Tag Archives: Miscellaneous

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: BE judged

REVOLT ATHENS by Elli Papakonstantinou/ ODC Ensemble from Elli Papakonstantinou/ODC on Vimeo.

BE Festival starts tomorrow (Tuesday), so that makes it a year since I was on the judging panel. I don’t really agree with art prizes (perhaps because I’ve never won one) so it was a bit hypocritical to agree to be a judge on an art prize panel, but I’m emotionally beholden to BE and find it difficult to refuse them anything.

In the end I had a great week. It was lovely to have an excuse to clear my diary see all the productions at BE – the first time I’ve done this. Being a judge meant complimentary food in the fabulous ‘on stage’ BE restaurant and the biggest treat was meeting the other judges and arguing and agreeing with them.
Naturally there were shows other judges loved for being profound, moving or clever that left me cold or disinterested. There was a show I loved but others felt lacking in some way and no argument I could make would persuade them otherwise. There was the show I expected to not like that I loved and acted as cheerleader for. There were shows we felt too slick, others too knowing.
Each day we met before the first performance to reflect on the previous day’s shows. A chance to tune into each others aesthetic, to gauge the field, to clarify our own thought by hearing the thoughts of others.

When it came to the final reckoning we cut the festival brochure up to get a picture of each show an pushed them around a table top in the sealed off dining area. Knowing the audience were voting for their own prize allowed us not to be swayed by cheering and whooping where we didn’t feel like cheering or whooping.
Multiple subsidiary prizes sponsored by venues across Europe but awarded by us, made haggling easier. “In or out?” was followed by “we have to lose some” resulted in “this or that?” became “so is it these?” and eventually “which matches which prize?” with the clock ticking down we came to “are we happy with this?” and I think we were.

You have your own aesthetic preferences and presumably you’ve been asked onto the panel because of those preferences but you are always award that the name BE Festival will be on the prize so your ultimately your choice must represent them and their values as well.

I think we did a good job and tomorrow at 7pm you can see the first prize winners ODC Ensemble from Greece performing the full (and updated) version of their winning show Revolt in Athens.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Kenesh Dramaturge

Last Thursday I was holed up in the Stan’s Cafe kitchen with Keisha Grant, Artistic Director of Keneish Dance, looking at a video documenting an early draft of their new show Hi I’m…. For this piece Keisha is interested in including some narrative elements and thought it may be helpful to talk about this with someone who devises theatre shows.

Officially my role would probably be described as Dramaturge; it’s a provocateur / outside eye / collaborator position which I quite enjoy but rarely do. My ambition is to help make the piece as good as it possibly be whilst regularly checking that my definition of ‘good’ matches up with Keisha’s vision for the piece.

It was enjoyable few hours. We watched the dance through comparing what I read from it with what Keisha’s intentions were in choreographing it. We examined her worries, frustrations and aspirations for the piece and discussed how these can be addressed when she starts rehearsals again.

Satisfyingly (for me at least) I came up with one rather bold idea which I believe would unlock exciting potential for the piece to carry its narrative burden lightly and leave Keisha lots of freedom to exercise her choreographic skills. If it were my piece I’d drive this idea through remorselessly, but of course it’s Keisha’s piece so I typed up notes from our conversation and sent them over to her to do with them as she wishes. I will attend a couple of rehearsals and see if I can be of any help there and promise not to get grumpy if she’s binned all my suggestions.

Prominent in my mind is the explanation of the Dramaturge – Director relationship as originally explained to me by a German theatre producer. “James” he said “the Dramaturge may say to the Director ‘this section isn’t working, you need to make it half as long’ to which the Director is likely to reply ‘you are right, that section isn’t working, but that is because it needs to be TWICE as long’ and this is okay.”

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Book Royalties

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

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

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

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Translanguaging

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Resolute

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

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

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

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

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

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Training

In recent weeks we have been back working with our friends at Theater Bonn. You may have seen in the news that Bonn is hosting a big United Nations Climate Change conference. More correctly they are co-hosting it with Fiji whose infrastructure wasn’t well suited to accommodating the thousands of delegates and attendant media, activists Etc. Anyway, there is a big Climate Change conference in Bonn, we were asked if we had an idea to contribute, we did, they liked it, we made it, it’s called What When and it’s currently sat in a park that forms the campus for the conference.

I acknowledge that it is possible that history won’t come to see What when as the point at which humanity recognised its peril and stepped back from the precipice of Eco-disaster – it’s not a piece of propaganda so that’s not it’s job – but every journey starts with a single step and continues with many steps and working on this project has changed my attitudes and behavior by one step. Continue reading

Stan’s Cafe Theatre Company: Stupid and disappointed

First it is important you know that I was very tired. It was late at night and I’d just got back from a weekend trip to Germany with Of All The People In All The World when, scrolling though the BBC’s online Glastonbury coverage, an image of Nadia Rose intrigued us enough to eventually persuade our tablet to play her set.

It was UNBELIEVABLY GOOD. I was amazed at how fresh and radical it was. She was fantastic, her all female team were powerful, the whole set was an incredibly complex web of looped beats and wordplay that was like rap fused with the early tape experiments of Steve Reich. Eventually sleep became imperative, we stabbed the damn tablet and at the second attempt got it to shut up. I drifted off content that music was at last exciting again.

The next day, bounding into work like an over exuberant teenager I insisted that everyone listen to my remarkable new ‘discovery’. On listening back Nadia Rose was good but not that good and the radical loop effect that had blown my mind seemed to have disappeared. Gripped horror at my own stupidity and crushed by disappointment, the penny finally dropped, we’d been playing her set twice simultaneously, in two browser windows, one delayed from the other by maybe a second and a half. We had been adding the Steve Reich effect ourselves, Nadia Rose and her DJ/Producer are not geniuses after all, they’re great, but we were bloody idiots.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Very Difficult Maths


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

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

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

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: The joy of index

worries from Oli Clark on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Neuroscience Conference


Where better to fry your brain than the British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience?

The various stall holders here insist that none of their equipment will fry your (or a mouse’s) brain, merely measure or stimulate it’s activity. This is more than some of the speakers can guarantee, but then that’s not their fault, I’ve the right to be here but no right to understand anything that’s being said.

As it turned out ‘Biased liganal signalling for k-opioid receptor agonists and antagonists’ turned out to be moderately comprehensible, possibly due to the near vertical learning curve encountered sitting through ‘mechanisms of mu-opioid receptor desentizaition and tolerence’ and ‘Ligand bias at mu-opiod receptor’.

What am I doing here? Well you may ask and well I too may ask. We are planning a ‘thing’ so broadly speaking I’m here to research this ‘thing’ but I’m not looking for the answer to a particular question, more after clues. I’m mostly just enjoying being in an entirely different world full of people who specialize in things I know nothing of.

Seminar 27: ‘Towards a causal understanding of motor learning in humans: a role for non-invative brain stimulation’ was less pharmacological and more psychological and manageable for the novice bystander.

Alon Chen gave an interesting plenary talk about the neuroscience of what may help or hinder recovery from acute stress and at the end of the day everyone got to hear from a real-live Nobel Laurette (whose research I had heard about before). May-Britt Moser researches into the brain’s mechanisms for representing space.

The easiest ‘take home’ item from the day was how at the of everyone’s talk they all put up a slide naming everyone in their team who had worked on the project, usually with a team photograph of them all looking happy together outside a university building. I will endeavor to adopt this approach in all future talks I give.