Thursday, March 30, 2006


Heavy Piano – Birmingham's Loss

Yesterday I helped lift a heavy piano into the back of a van*. All good days should contain one such event.

*Solid proof that Mark Anderson and Helen Ingham are moving out of town. They have been living in Wales for a while, now their studio is moving as well. As a sizable proportion of the performance group Blissbody, as solo artists and as Stan collaborators they are a great loss to Birmingham.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Acronym City

Over the last three days, whilst the rest of Stan’s Cafe have been charging around being productive, I’ve spent the three days chewing the end of a pencil. When embarking on a bold new journey chewing a pencil is a pretty good way to start. We got offered a place on an “Audience Development Programme” and although we think our audiences are great, who couldn’t do with a bit of development? The programme is called “Not For The Likes Of You”, a name that ranks second only to our bookkeeping application “Mind Your Own Business” in the ‘difficult to refer to without sounding rude stakes’.

The programme runs over an extended period. The first stage is Leadership Training – hence the pencil chewing. Discounting rehearsals, I can’t think of the last time I sat down and thought for three days solid without any other work intruding. It would have been valuable for that alone. Corporate Training Speak isn’t my favourite language, but codifying common sense has its value and spotting simple patterns in a whirl of data is only easy once you’ve seen them. I found myself being thankful that the world is populous enough that someone somewhere (usually The States) has made it their life’s work do all this thinking for me. It is easy to see how people can become evangelical after a good training course.

There won’t be a sweeping change at Stan’s Cafe as a result of this one course, but its influence should be distinguishable over time. The company has grown to the point where old systems are having to be replaced, informal arrangements and understandings are having to be thought about and discussed. The skills required to lead Stan’s Cafe in the old days aren’t sufficient any more. Trotsky wasn’t mentioned at Aston Business School – not even misquoted (though I notice he got a look in through beard related statistics in Valencia), but what I took from the three days was a realisation that we need a Permanent Revolution.


Friday, March 17, 2006


The Woman Behind The Big Screen

On Wednesday I met The Woman Behind The Screen and it remains unclear if the experience was more unnerving for her or me. Though, as she is unlikely to be writing about meeting me, maybe it is safe to assume I was the more shaken.

A few years ago a vast television set was erected in central Birmingham. It stands above the hoardings that have, for half a young lifetime, concealed the fact that no renovation work is taking place on the Town Hall. This screen is low definition – red, green and blue festoon bulbs from Blackpool Pleasure Beach taped together in clusters facing the Central Library. They beam out over all the poor souls, sat on the steps, trying to while away peaceful minutes watching the real live world go by. No chance. Since the screen has been up there’s no real live whiling away to be done. Volume is stuck on full, the channel -some spongiform encephalizing quasinews spew - cannot be shifted. Orwell would freak.

Stan’s Cafe once received a letter from The Woman Behind The Screen suggesting we may like to contribute some ‘content for the screen’. I replied explaining in fairly direct terms why Stan’s Cafe wouldn’t be contributing content. A reply came back from The Boss Of The Woman Behind The Screen explaining that Manchester already had a screen and that other cities were queuing up to get theirs (Manchester, discerningly, shoved theirs on the arse-end of a shopping centre). Our correspondence continued debating whether or not the screen could be deemed Fascistic. We agreed to differ.

So, on Wednesday I was at the BBC’s offices in The Mailbox to hear what opportunities there might be for our Frankley School collaborators to get their stories broadcast and the was a presentation by The Woman Behind The Screen. Clearly one of life’s great enthusiasts she was trying to drum up more ‘content for the screen’. I sat listening, Zen, like a monk, making not a sound. While she was extolling the screen’s social virtues I didn’t point out that during the European Championships a bigger better screen was erected on Centenary Square which drew a frenzied crowd, thus when Match Of The Day cut to see goal reactions round the country it looked like only a dozen people were watching in Brum. Even as she was speaking, on the monitors beside her, tickertape news was announcing a Council ban preventing people watching football on the Big Screen due to violence two years ago – I said nothing. In the mingling, networking, sipping orange juice, buffet raiding presentation aftermath our paths crossed. We introduced ourselves. I caught her twitch. “Ah, you’re the one who doesn’t like the screen" she said. Not like it? Let me count the ways in which I do not like it.

The good news is that when the fictitious workforce finally complete their renovation job and the Town Hall opens that screen goes. Unfortunately it will probably reappear elsewhere hopefully on the arse-end of the Pavilions Shopping Centre where to watch it you would have to station yourself on the Inner Ring Road and dance around the busses.


Monday, March 13, 2006


Edward Burtynsky

Reporting in after her extended stint in Spain with the rice, Amanda gave us a great tip-off:
a photographer of "beautiful but toxic landscapes"

So we pass it on:

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Public Support

It was a sad shock to hear that THE pUBLIC is going into administration. This one time peripatetic community arts organisation has scaled itself up to an amazing extent. It has got astonishingly and agonisingly close to opening a Will Alsop designed HQ in the centre of West Bromwich, reportedly costing £50,000,000.

We first had contact with them when they were Jubliee Arts. They commissioned Space Station from us for the West Midlands Metro Line. At that time we were vaguely aware Jubliee Arts had given birth to C-plex, the organisation that was live in this amazing building when it was built. From the outside it was fascinating to watch the small parent company grappling with the phenomenal growth of its child. By the time we teamed up again to make HoHoHo, parent and child had fused in a metaphor defying way to become THE pUBLIC. Their large, open plan office was now swarming with activity. They seemed to be recruiting at an amazing rate. People we knew from other areas of our work started cropping up as staff members. Everyone looked busy, driven and vaguely perplexed by the ride they were on.

If administration doesn’t sort things out for THE pUBLIC it will be a sad day. Theirs is a great vision, a bold statement for the arts as a galvanising social force on a grand scale. It will be a victory for the cynics and the cautious, the doom mongers and foot draggers – it won’t prove them right, for their inertia will have contributed to this downfall. There are many great, talented and committed people working for THE pUBLIC, it will be unjust reward for their endeavours if this thing does not fly. Surely it will be a sad day for West Bromwich too, there must be hundreds like me whose only cause to visit the town has been events promoted by THE pUBLIC.

No matter what the outcome, whether this is a glitch or a crash, whether the building becomes the creative heart of the region or suffers the ignominy of conversion to a car showroom, it has been an amazing journey. Last night I became captivated by the startling vision of this whole extraordinary story being told as a feature film directed by Werner Herzog. I couldn't shift from my mind the vision of THE pUBLIC's energetic visionary leader Sylvia King played by Klaus Kinsky at full throttle?


Friday, March 03, 2006


Post-Industrial / Pre-Administerial

Today, whilst the team open Of All The People In All The World in Manchester Art Gallery, I’ve been on a site visit to Newcastle (or perhaps more properly now days – NewcastleGateshead). The potential venue looks ideal, an office space waiting to be let. It’s spectacular, vast, a U-shaped room with a metal floor and views of the Tyne and Sage. A low ceiling will suit the broad mountains of rice – more Fuji than Everest. We have spent so long rehearsing and performing in former factory spaces it will make a great change that for once people will be forced to do administration work in a former Performance space. With no drafts, no leaks, no dust, no oil, no sub-zero or super-tropical temperatures we won’t feel at home at all – it will be fantastic.

Yesterday the War Cabinet gathered for the first time; Rob, Gerv, Nick, Charlotte and me plotting to finally get Stan a permanent base. Somewhere that brings together office, rehearsal and storage space; like we had on New Canal Street but with no drafts, no leaks, no dust, no oil, humane temperatures and a life expectancy closer to fifteen years that fifteen months. We’ve been on this mission since long before New Canal Street got demolished. Are we the only theatre company in the world to have their rehearsal space knocked down turfed over and turned into fields?

I remember when all this was nothing but buildings.

Our vision for the new space is fluid. We could be in it alone, be tenants or be landlords. It could be snug just for us or be closer to a punk Arts Centre. Our deadline is 2008. This time we’re serious and unstoppable. The problem has always been circular: “how do you raise money for a space that doesn’t exist? How do you raise a space with money that doesn’t exist?" Yesterday we identified a path to solving this problem and the first steps have been taken. Where better to tap out the future than on the quasi-infinite train journey from NewcastleGateshead to BirminghamSandwellDudleyWolverhamptonWestBromwichWalsallSolihul?


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?