Tuesday, August 29, 2006



Finally we have our visas to work in the US. The process has been an eye opening and, perhaps worth detailing here.

First the venues inviting us had to engage an attorney to fill in forms and draw up a petition arguing our case. This included evidence of who they were, what Stan’s Cafe is, what the show is and a copy of our contract. It included reviews of the show, biographies of company members, even some of those, like Nick, who aren’t travelling. They had to apply to the Actors Union in The States for agreement to let us work there – arguing that local performers could not take our roles. Once granted, this permission was included in the petition which, once completed was four inches thick, sent from the states and taken to the embassy in duplicate.

We filled in forms giving a significant amount of personal information and then the men had to fill in an extra form enquiring about former military service, membership of organisation or training in explosive Etc. We had to have photographs taken larger than conventional passport photographs complying with strict compositional stipulations which fortunately a photographer in Groningen had on her machine.

Appointments had to be made to visit the embassy. We flew from Amsterdam to Heathrow and stayed in a Paddington Hotel to be ready for our appointment at 08.00. We took our passports and arms full of documents, we queued on the pavement with at least a hundred other hopefuls, passed through security, got issued numbers, sat, waited and got called, had our finger tips scanned, our passports taken, told to wait, sat, waited and got called, spent thirty seconds in front of a very cheery Gentleman who wished us a pleasant trip and that was it, all done.

Passports with pasted in visas carrying out 2” square photographs should be with us by courier tomorrow, a triumph for Charlotte in the office who has coordinated the whole operation and taken years off her life in the process.

There are costs at every stage, they are cumulative and, in sum, exorbitant. Last month, when budgeting for our East Coast run, Nick’s line for visas read £1,500 and I thought he’d gone mad, now he just seems wise.




The more we learn about the Noorderzon festival the more extraordinary it seems. Apparently it is financed in part by its bar profits and to keep these high the beer is sponsored and bars staffed by volunteers. It seems extraordinary that all these people are working like dogs behind a bar until 1am to make a theatre festival possible, hopefully the attendant social life makes it worthwhile for them. Either way, knowledge of this sacrifice made each trip to the bar an emotional experience. To be paid to perform at an International Festival is a great feeling, to then be served free beer by someone who is sacrificing their spare time to make it all possible is almost too much. A couple of beers in and I found myself welling up at the thought.

Volunteers also staffed our tent and Marjolein and Henriëtte, who tended to take the evening shift on box office were particularly fantastic, hilarious and along with our local performer Larry, great company. We all had a farewell dinner together on Sunday Night and said our farewells, planning / hoping, to meet again, next year or in Amsterdam, or Bochum, or Birmingham – the latest in a litany of friends we have made and left on our travels.


Saturday, August 26, 2006


Thunder and Rice

Despite regular thunder storms the crowds keep coming. We're well past a thousand now. There just two days to go, it's fantastic here and I can't wait to get home.


Thursday, August 24, 2006


Models and Dancers

After a couple of days off exploring the city with Sarah and Eve I’m back with full shifts through to the end of the festival. I love performing this show, once you get locked in the time flies by. Having been open for almost a week it was time to shake things up and repay return visitors with a fully refreshed layout. The early shift was fairly quiet and allowed for wholesale movement of rice, which was useful as in the evening crowds grew until it became one-in/one-out and we were almost pinned behind our work table.

A good TV feature, impressive review and word of mouth recommendations have built audiences day on day, so with tent leaks fixed and free beer tokens aplenty everyone is on good form. We have even managed to get out to see a couple of shows.

On Tuesday Jake and I attended Nature Theater Of Oklahoma’s Poetics: Aballet Brut, which is billed as a ballet by people who had never been to the ballet. It feels like a one joke show, but there is also the suspicion that there’s more going on that we really can’t decode. Which ever way we looked at it, despite some fun moments, we left disappointed.

Last night, at the last minute, the night shift all dived into a tent that had been intriguing us all week. The puppet company TamTam were performing a half hour almost wordless show To Have Or Not To Have to a packed house of thirty. Animating rusting and broken found objects on a bed of sand they told a simple, elegant story of competition for possession of a small velvet bag. The soundtrack was brilliantly conceived, the vision clear and inventive, the performances strong and engaging. It was the ideal way to conclude a day spent modelling populations in rice.

You pays your money and takes your choice – unless you get in for free.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Coffee and Youngblood

Another day, another media, another audience, another agenda, another country another interview; contrasts with Monday could not be more stark. Over coffee and pastry the artist and writer Johan Brouwer spends an hour guiding and cajoling me into personal reflections on artistic creation, moments of revelation and transformation. As Johan gently prompts me to think and talk about myself it becomes a touching experience, disconcertingly indulgent. He’s writing a series of pieces for the Noorderzon Festival but a career in psychotherapy is surely his for the asking.

I don’t think we do festivals like this at home do we?

Groningen’s big park was swarming with people last night; the festival had drawn thousands of people. It feels as if the whole town must be here. Between the trees, tents and booths house performances, films and installations. With our tent full of rice tied closed and our fists full beer tokens we stumble past stalls selling food and sweets and beer to the heart of things. Two huge bars, built high on scaffold platforms flank the park’s long narrow lake and look down on a stage set across the lake’s southern end. Tonight. It looks a thankless task playing with your audience in the wings and balconies but water where the stalls should be. The Youngblood Brass Band taking on the challenge. They’re ripping it up. They are fantastic. They have a saxophone, two trombones, two trumpets and a rhythm section to kill or die for, three guys on drums all standing and a sousaphone where the bass should be. It’s so driving and danceable I wish I’d brought my trunks to stage dive.


Thursday, August 17, 2006


Crates Missing

Somewhere in Europe, in a forgotten corner of some freight firm’s marshalling yard, lie two blue crates containing an assortment of scales, weights, brushes, scoops, calculators, labels, trousers and one large bale of green cloth. We don’t know where the crates are, but crucially we know where they are not – which is in Gronegen. Gronegen is where we are, with one blue crate.

The missing crates are part of The Great European Baggage Meltdown and no one knows when we will see them again. Fortunately some crucial items where in our personal luggage, the festival have come up trumps with other items and the crucial third crate held some treasures. Of All The People In All The World has thus opened on time with only the untrained eye able to spot the difference between this and the full three crate version.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Radio Bilge

We have started working with a PR agency. Hometown recognition is about politics not vanity, if we’re going to get a permanent home we’re going to need some help and we’re not going to get help unless we get a good deal of good vibe going; hence the agency.

It’s been a slow start, so when the call came to go for an interview with the local station Radio WM there was no not going. My first attempt ended before it began. Reception couldn’t contact the guy – he was in a studio with all phones turned off. I returned yesterday and it began and ended, and if more than two dozen people hear it go out, that will be too many. I just added to the Total Flow of media bilge sloshing around the world that, if it weren’t so bland and meaninglessly nothing, would pollute anyone unsavvy enough to tune in.

Here, in summary, are my answers:

“My job is coming up with ideas for theatre projects for Stan’s Cafe to work on.”

“I’m a terrible actor, but enjoy directing”

“Most of our work is done abroad but you may have seen us at MAC or The Door, we do work in Birmingham schools and people may have seen The Black Maze”

“No, I’ve never worked with a stroppy prima donna actress”

“No, I’m not being polite, I haven’t”

“No, snogging scenes aren’t difficult, they’re actors, they act”

“No, not really”

“No, we’re not very racey”

“We’re just about to tour to Holland, Germany, Portland, L.A. and Melbourne”

“No, tax payers aren’t paying for it – at least not those in this country”.



Work with The Other Way Works

Two or three years ago Jane and Katie came calling. They had graduated from Birmingham University, had formed a theatre company called The Other Way Works and were after some advice. Since then, intermittently, we’ve spent an hour or two here and there talking through various challenges they face and choices they must make, it’s been fun.

They have now made a few shows and their star is rising. It looks like they may be getting some money to ‘develop their organisation’ and have kindly offered to start paying Stan’s Cafe for my advice – if it is offered in a more structured way. Yesterday was the first half day of this work. It’s still fun – except now I feel obliged to do a little more legwork and type up notes on our discussions.

The fun in this kind of work comes in visiting other peoples' worlds, exploring and moulding ideas that you know you will never have to make happen yourself. My brother does a similar thing but is expected to save companies £20M along the way. I just want to help get Jane and Katie a living wage and a few more shows made. They’re good folk and their website is worth a visit.



Friday, August 04, 2006


Dull Post Holiday Entry

Post holiday is a good time, fired up and ready to go. This week has been a bit about catching up with the past but mostly trying get to grips with the future.

On Tuesday Craig and I sized up a few sizable spaces for Of All The People In All The World in London 2007 – the whole world version. Our excitement in the spaces turns out to correlate directly to their price, but something can probably be worked out.

On Wednesday Craig and I met up with Mr.Sweeting in Oxford to weigh up options for the future. The successive failure of three ideas pitched to various commissioners has dented my usually bullet-proof optimism – am I doing something wrong? Do we look to push our studio theatre shows as hard we can in the next few years or do we continue to look to the para-theatrical stuff? I often speculate as to how much Stan’s Cafe shapes it’s future and how much it is carried by the tide of events and opportunities.

On Thursday we had a staff meeting, this was partly about the future of art, but mostly about new, more stringent financial controls designed to keep track of how much we should and do have or have not in the bank.


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