society it is easy to become blasé and forget how extraordinary his vision was. So much of what he predicts has actually come true but has become normalised in our everyday modern reality; giant shopping Malls with Amazon-style distribution systems, Credit Cards and cash-less economy. But he also predicts gender equality, the IMF, trade clearance systems, radio for musical and religious sermons; a welfare system; free education and the nationalisation of Industries and rail networks. In Bellamy’s world there are no ‘pay gaps’. Universal basic income has become the norm, and economic efficiency is the result.



“….it seems to me that nowhere can we find more solid ground for daring anticipations of human development during the next thousand years, than by Looking Backward upon the progress of the last one hundred.”


Bellamy’s characters dismiss the “followers of the red flag” as nothing more than an sponsored conspiracy, but we cannot help but listen to his description of Utopia without thinking of how the actual 20th Century was shaped by – long after Bellamy’s death – the rise and fall of Communism, and the spectre of National Socialism. Bellamy’s call, at the end of the novel, for unquestioning patriotism leaves­­ a bitter taste in the light of actual events of the 20th Century – not to mention recent ideological shifts in the USA. We are left wondering whether we do indeed live in times that are ‘looking forward’, or whether we are, infact, still ‘looking backward’…


Graeme Rose, director, October 2017

[pictures courtesy of David Crisp and the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Birmingham]




Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Dream like

Photo credit: Graeme Braidwood

The course of true love never did run smooth and neither did doing a Shakespeare play with 240 twelve and thirteen year olds, however last week was a lot less tempestuous than it could have been.

As we were planning to perform outside we lived in fear of rain, but the rain never truly came. The sun came but judicious application of cream meant no one got burned. The slot together stage slotted together on time at New Place with only token resistance. A replacement for the 16amp – 13amp adapter which was left in Birmingham on Thursday and which was neither stocked by Maplins nor Halfords was located at Blacks just round the corner. The school’s coaches were only predictably late. The rump of students who had previously resisted learning their lines was markedly reduced. The application of a TV style boom microphone semi-solved audibility problems with the quietest students. Most people arrived on stage mostly on time. Many people forgot where to come on from and many could barely be prised off the back wall but some remembered some gestures and a few added a few puppet gestures. Ultimately the thing was that they were almost all there and those that were there all did it, they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the site of Shakespeare’s House using Shakespeare’s words. They worked as a team. They stood on stage and acted in public and they seemed to have fun and they seemed proud as they had every right to be.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream follows on from last year’s production of The Tempest and with Saltley Academy we are already committed to another production next year. The value of our long term collaborations with schools is that we can learn our lessons and then have the opportunity to apply this learning. It takes time but then “how poor are they that have not patience” – who knows what next year’s production may be…

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Shakespeare Recipe

Here’s the recipe.

Take William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a filleting knife. Cut away any material that can be possibly regarded as fat, leaving a lean narrative, anything remotely repetitive should be cut out and thrown away, retain a hint of poetry for the purposes of flavour.

Next, take approximately 230 Year 8 students, divide them into X Band and Y Band, divide each band into five mixed ability classes, place each class in a room with the text and add a teacher of English, simmer occasionally for half a term.

When the students have absorbed the text, allocate an act to each class in X Band and repeat with Y Band. Ask the teachers to place one student in each roles, with two students to each of the biggest roles (you may have to butter up some of the students first).

Place a cold flannel on your forehead, carefully reading the school’s two week timetable arrange rehearsals with every class five times, ensuring your assistant director only has to attend school on 20 days, avoid teaching any class when they are due to be taught in the schools Learning Resource Centre (library).

Make puppets by sticking cardboard eyes to mops, brooms and other household items, fix coat hangers to the objects and drape them in costumes. Mix the students with the puppets, try and remove the scripts from the stew. Turn up the heat and keep stirring even if you feel you should stand well clear.

After four rehearsals you should see signs of standards rising: some students will have let go of their script, some will remember when to go on, where to stand and when to come off, some will speak loud and clear enough to be heard, some will show signs they understand what they are saying, some will start to use gesture or inflection in their voices; encourage all of these developments by sprinkling in praise, encouragement and advice.

There are public performances of Saltley Academy’s Year 8 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon on 6 & 7 July at 10:00. If you wish to see the production in school on 3 or 4 July at 13:35 this can be arranged if you send us a message to that effect (admin@stanscafe.co.uk).

Cue further extension of the metaphor – wanting seconds, rich and fruity, flat and stale, turning your stomach Etc. to fade.

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Beginnings and Endings

At the beginning of the year a small group of Year 6 children from Billesley Primary School joined us at our base in AE Harris to begin work on an online choose your own adventure story. We used the journey from their school to the Jewellery Quarter as inspiration for possible starting points, settings and characters for their stories. As I walked with them I realised that this was their last year in primary school and that they were one of the first groups of children we had worked with in our now five year long partnership with Billesley Primary.

I first met them when they were in Year Two and aged 6. Together we made a comic book version of Treasure Island and looking back at the pictures from that project you can see their personalities shining through. The following year they worked with us on a Weather Project documenting the daily conditions, writing poetry and creating costumes for a meteorological themed performance in the school hall. In Year Four we explored Ancient China with them. Last summer when they were in Year 5 we made Superfast Shakespeare, a quick fire rendering of five Shakespeare Plays performed outdoors in their playground and on the terrace of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford.

Now they are in Year 6 and a group of ten of these now 11 year olds have just finished creating The Amazing Adventures Of You. They wrote stories and learnt coding to create a hypertext adventure in which you, the reader can choose which path you want to choose through the story.

We wish these children and the rest of Year 6 at Billesley the very best for their future adventures and thank them for their work with us over the years.

Please read and enjoy the amazing adventure they have created for you HERE


Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Brookfields’ Primary Poets

We’ve just had clearance to share a new web-page with you. It documents our winter adventures with years 3 and 4 at Brookfields Primary School. Together we explored their local area taking photographs, we wrote lots of poems inspired by these photographs, created a newspaper with selection of these poems and performed a selection of this selection for parents in the school hall. It was great fun, the photographs and poems are lovely as you can see if you explore the page and the digital copy of the newspaper embedded above.

What a treat to work with such lovely young people and their great teachers.