Tag Archives: Miscellaneous

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.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Love Thy Neighbour


Presumably the license plates led to the hire firm and the hire firm pointed to the address and so, within hours, armed police were swarming into q flat and by the morning national news journalists and their dish topped TV trucks had formed a secondary cordon around uniformed officers. The 128 bus edged its way past. A tendril of national news has reached out to us. Its spotlights are set up on our pavements.

How sad the circumstance. How cowardly the action. How banal the imagination. How tragic the trade. We are sewn together.

When The Pope visited The Oratory less than 100m away this same pavement was packed with happy cheering crowds.
Close by a victim of terrorism and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai received her education.

Closer by still nine of the world’s most powerful men sat down to dinner in 1998.

Practically close enough to cast their late evening shadows on this same pavement stand the brick and mortar models for Tolkein’s two mythic towers.

Within spitting distance, through another squashed door up another flight of stairs Chut the Tailor made Andy’s bespoke presidential suit for Lurid and Insane.

The psychogeography of this locale has grown deeper, the pavements gained another, darker, unwanted patina. Remember: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Universities


Our agent at Birmingham University tipped me off about a free public lecture by Dr. Elaine Fulton for the Cadbury Research Library. Knowing my fondness for and familiarity with The Anatomy of Melancholy the agent thought I may be interested in The Nuremberg Chronicle; indeed I was. I went and I learned some stuff, another piece in the vast jigsaw of everything that will never be completed. Anyway that’s not the point, the point is – what an amazing treat it was to be able to go and listen to a clever person at a university talk about something interesting but obscure for 45 minutes and this reminded me how much I love universities, which is a lot.

Musing on this some more, while ambling around the glorious Birmingham University campus, I came to recognise that one of the reasons I currently find universities so comforting is they seem to be the only institutions in the country that are thriving. The lecture was in the shiny new Bramall Music Hall, yards from the university’s brand new library and the 50m swimming pool, sports and fitness centre which will be opening very soon. In the city centre Birmingham City University is also building like crazy. At a time when the entire public sector is in the grip of punishing financial hardship universities appear to be awash with more money that they can reasonably be expected to spend. What’s going on?

If you talk to lecturers the suggestion isn’t that they’re in the lap of luxury, they claim money is being spent on buildings rather than people. Are universities paying cash for all this building work with receipts from student tuition fees? We’re told that tuition fees are there to prevent the roof from falling in rather than the buildings going up. So are these universities taking out the equivalent or mortgages? Are we witnessing a fear driven form of arms race in which universities seeking to attract students via ever more impressive facilities? Alternatively are these erections the manifestation of vice chancellor’s competitive egos? Or are they are all just super-eager to give their students and staff the best facilities possible in which to learn? Are we witnessing a university bubble akin to the housing bubble and if so will it burst and if so when and what does it look like when a university goes bankrupt? Can we buy expect to buy a particle accelerator cheap at Biddle and Webb? I hope not, I love universities and enjoyed today’s opportunity to learn about The Nuremberg Chronicle.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Coventry City of Culture 2021?


So the race is officially on for cities wishing to become UK City of Culture in 2021 succeeding Hull this year and Derry-Londonderry back in 2013.

We are familiar with this concept. The title throws spotlight on culture in a particular city for a particular year. Glasgow famously used its status as European City of Culture in 1990 as a catalyst to rebrand and regenerate itself and Liverpool repeated the trick when the title had escalated to European Capital of Culture in 2008. Winning the title UK equivalent doesn’t come with a cash prize but it is claimed Hull has raised a budget of £32m. Handled correctly the title generates a publicity bonanza for the winner, community pride, international tourism and increased chances of the city winning bids to host other cultural events across that year.

This regeneration dimension means the winner wont be the city currently richest in culture but will favour those who have the most to gain from winning. Those who have most to win will prove some coming together of current deprivation and potential for growth.

Shortlisted bids will have to demonstrate a compelling vision of how they will catalyze this growth and a convincing plan as to how this will be delivered. They will need to prove they’ll make a success of the opportunity and that it will deliver a significant legacy.

Phil Redmond is charged with chairing the judging Advisory Panel that will assess the competing claims. As the creator of Grange Hill, Brookside and Hollyoaks he clearly has a sure grasp of popular culture, a clear social conscience and presumably an intimate experience of Liverpool’s experience in 2008 all of which make him well suited to the role, what is less clear is how much sway the advice of the advisory panel will hold.

There is a Department of Culture, Media and Sport ‘Project Team’ working alongside the Advisory Panel and ultimately it the Minister of Culture who will take the decision, presumably there will be some very heavy political lobbying involved.

Do Sunderland stand no chance being so close to Hull? Northern Ireland and England have had a go will it be seen as the turn of Wales? Do the Scottish bids gain leverage from the strong position of the SNP in parliament? Do Swansea get credit for bidding twice in a row? Do Warrington’s chances suffer now George Osborn isn’t Chancellor and pushing a Northern Powerhouse agenda? Will Wells and St. Davids be deemed to be big enough urban centres?

Some candidates may be regarded rank outsiders but the bidding process itself could be seen as beneficial, as it prompts an examination of the role culture currently plays in a city and emboldens a bit of visionary thinking of what it could be, establishing new partnerships and publicly stating an ambitions vision.

At a time when central government’s squeeze on local authority spending has been translated into very substantial reductions in their support for the Arts it is gratifying to see eleven places bold enough to throw their hats into this ring. You can check the criteria by reading through the government’s guidance notes. We don’t encourage betting but at the time of writing Perth a favourites, Coventry are second with Swansea and Portsmouth equal third.

Here at Stan’s Cafe we’re are backing Coventry’s bid which has got a fantastic energy around it.