Stan's Cafe: 'We no longer feel lonely in Birmingham'
James Yarker, artistic director of experimental theatre company Stan's Cafe, explains the way Birmingham has shaped the company's work
Stan's Cafe tours internationally but we are a Birmingham company, materials for early shows were scavenged from its streets, we've appropriated its imagery and reframed its narratives, we are self-effacing and industrious; we belong here.
We started here in 1991, when the city council was investing heavily in civic art infrastructure. Back then it was a lonely place in which to plough our wobbly alternative furrow, but as the years have passed our scene has blossomed. Local universities have multiplied and become increasingly focused on producing practitioners. Graduates now often stick around to make work, even moving here from outlying regions.
Mac was the first venue to adopt us and they continue to offer significant support to local artists both emerging and emerged; we sometimes support them in their support. They regularly programme good stuff but Warwick Arts Centre down the road is where we've always gone for the bigger budget inspiration; now they commission us as well.
The Birmingham theatre scene manages that creative trick of being disorganised and cohesive. People here help and look out for each other, they collaborate and pay each other, they come together for both conferences and parties. They work in schools, hospitals and prisons; there are the improvisers and the adaptors, the site-specific merchants, immersives and aerialists; the amateurs, the pros, the semi-pros and the students. We love them all (even if we don't love all their work). All for one and one for all.
We mix as well, we like to play with others too. We have collaborated with Flatpack film festival, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, the Conservatoire, Capsule's program for the Library of Birmingham, Symphony Hall, Fierce festival and the RSC close by.
Birmingham is a city of industry and there are theatre folk fabricating away in former factory spaces, running workshops in workshops all across the city. Our variant is in the Jewellery Quarter where we are embedded at AE Harris (UK) Ltd., looking anxiously around as the gentrification closes in.
Across the city belts are tightened corset-like but spirits are still eager and hope springs eternal. We are regularly commissioned by schools for collaborations in creative learning. The city council, though cash strapped, still needs things done and two different departments have recently commissioned work from us. Meanwhile, The REP, once an impenetrable fortress, has been refurbished (again) and with a change of leadership, thrown its doors open to local companies. They are home to BE Festival and Kiln as well as commissioning our new show Made Up, which opens in May.
Now we no longer feel lonely in Birmingham, we now regularly bump into: Kiln – powerful women; Little Earthquake – shaking things up; Untied Artists – imagination untied; The Other Way Works – in unusual settings; Geese – still in prisons; Women and Theatre – making a difference; Loudmouth, Language Alive!, Big Brum – working in schools; Tyrone Huggins, Caroline Horton, Francesca Millican-Slater, Friction Arts, FRED, Noctium, RoguePlay, The Bone Ensemble, Foghorn, Blue Orange, Old Joint Stock… the list goes on.
Stan's Cafe celebrates 25 years in 2016. See their website for details of upcoming projects: www.stanscafe.co.uk
Stay up to date with all the interviews, videos, podcasts and more by following us on twitter, you can join in the discussion using the hashtag - #WOSRegionalFocus