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Always on board, never bored

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020

Have you ever considered joining a company’s board of directors? Obviously I’ve always fancied one of those gigs cabinet members appear to get offered when leaving office: a hundred grand for twelve days work on the board of a FTSE 100 firm. However, there are other options nearly as attractive.

Being on the board of a ‘non-profit’ gives you a view into the inside workings of a worthwhile organisation, sharing with them their highs and lows. It is a chance to put your skills to use in a new context, to learn new things and get introduced to people you would never otherwise meet.

Arts companies, especially those of smaller organisations like Stan’s Cafe are usually very keen to bring on board people with experiences from from beyond the arts world and ironically there is probably no better time to join a board than right now.

It is often said that boards come into their own in a time of crisis. In normal times, when events follow a smooth predictable path, inertia can lead to a boards to just monitor and nudge, but when crisis hits advice and support are needed, difficult problems need debating and resolving, tough decisions may need to be made and calm heads must prevail.

Things haven’t been that dramatic at Stan’s Cafe, but we have increased the frequency of our board meetings in order to keep on top of events. Being a director on our board is a voluntary position that also carries legal responsibility, as well as time commitment, so we are very grateful to them all and appreciative of the work they do. But as Lara Ratnaraja, a former long time board member of ours, points out in an interview published on this website today, the transaction works both ways and a board member who thinks they are only bringing things to the party is not making the best of the party, there are non-financial rewards for the board member too. Being on a board rarely means being bored.


Lara Ratnaraja is an influential Creative Consultant based in the West Midlands, in this rare interview she explains how formative experiences in the Soviet Union during the last days of communism are proving valuable in her work today. She explains her pride in watching a new collaborative generation of leaders help diversify the arts scene. She unveils the mysteries of Arts Council’s ‘regional council’ and expands on the rewards of being on a board. I encourage you to read on…

Touring Theatre

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Disappointingly, we have – with our board – decided that in the current global situation we are going to suspend recruitment of the post of General Manager. We will wait for a few months to see how the situation develops and what the best course of action is within its context. We will contact everyone who has applied or enquired about the job individually, and we will share updates as soon as we can.

Keep safe and well and keep looking out for each other.

So we have two vans booked. We have borrowed an extra workshop space from our landlord and marked out the Jacksons Lane stage on its floor. We have rethought how our set is constructed so that actual human beings can build it without mechanical assistance. We have replaced a no longer available Stage Manager with an available Stage Manager. Elements of the soundtrack have been tweaked and we have hired some fancy baton lights that were used in the original performances but which it is unreasonable to expect venues to have in their stock. We have collated venue details, printed new fliers and posters. We have rewritten promotional text to bespoke lengths, updated program notes and conducted interviews on the radio. We have conversed with technical and marketing departments checking that the show will work on each stage and that people will turn up to see it. Accommodation has been booked and per diems withdrawn from the bank. We are nearly ready to take The Capital on tour – why are we bothering?

I love the principle of touring. You’ve made a show you are proud of and so you want to show it to as many people as possible, everyone should have a chance to see the show if they wish. I love how difficult it is, the amount of bloodyminded obstinacy it requires to fill a Luton Van full of set and a Transit Van full of props, drive them across the country and spend eight hours preparing in order to perform a ninety minute show before taking everything down again and packing it back into the vans. To me it is special that this is done just for the people who choose to be there that night and no one else, how can this act of commitment be denied and if the show is good, so much the better.

Touring theatre is how we find out what people in other places are thinking and doing. If theatre doesn’t tour then inspiration and influence don’t spread. I want people to be inspired and influenced by Stan’s Cafe whether it’s aesthetically, motivationally or simply fuelling up artists who cry ‘we can do better than that!’

Touring is also a means through which we learn about our shows. After four performances we know The Capital a little, but having gone away and come back and remembered and performed it again we will know more and each new performance and venue will bring new knowledge. Different audiences and different physical spaces will stretch the show in different ways. Repetition will give the actors more chances to explore how they perform and what is possible.

Taking theatre from place to place is to gather people round a shared experience that is made by all of us: the visiting company, the resident technicians and theatre staff plus that night’s audience. I love this gathering, if it’s huge then the moment feels celebratory and if it’s tiny then it feels impossibly intense.

Who knows what lies ahead in the next couple of weeks – the uncertainty is all part of it as well.

Building Resilience #2

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

September was Salford and January has just been Bristol. At We The Curious we, a bunch of curious arts organisations, learned more about resilience at the feet of Arts Manager International. Last year we were tutored in the fundraising cycle, this year it was about board development, individual and corporate giving.

First up was Michael Kaiser, using as series of great stories to illustrate his learning points, stories of running a Ballet Company in Cowboy country (Kansas City), brokering a ludicrously high profile series of marketing opportunities for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, traumatic board meetings early in his tenure at The Royal Opera House and getting ambitious at the Kennedy Center. (more…)

Building Resilience

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Nina glanced at the file under my arm “Building Resilience” and then looked at me with pity in her eyes, assuming I was undergoing that familiar mid-life crisis in which artists retreat from a life of creating ephemeral whimsy and retrain as structural engineers. Untrue, I was at Piccadilly Station retreating from two days thinking how we can build the resilience of Stan’s Cafe to insure that if the roof falls in, the roof won’t fall in. Essentially the challenge put to us was whether we could ensure that if one of our five main sources of income dried up, we wouldn’t have to turn the lights out and perform theatre in the dark. (more…)

Relationship Manager

Monday, June 19th, 2017

The taste of humble pie is becoming familiar. Now I admit my original scepticism was wrong, everyone should have a relationship manager.

The relationship manager ensures you no longer forget birthdays or anniversaries, they gauge the aptness of presents, nudge you to call neglected relatives, prompt you to throw parties, organise trips to the with friends cinema and host dinner at yours; they help smooth things over at work, they let you know when you’ve stepped out of line in the bar and they broker reconciliations after yet more misunderstandings. Now I don’t know how we ever managed without one. (more…)

Neither Away Nor A Day.

Thursday, January 12th, 2017


Once a year we gather the Stan’s Cafe board together and retreat, via a secret door and a hidden flight of stairs to pristine time-capsule that is the A E Harris & Co Ltd. board room. Here, with a view of the city centre skyline, we start our scheming. (more…)

We’re Recruiting!

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

We are on the hunt for an Administrator to work with us on a fixed term basis in 2016 to cover maternity leave. The Administrator is at the heart of the company, managing projects on the ground and running all the systems that make sure everything runs like clockwork. As our 25th anniversary year, 2016 will be a busy and exciting period for Stan’s Cafe and we’re looking for someone who’s keen to join the team and get stuck in.

Please see the job description below. Applications close at midday on Friday 11 December and interviews will be held in week commencing 14 December. To apply, please submit a CV and cover letter explaining your suitability for the role to Roisin Caffrey at roisin@stanscafe.co.uk. Please also contact Roisin if you have any enquiries about the position.



Confirmation Bias

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

So, gorging on TED talks can eventually result mild in nausea. In high doses their relentlessly positive, earnest, can-do tone reacts rather unpleasantly with deep-seated British cynicism. Fortunately the cure is simple. After a brief period of abstinence levels of immunity usually return to normal. This is good news because the series regularly delivers useful or diverting thoughts. (more…)

Roisin Caffrey: Exec Producer

Monday, April 13th, 2015

Welcome Roisin

Those who follow us on Twitter will already have had a hint at our latest big breaking news. We are genuinely excited to officially welcome Roisin Caffrey to the Stan’s Cafe team.

Roisin grew up in Birmingham before going to the University of Leeds. She returned home to work at Birmingham Conservatoire and then at mac in the productions team. As well as producing independent work, she has been Administrator at Theatre-Rites, Production Assistant at the Gate Theatre Notting Hill and General Manager at Cheek by Jowl. She was Executive Producer at NIE on maternity cover before travelling to Australia to work on Darwin Festival, and has just finished working in the team producing Royal de Luxe’s visit to our friends at Perth Festival with The Giants. She will officially join Stan’s Cafe on 20th April as our first ever Executive Producer.

A quirk of timetables means Roisin was able to meet up with The Cardinals team in Adelaide – hence the photograph.

Reciprocal Marketing

Thursday, March 26th, 2015


It’s tough trying to flog a show when your budget is small and your potential audience is being shouted at constantly from all angles by other people wanting to sell them things. Reciprocal marketing is a classic free roll of the dice. The logic runs smooth: “your audience likes your theatre, maybe they’d like to hear about our theatre and similarly maybe our audience would like to hear about your theatre – you show yours ours now and we’ll show ours yours later”. (more…)

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