Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The Big Banner
If you're based near Birmingham keep your eyes open, there are more.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
It's recommended for what it is irrespective of who it is. I'm just appending their press release.
THURSDAY 28TH AUGUST, DOORS 7PM, FIRST ACT 7.30PM
THE THEATRE, THE CUSTARD FACTORY, BIRMINGHAM
After a short break in transmission PILOT is back offering you an altogether more eye-opening night out in Birmingham.
As always PILOT nights are a motley assortment of new, untested shorts from some of the most exciting theatre companies around. Each last between 10 and 20 minutes and together present a mix of comic, touching and peculiar performance. The audience are invited to get a drink, enjoy the show and stick around to let the performers know exactly what they thought.
PILOT’s new producing team, Samantha Fox, Jess Mackinnon and Paul Warwick invite you to The Custard Factory, Birmingham on the 28th of August to re-launch PILOT with an exciting INTERNATIONAL line up of scratch performances not to be missed.
The line-up includes the UK premiere of award winning Australian company Side Pony Productions who bring the classic Western to the stage in a serial melodrama of epic proportions – YOU SAW THEM HERE FIRST!!! PILOT star Ed Rapley returns with a monologue in which he attempts to travel in time to save himself from such a disappointing adolescence. Local favourites Spanner and HamFisted! are back plus the brand new Birmingham based company, Stepping On Rakes bring their female clowns to the stage for the very first time. To top it off Tikur Anbessa invites you to question what’s so frightening about ‘The Blackheart Man’ in his explosive one man show and London-based Vier Theatre make their Midlands debut to tell the mythic tale of The Hermit Crab!
Tickets are £5 (£4) and can be purchased on the door, which opens at 7pm.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
It was fun to meet nine new people and hear them discuss the possisblities for the show amongst themselves. Ultimately any one of them would have made a good fist of performing the show, so making a decision was easy, in that it felt like I couldn’t go far wrong, and difficult in that disappointing people you could easily envision doing the show isn’t ever fun.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Tons of print has arrived for the Birmingham version of Of All The People, so teaser postcards are being distributed through the City Centre. Invitations to the opening are finally hitting the post box. The factory clearance is behind schedule, but not yet worryingly so. Quotes will come in soon for cleaning the floor. Jon and Arvo have stated their kit requirements for sound and lights and a plan is being hatched to pull Constance Brown kit to cover some of this. The Fire Brigade visit on Friday to check the venue over as part of the license application. Tomorrow I ‘audition’ a few of the dozens of people who responded to our invitation for the two performance roles that are up for grabs. This edition of Charlotte’s diurnal cash-flow projection is ‘tight but positive’.
Consuming as this big production is, I’m desperate not to let other things slip. There are various gigs and tours in various degrees of negotiation, all need attention. It’s the constant bind of all busy organisation, how do you deliver in the short term whilst also developing the medium and long term plans? Certainly not by writing extended blog entries.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Over the next couple of days there are two personnel changes, Craig comes to replace me and Sarah replaces Chris. These fresh perspectives should take the show on in new directions and shares around the fun in Hamburg.
My last day in the City was marked by a cultural triathlon. Part one was a large Mark Rothko retrospective at the Kunsthalle. Seeing so many of his paintings together was a great chance to see how his ideas developed. In particular I was surprised to see that in his earliest paintings figures are regularly framed, mostly in windows and that this framing reappears strongly in his famous later abstract pieces. By selectively hanging historic landscape paintings beside some of Rothko’s paintings that stack horizontal blocks of colour the curator/s made me more comfortable with my brazen reading of all these abstract paintings as landscapes. By seeing so many Rothkos together it was also possible to explore which some are more satisfying than others. Most importantly this retrospective reaffirmed how powerful I find a great swathe of his work. Unfortunately it also confirmed that in comparison to the originals hanging a Rothko poster on your wall is almost entirely pointless.
Cultural Tirathlon Leg 2 was seeing The Nature Of Oklahoma’s Romeo and Juliette. This is at least the fourth time Stan’s Cafe have shared the bill with this company so it was great to finally meet the directors Paval and Kerry, all be it briefly. They are a company that’s generating considerable excitement and so it was great to see a second show of theirs. Long time Blog readers may recall the lukewarm response to Poetics, Romeo and Juliette hit the mark with much greater assurance. The premise is simple Paval and Kerry phoned lots of people and asked them to relate the story of Romeo and Juliette, these responses were recorded and stitched together into a script. The script is delivered by one male and one female performer, both dressed in cheap versions of ‘classic’ Shakespearian costumes (the male performer ends up resembling Max Wall). They alternate turns on a plyboard mock up of a traditional stage with footlights and the houselights stay on as, with great conviction and with wonderfully arch gesture and skewed English Actor accents, they deliver their hesitant, apologetic, miss remembered bawlderised version of the original text, complete with digressions.
For the most part the show really works. The central device is simple and strong. By taking genuine voices of confusion and doubt and giving them to the figures on stage they have found a great new spin on the rather tired ‘genre’ of performers at sea with their material and position on stage. Much of the show’s pleasure comes from constantly having the original context of the script hovering in your minds and enjoying the way this is being interpreted and appropriated on stage.
It is only close to the show’s end, when the monologue form is necessarily abandoned in favour of dialogue, that diverting from its central premise the show somehow falters and becomes less focused and satisfying. The show was commissioned by Kampnagel and this was just its third performance, I’d love to see the show further down the road to see how it has develops. Who knows, it may even come to Britain.
The triathlon’s final event was an evening with Señor Coconut and his Orchestra. Brian introduced us Señor Coconut a few years ago when his witty and perfectly pitched reinterpretations of classic Kraftwerk tracks as Latin dance numbers appeared as a triumph of ‘laptop in a bed-sit’ devotion. Now the format has expanded, he has a full live band, complete with a bass section, upright base, two sets of vibes and percussion. The show is fronted by an engaging Venezuelan singer, who may or may not have been called Coco (turns out he was Argenis Brito) and the repertoire now stretches to Michael Jackson, Sade, Eurythmics and even Deep Purple.
The whole evening is wonderfully playful. Señor Coconut stands suited, almost impassive behind his iBook centre stage and raised whilst beneath him the band dance and sway and joke and freak out on crazed solos. It is a great party and the fast the rhythm the better the dancing. As Brito says “Señor Coconut, he look serious, he always look serious, but ‘e is ‘appy” and so were we.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Global Macro Economics
Now a significant proportion of our income is earned abroad we have become aware of exchange rates coming into play. Whether this has been a period of getting progressively more expensive for people looking to take us to the U.S.A. or us becoming increasingly good value across mainland Europe.
With the prospect of producing a show with 112 tonnes of rice we have suddenly become rather transfixed by commodity prices and the escalating cost of rice.
Now, in the language of BBC financial journalists, ‘the credit crunch is starting to bite’. Our 112 tonnes of rice is costing us in the region of £90,000. We buy it in September then sell it back in October and get a healthy portion of that money back, but in the mean time we need to hand over significantly more money that we have at our disposal. This is where you would expect your bank to step in to help.
The HSBC have spent four weeks saying “we can’t see there will be a problem with that” and have now said “no”. I can’t see where the risk is. We buy a commodity which we own and don’t intend to destroy. We have a signed contract that it will be bought back. We have cash in the bank to cover the difference in buying and selling prices. We have two more years guaranteed income from Arts Council England, the rice is insured and we have three directors standing personal liability on the loan. How much more security do they want? The threat to “move our account elsewhere” isn’t a hollow one and hopefully it will help them see sense.
It’s pointless even starting to describe this miniatur-wunderland. A team of fanatics must have started off years ago and at some crucial moment their undertaking reached some critical mass and now it’s transformed into self-replicating behemoth, vast and insanely detailed, simultaneously compelling and repulsive. The trains are a starting point, an excuse, audience proxies gliding through the landscape our eyes are scanning from outside.
For these two weeks in Hamburg ours can be seen as parallel projects. Two miniature worlds are being built less than a kilometre from each other, one technically elaborate, one very simple, both full of stories. One full of movement but dead, the other totally still, yet fluid and alive.
There were no two hour waits to get to see the rice but we were happy with 312 visitors on the first day.
Post show we saw Hofesh Shechter’s dance company in the cavernous K6 space in Kampnagel. You enter under through a side door, the enormous seating bank squeaking and groaning above you as 800 people find their seats. The two pieces were engaging, their movement vocabulary seductive; loose and dynamic, full of tics and bold quotidian gesture, focused yet open and evocative. Like all my favourite dance pieces, it made me want to be on stage with the dancers joining in. They carried their technique lightly they made it seem possible that I could.
A frenetic day was rounded off with a cool glide home by boat through the dark, across the lakes, to the rich lights of down town.
Friday, August 15, 2008
The opening was great. Often they are fraught affairs as rice gets trampled beneath the feet of those thinking and talking about other things whilst looking elsewhere. Last night everyone was hugely respectful and seemed very engaged, the paper and rice escaped almost totally unscathed. With the combined VIP lists of Kampnagel and the Chamber of Commerce coming into play it was a wonderfully mixed crowd. We had suggestions and questions, lots of thanks. A few people who had seen the show elsewhere and inevitably one or two who want the rice all shipped over to Africa and refused to hear that it is all going to be eaten here in Germany.
The most notable figure of the night was a small, stooped, sinewy old lady, elegantly dressed in a blue skirt suit and hat. She arrived early and, clearly not keen on standing for long periods, took a seat at the edge of the hall and watched. She changed seats a few times and looking at things from different angles. Then suddenly in her hand was a robust looking 35mm camera, with a big old flash bolted on and raised top right. She took a series of shots from her seated position, stayed until almost everyone else had gone, then carefully wrapped both camera and flash in a large piece of red fabric and carefully placed in her bag. She then got slowly to her feet and left. I wish I knew who she was and I would love to see what she has photographed over the years. I bet she has some tales to tell.
The classic cream and leather Mercedes taxi eased us four K to Kampnagel. True to form the tec team had done an amazing job. As threatened, the scrubland and scrappy parking rubble that had stood behind the vast run of five performance spaces had been transformed into a beautiful garden. Chippings and pebbles and cut grass. Vast slashes of fluorescent pink from high industrial ironwork, bars, benches, tables, fake snow a coffee vendor, all you could wish for and a start contrast to the stone and breezeblock forecourt that normally serves the outdoor social function here.
We stood mesmerised in Janet Cardiff’s beautiful Motet in 40 parts. Thirty five speakers in a circle place you within a choir singing Thomas Tallis. Chris stayed for an age and then told us all the things we’d missed by not staying longer and listening more carefully. We must return.
Beer tokens and a first night thirst overcame sound judgement. Moving we hi the start of a DJ set built on stripped down industrial rhythm tracks. Some Stan dancing took place. Shattered, happy and lost I give the room of my Aging Dad Head Nod. 45 minutes in I was starting to get into it the swing of it but it was time to go home. Bed at 2 as we ‘have to’ be at The World’s Biggest Model Railway by 8 tomorrow.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Hamburg Get-In: Day 2
Another smooth day. With smaller statistics the order of the day and with Daniel and Anja arriving to supplement Olivia in our translation team we were able to pick up the pace.
Again we have become embroiled in fascinating translation discussions. There often isn’t a German equivalent to a word we want to use. Regularly a German word, whilst it means what we want to say, carries an implication of something else, which isn’t quite right. Where the English label reads “Tourists Visiting Majorca Last Year”, the German translation in effect has to say “Male Tourists and Female Tourists Visiting Majorca Last Year”. In reverse English becomes less elegant than German when writing about “Female Florists in Germany” and “Male Florists in Germany”. In German the gender of the florist is communicated with a change of suffix.
An extended pause in the Stan’s Cafe touring diary earlier in the year meant the post of full time Production Manager became unsustainable. In the inelegant language of the workplace “we had to let Karen go”. We miss her. In the relatively quiet time just past we’ve missed her presence, not with touring picking up again we’ve started to miss the work she did and today, with a packed queue at the table for labels, costumes all crumpled and three of us in serially and in parallel grappling with the dark arts of merging documents we missed Karen acutely. Nevertheless, all was well come press-call time.
I gave a brief introduction talk before letting the journalists loose. Having just finished a radio interview I looked around the hall to see Graeme in the midst of another radio interview, Jake in front of a TV camera and Jack being quizzed by a gang of tour guides. Everything is shaping up well.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
We have spent a day weighing out rice for Of All The People In All The World and now a righteous thunderstorm is breaking over Hamburg. In stark contrast to those that met the show in Stuttgart three years ago, this storm is welcome. There we were set up with 104 tonnes of rice in a leaking former tram shed. Here we have 12 tonnes of rice in a grand and (we presume) watertight Chamber of Commerce building. It’s been a clammy day but nature’s own great de-humidifier is currently sorting that out.
No matter how many times we do this show I remain anxious leading up to the first get-in day. It’s the day of big decisions that set the course of all that is to follow. Today, more acutely than ever, I was aware of how little time I spend with the show. As we grappled with various layout options Jake’s extraordinary experience working the show came to the fore, full of suggestions as to how strategies and statistics used in other cities could be applied to this new set of circumstances.
Being in a Chamber of Commerce building has it’s advantages, not only is it grand and in the City Centre right behind the Town Hall but within an hour someone was offering to buy all the rice. At this rate Kampnagel may find themselves at the centre of a bidding war and if the price of rice keeps rising they may find themselves making a profit on a show with no entrance fee.
Performing in Germany is good for moral: Reason Number 12 – The Media Rock Up.
Our experience is that in Germany you are guaranteed at least one TV Crew will turn out to preview your show along with couple of newspaper features and possibly a radio slot thrown in for good measure. All the journalists, photographers, camera operators and sound guy (they always are) appear interested in what you’re doing, ask intelligent, rational questions about it and seem to understand why your bothering.
On this occasion elements of the media have been almost uncomfortably keen, insisting on coming halfway through Day 1, when there was virtually nothing to film or photograph. Jake, Chris and I put on costumes and pretending the show was up and running, whilst Graeme and Jack dodged around in civvies, trying to continue the get in whilst keeping out of shot.
Keep your eye out for Of All The People in Die Welt.
Clive's Half Day
Tonnes of metal working machines are being moved out ready for us to move in. On Friday we dropped by to see how things were going. There’s still a lot to be done and it’s making us a touch twitchy, but there we have timetabled a decent buffer for unexpected events and all should be well. With most of the workforce off on their annual two week summer break Clive, who will be our ‘caretaker’ for the run, seems to be there alone zooming around on a forklift moving heavy metal objects around. He unlocked doors for us and provided Quote of the Day
“I can’t be doing with these half days” seems an innocuous statement until you realise he was moaning about having to knock off at 12.00 having arrived at 05.00 following an hour’s commute from home. Even Charlotte, who at times appears permanently resident in the Stan office, blanched slightly at the thought.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Print: The Next Generation
The first generation was created before the show was ever performed, Craig’s marvellous map of the British Isles made of rice and a grain of rice in the palm of a hand circles with biro and ME written beside it. These images are serviceable but somehow feel too distant. The rice map especially suggests a show at odds with what people will actually see if they turn up.
The second generation came in post-Stuttgart. Using Ed’s haunting photographs of the rice piles from that show we moved onto images of large piles or rice. This felt like a step forward. These images must represent the show well, they are photographs of the show. In particular we fixed on a moody image of someone, we think it’s Sarah, stood in the mid-distance under skylights between rice mountains.
The third generation responded the demands of venues anxious that photographs of sculptural mounds of rice, with our without a blob that biscuit brown blob that may or may not be Sarah, don’t do the show justice. There was a grown demand for images of people, members of the public ideally ‘engaging with the show’. Make it look fun, was the subtext. By now more versions of the show had been performed and more photographs take. We circulated a selection of images showing the show being popular.
Promoting the show ourselves means we have to make the call for Birmingham images. We looked back at the approaches others had taken We particularly liked the Norwich and Norfolk Festival’s use of a sculptural image on the front with the slogan “Get Things In Perspective”, with, on the reverse, the hand – rice grain shot and “Come and Find Yourself” in there somewhere as a strap line. We decided to steal this basic approach.
Simon lobbied for the use of the Sarah Blob image and we added some third generation images to the reverse of the flier. It looked OK, good even but OK wasn’t enough and even good isn’t good if it’s arty good not bums on seats good. The thinking started to be looking at other people looking at rice isn’t the way to make the thing look attractive. We’re trying to communicate that this world version is a one-off and yet we’re using images of other versions in other places to promote it.
We agreed we needed a new approach, the fourth generation. We had agreed on a teaser campaign to trail the show. Karen suggested a simple set of images, close ups of individual grains of rice with celebrity names as they might appear in the show. These designs were looking good. Maybe the mail leaflet image should link more closely with these. Maybe we don’t need to see the show and instead focus in on the personal implications of the show, the ‘find yourself’ element. To this end adapting the hand / rice image made sense. Focus in on the Whole World element, talk about the scale, 112 tonnes.
With the four teaser postcards, the leaflet front and back, a variety of posters and an invitation card for the opening and a host of funding stakeholders needing to sign off designs there has been a lot of email traffic back and forth. Simon is based in Canada now. I thought I had a grasp on the time difference but that’s broken down a bit as I suspect he has been working unsocial hours and redrafts have been consistently around the clock.
I think we’re there now. The fourth generation harks back to the first generation but with more confidence and clarity. We understand the show now, how it works and why people like it. I hope everyone’s happy with what we’ve come up with. Late on I picked up a spectacular typo that would have rendered 1/4 of the teaser postcards unusable. If there are any more it’s too late, the presses are rolling and soon you can judge for yourselves.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Since first performing the show in its full form, in Stuttgart June 2005, the world's population, has risen by 8 tonnes (rice equivalent). Despite the recent spike in rice prices we have secured an excellent deal with Britain's biggest rice wholesalers by which all the rice used in the show can be returned to the food chain at an affordable price. 112 tonnes of rice, four articulated lorries full, a grian for everyone on the planet.
Please put a date in your diaries.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Tomorrow first thing Craig and Jake will haul out of Birmingham bound for the National Theatre with The Black Maze. If you know anyone in the capital who has yet to experience its wonders (and we estimate there are approximately thirteen million of them) please do send them along, preferably not all at once.