Sunday, 18 May 2008

Stan's Cafe: Realising dreams in the real world

Last week, I went to a talk by James Yarker, Artistic Director of Stan's Cafe. I've only seen a couple of Stan's Cafe pieces (The Black Maze and Of All The People In All The World) and have loved both of them. Neither of them were theatre pieces, but I still often quote them as key examples of extraordinary ways to work with audiences. The image above is from It's Your Film.

It was a great talk, made thoroughly entertaining by the fact that James never seemed bored by the ideas and experiences he was telling us about. No mean feat considering we made the poor guy keep talking for 3 hours - what with our rapt attention and questions and the like. I mean, from time to time, you could make out the visible panic on his face as he realised just how much script he still had left to get through, but he never seemed bored by the actual things he was saying - the content. Remembering and recounting these stories seemed to be of genuine value and fascination to him, as well as to us. Or maybe he's just a great performer...

Either way, it was an inspiring talk, which focussed broadly on how you can uphold your artistic vision, whilst also sustaining yourself as a professional company. You can read the text from the talk here - it's well worth checking out, particularly if you're involved in making performance.

Was really great to hear someone talking about making work with a real scale of imagination - that's the size of the ideas, not necessarily the size of the shows - and with such thought for how an audience might experience the work (or idea), rather than just how the artist might want to explore the idea. "We dream dreams and must then find ways to realise them in the real world."

Monday, 5 May 2008

I Am STILL Your Worst Nightmare

26 - 27 April 2008, Arnolfini, Bristol

Image from Tuning Up by Bill Leslie & Stephen Cornford (photo: Toby Farrow)

Blimey, I think I've only just recovered from last weekend's 'Nightmare'. Nearly 60 pieces showing across the weekend, an open and generous atmosphere, a ridiculously broad range of work in terms of quality (from the truly sublime to the truly, truly awful), and baking sunshine for nearly the entire weekend. Brilliant! What's to argue with?

I'm not going to go into detail about the work because writing even one line about each piece would take a loooooooooong time and would probably suck the living daylights out of what was at heart a playful and fun weekend. Instead, I'm going to recommend checking out Ed Rapley's IASYWN Awards, if you want a flavour of what went down.

As with 2007's I Am Your Worst Nightmare platform, IASYWN marked itself out from most other platform events by deliberately puncturing any notion of it being a showcase. Yes, there is a selection process, but rather than trying to select the 'best' ideas, proposals are selected in terms of practicality and clarity (particularly in terms of how the piece engages with an audience). In fact, the selection is adamantly NOT based on the quality of the conceptual idea. As a curator, it's unbelievably difficult to turn off that quality control gauge, but the pay-off, when an uninspiring proposal turns out to be a thrilling piece of work, is fantastic.

Of course, the selection process is just one of many tactics that IASYWN uses to deflate any competitive urges within the programme. The sheer amount of work, for one. The very limited resources - 10 minute turnarounds, minimal fees. The level playing field: everyone is in the same boat - artists, audiences (particularly given that much of the core audience is made up of artists). The fabulously irreverent compering by the artists formerly known as Spaghetti Club. I think there was a genuine feeling that everyone could respond to work openly and honestly - with questions as well as carefully formulated critique. It felt like the event was genuinely owned by all those who participated, whatever their role.

All in all, it was a great weekend, with some fab stuff, some bad stuff and some proper nuttiness.