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Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

Robert Ball

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

I admire people who make things happen, who seize an idea and galvanise those around them to bring that idea to life. This is an act of optimism, a feat of will and a triumph of energy over the status quo. Robert Ball was one of these people and so to learn today of his recent death is especially sad.

In 2012 Robert founded FRED to create new theatre and stage classic theatre in fresh ways. Their first production was The Merchant Of Venice, which they staged across three spaces in our sprawling industrial venue @ A E Harris. The production zipped along with verve, humour and tight focus, it was well received and launched the company to produce a further 30 or so productions in a mere eight years – a prodigious output that included performances going into schools and care homes to reach as many people as possible.

Robert was a Shakespeare specialist but also a general theatre lover, excited to commission new writing, revive a long lost Restoration Comedy – The Dutch Lady and rock up at other people’s shows. Slipping in and out of Robert’s technical rehearsals and witnessing FRED before and after their productions, you couldn’t help but be uplifted by their shared sense of enterprise, mutual support, seriousness and good humour.

It was always a happy coincidence to bump into Robert, an intelligent, highly principled and scrupulously polite man. An enthusiast, a man who made things happen and someone who will be sadly missed.

Our sympathy goes out to all those close to him whose lives were lifted by his presence and will be deminished by his absence.

Making the effort

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Study No.3 (Physical Distancing) from Terrapin Puppet Theatre on Vimeo.

It’s been a long time since the last post, so to speak, but we’re still here. There’s been a lot going on in the world, which we have been absorbing. Efforts are on going. Today we enjoyed the virtual company of Terrapin and found this effortful piece of persistance.

Thank You Alan James

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019

Last Friday we held our annual Summer Party in the courtyard of our HQ here in Birmingham. It was a pleasent, low key evening and later a mellow night, but my heart really wasn’t in it.

It’s now a little over three months since our friend Alan James died and two months since his funeral. The funeral was a terribly sad but wonderful occassion. A humanist celebrant offered consolation, Spiro and 9bach – the two bands Alan managed – both performed, the room was full of Alan’s friends, four people spoke and at the centre of things lay Alan in a wicker coffin topped with his hat.

Afterwards we gathered at The Swan, Stourport-on-Severn; different threads of Alan’s life meeting, sharing stories and food and music. It felt apt that even in his absence Alan was introducing people to each other, we had a lovely time.

Travelling home a reflected on how Stan’s Cafe could say our own proper thank you so someone who had given so much time and attention to the company. Our Summer Party seemed an apt occasion and as Alan had introduced us to so much great music over the years we could easily playlist the whole event with ‘his’ music. So we did and it was a great soundtrack but somehow still not enough. I’d thought that maybe, if the moment and audience were right, I’d share with the party the tribute to Alan I’d read at the funeral, but the moment wasn’t right until 1am in a corner with just two people listening. So I’m going to share this with you now.

Alan had an obituary in The Guardian and an article in Froots magazine both of which cover his amazing journey through the world of music. Part of my job was to add a Birmingham and Theatre dimension to the picture, so this is an attempt to say thank you on behalf of another whole great gang of us. It is also piece of writing I crafted for and about a dear friend as a means of saying thank you for everything. Please read it.

Mr. Custard Factory

Monday, November 12th, 2018


THIS GREAT VIDEO IS RELATED TO THIS POST BUT ONLY IF YOU READ RIGHT TO THE END.

Back at the beginning of time, when Graeme and I were deciding where Stan’s Cafe should be based, we were shown around a big, empty old space in the Digbeth area of Birmingham by a young architect called Glynn Howells. This space was to become The Custard Factory, a building in which a community of artists and creative industry professionals would come together in a symbiotic way to support, cross-pollinate and cross-subsidise each other for the benefit of one and all. (more…)

Congratulations Stan and Michelle

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

Today we were delighted to read in The River Reporter, Narrowsburg, NY that over in Honesdale, Stan and Michelle Rembish are celebrating the third anniversary of their cafe.

The research we’ve done suggests we would be regulars in Stan’s Cafe if we lived nearby as it looks like our kind of place. Further research tells us that Stan and Michelle were able to launch their business in part thanks to a $2,000 raffle win. We wish them well and hope their luck holds.

Publications

Friday, September 7th, 2018

Yesterday two very different publications emerged featuring Stan’s Cafe content which, taken together, show the diversity of how writing about theatre is currently distributed.

Marissia Fragkou has authored a book Ecologies of Precarity in Twenty First Century Theatre. It’s always exciting to find a book whose title causes you to reach for a dictionary, especially when that dictionary doesn’t help at all. It seems the term precarity (which presumably prevents you having to get ugly with precariousness), wasn’t massively in use 39 years ago when I started secondary school and my parents gave me the edition of The Little Oxford Dictionary which still sits beside me ameliorating my poor spelling. Marissia’s book is published by Bloomsbury Methuen and currently marketed at University Libraries (RRP £75 but at the time of writing available from the publishers for £52.50) hopefully the paperback will be out ready for people’s Christmas stockings next year. Marissia is a good incisive writer so this volume is certainly worth checking out by those interested in the contemporary theatre scene.

By contrast Tracey Crossley and Niki Woods have edited Making Post Dramatic Theatre: A Handbook of Devising Exercises a couple of which are ours. This publication is exclusively available on the subscription based online platform Digital Theatre. It is targeted at young theatre makers or teachers of theatre to give them ideas for their own practical work. Once again The Little Oxford Dictionary doesn’t help but it is excused as Hans-Thies Lehmann’s seminal Postdramatic Theatre (which cites Of All The People In All The World as piece of such theatre) was only published in 2006.

By way of further contrast Devising Theatre With Stan’s Cafe, written with our collaboration with Mark Crossley (no relation of Tracy as far as we know) remains a massive compromise. There’s no dictionary challenging title, it’s for theory AND practice people, it’s out in old school expensive hardback, new school cheaper paper back and future school e-book with a non-subscription website based supplement.

If you’ve not yet had enough contrasts there are the 21 new Stan’s Cafe titles we are looking to publish in the next 12 months, but they are the subject of a blog post that’s yet to be written.

When Kiln is not Kiln

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018


Photo Credit: Simon Davies

Some of you will know this story, you’re savvy enough to stop reading if you have.

In 2005 a group of students graduated from Birmingham University and decided to form a theatre company. After much fraught discussion they decided to call their company Kindle. I don’t know for a fact that the discussion was ‘much’ and ‘fraught’ but whoever named their enterprise with speedy decisive assurance? Anyway, the point is they called themselves Kindle, they worked hard, started making shows, and became successful.

In parallel with this story is one about a graduate of Princeton University who, in 1994, decided to form an online book retailer. After ‘much fraught discussion’ he decided to call his retailer Amazon. He worked hard, started selling books and became successful.

In 2005 Amazon started work building an electronic book called Fiona. After some time it became clear that the e-reader could be great but that its name was rubbish so after much engaging of branding consultants they decided to call it Kindle.

By the time millions of Kindles were being sold around the world Kindle started to get fed up of sharing their name with an e-reader and all the questions and misunderstandings that involved. They decided to change their name.

Despite very little engaging of branding consultants they still came up with the name Kiln, a neat choice I’m sure we will all agree.

In parallel with this story is one about a graduate of Hull University who in 2012 takes over Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, London. After working hard, making shows and being successful, the director leads Tricycle Theatre to a major refurbishment. After ‘much fraught discussion’, but possibly not very much ‘web-searching for to see if a theatre company already exists with the name you’d quite like to use for your theatre company’, she/they decide to call it… and here you’re all ahead of me – Kiln.

So poor old Kiln were called Kindle before Kindle and now they’re called Kiln before a much richer, more established and more prominent theatre based in London decide to be Kiln. Where from here?

Well Kindles are still called Kindles. Kiln complained to Kiln about the name Kiln, but Kiln really didn’t seem bothered about it at all – whereas Kiln, as you can imagine, are really quite bothered about it. So Kiln aren’t going to change their name, particularly after an expensive rebranding, despite sniffy columns and comments in The Guardian which also include numerous people saying what a rubbish name Kiln is! This just leaves Kiln who have decided to disband, not because of the whole Kiln thing, but because as a collective they felt they’d run their course and want to continue working in theatre as individuals.

So if Kiln are disbanding does any of this matter? Well, The Tricycle didn’t know Kiln were disbanding when they decided to cohabit their name – maybe Kiln didn’t know they were disbanding at that point, so there is a lack of respect in the decision, which is upsetting, original Kiln are sinking in the search engines swamped by new Kiln.

On 22nd September Kiln are holding a valedictory walk from Birmingham University to a pub somewhere across some hills, I hope to join them and celebrate their achievements and wish them luck with whatever they do next – whatever they may call themselves.

Matters Outstanding

Monday, July 30th, 2018

This weekend saw the return of Lunar Festival after a year off. Having worked the 2015 as The Commentators it was a pleasure to return not working but as the punters. Although cloud cover prevented us from seeing Friday night’s Blood Moon phenomena in the sky the Lunar stages presented plenty of alternative phenomena to gape at in awe.

Amadou and Mariam were a stirring joyful feelgood revelation to get lost in. They were set up by Basement Jaxx who got and kept a whole field of people jumping with their DJ set. In turn they were set up by zestful fun from The Go! Team

Saturday’s more overcast weather was adroitly mirrored by a darker musical programme that opened with Matters, my pick of the festival. Although I absolutely loved Amadou and Mariam ultimately they are a bit too cheerful and exotic to be my pin-ups, driving epic paranoia from Birmingham has to carry the day for me.

I looked after bags while lots of people went to hear Ed Miliband do whatever he does now. We caught Untied Artists blowing cobwebs from their Acorn Emporium children’s show before it arrives at mac in August. Barbara Nice was audible in the distance running a version of Blind Date. I caught what looked like a dad and two very young sons played a punk set and Ouse Valley Singles club playing a pugnacious skiffle set. We ate Persian food, didn’t feel the need for any of the ‘healing’ or craft activities on offer, slept past the 8am kids cinema showing on offer by Flatpack and sheltered from the rain. Blackash concluded their intense set with cheerleaders and a gorgeously back lit Goldfrapp wrapped Saturday-up with an rich and assured performance.

A triumphal return for Lunar, next up, in early September comes the Moseley Folk Festival for which The Commentators return.

BE judged

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

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. (more…)

Kenesh Dramaturge

Friday, June 1st, 2018

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. (more…)


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