We're fully immersed in festival season frenzy — that time of year where if you leave the city for a night (and don't even think about it), you'll miss some sort of colossal happening. And they don't get better than BE FESTIVAL, a ballsy mash-up of theatre, spoken word, dance and workshops. Birmingham European Festival is all about challenging and turning the notion of theatre upside down; crossing borders and creative disciplines, and blurring boundaries between audiences and artists. You want in? Course you do.
Trigger Of Happiness (June 3 and 4, Crescent Theatre)
Making their UK premiere are casaBranca — Ana Borralho & João Galante (Portugal) — with Trigger Of Happiness, at Crescent Theatre. They are inviting 12 young adults from Birmingham, with no experience of theatre, on stage. Sitting at the same table, they play Russian roulette and answer a list of questions about their lives, such as their concerns, their anxieties, their families and their hopes and visions for the future. As words are released, life paths overlap, drawing explosive cartography of local youth.
GARDEN STATE (June 8 to 11, Midlands Arts Centre)
As part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival, BE are welcoming back Fabrice Mazliah / Work of Act, formerly MAMAZA. They will be knocking on doors of residents from across the city to invite them to help transform the MAC’s main stage into an exotic, ephemeral, communal garden made up of their favourite houseplants. The result is a social oasis, a utopian island. Garden State is a durational installation and an event space where you will be able to enjoy a range of free activities: from workshops, to meals, talks, performances and concerts. Here’s a look at a few...
4 LEGS GOOD (June 9)
One of the UK’s most acclaimed and internationally renowned disabled artists, Claire Cunningham’s work is often rooted in the study and use (or misuse) of her crutches, and the exploration of the potential of her own specific physicality with a conscious rejection of traditional dance. This lecture performance explores artistic practice — specifically the study and distortion of crutches as artistic practice and how they shape the artist's work and connect her to the world.
MODIFIED TOY ORCHESTRA (June 10) Brummies, MTO have been at the forefront of circuit bending: rescuing children’s electronic toys and converting them into new, wonderfully sophisticated (or maybe less sophisticated) musical instruments. The toys are used to create random, ambient, chaotic and fascinating music. The band was founded by Brum's Brian Duffy as a one-man project. He originally began by sampling sounds from toys to use in his electronic music, but after disassembling a Speak & Spell he realised he could modify them to produce new sounds, so he began looking in car boot sales and skips for more electronic toys to modify. Duffy describes the intent behind his music as “an interest in the surplus value and hidden potential of seemingly redundant technology.” Sounds ace.
PALAVER PARTY (June 11)
Featuring a spectacular line up, this is an inclusive performance party for kids aged three to eight (and their grown-ups too). The party is an interactive, hosted performance event mixing drag, cabaret, live music, DIY costume making and disco dancing. Plus, there’s a large dose of glitter thrown in for good measure!
TOMORROW'S PARTIES (June 11)
Tomorrow’s Parties is a playful, poignant and, at times, delirious look forward to futures both possible and impossible. On a stage framed by coloured fairground lights, this seemingly minimal performance soon reveals itself as a low-fi theatrical explosion. Two performers enjoy the pleasure of invention as their suppositions take them in different directions. From utopian and dystopian visions, science fiction scenarios, political nightmares and absurd fantasies, the pair will deliver a thought-provoking survey of hopes and fears as they speculate about what the future might bring. A compelling performance that imagines a multitude of hypothetical futures. Mind-bending stuff and no mistake
PLANT PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP (June 8)
Fancy taking some superb foliage snaps? Ming De Nasty has been a practising photographer for the past 35 years and worked on projects with local and national arts organisations. Her most recent self-initiated project was Tagmasc, part of SHOUT! Festival in 2020, working with queer-identifying men in Birmingham to make a series of photographic portraits and audio monologues that where exhibited online. In 2018 she was commissioned by IKON Gallery to do a summer residency on The Slow Boat. Working with asylum-seeking women, Ming created a photographic installation of their portraits, which were printed and pasted three metres high on derelict buildings along the Birmingham Canal's Soho Loop. This year she's all about plants and, during this 90-minute session, participants will look specifically at how to take photos of the green friends featured in the exotic Garden State.
David Austin Grey / Germa Adan / Euan Palmer (June 9)
Celebrated pianist, composer and educator, David Austin Grey will be appearing with his vocalist/guitarist, Germa Adan and drummer, Euan Palmer. The trio perform heartfelt and original contemporary jazz along with some improvised music. David is, in the words of football fans, 'one of our own' — a graduate of the University of Birmingham and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. David has worked with Birmingham Royal Ballet, British Council, Courtney Pine, Eliza Shaddad, Freya Roy, Soweto Kinch, Xhosa Cole, Michael League, Black Voices and Snarky Puppy. He has also supported GRAMMY-winning artists, Marcus Miller, Terri-Lyne Carrington and Snarky Puppy. So very, very talented then.
Please note all Garden State events are free but spaces are limited and booking in advance may be required for some events.
Claudia Rankine's first published play, The White Card, comes to Birmingham Rep, June 7 to 18. Critically acclaimed on its debut in Boston in 2018, the play poses the question: can society progress when whiteness remains invisible? Written during an increasingly racially-divided America, and before the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests rippled across the globe, a wealthy, privileged white couple invite a talented black artist to dinner. Tensions run high and a heated debate uncovers some uncomfortable truths that can't be ignored about white privilege, cultural appropriation, and representation. Claudia Rankine is the author of six collections of poetry, three plays and numerous video collaborations. Among her numerous awards and honours, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation. So probably rather good, then? Prices start from £12.50. Tickets
THE GREAT GLIMPSE £1,400 GIVEAWAY
If there's one thing Clark Kent taught us, it's to never underestimate the power of a good pair of glasses. That, and that phone booths are best avoided. Loosely related is news that, easily Brum's coolest opticians, Glimpse, are celebrating the Queen's Jubilee by doubling down on her 70th year on the throne and giving away ten £140 vouchers to ten lucky Instagram users. The independently-owned, Great Western Arcade-based, Glimpse is home to brands you simply won't find elsewhere. From Ørgreen to Lindberg, Theo to Mykita, they're the stylish alternative to the identikit High Street stores. For your chance to bag one of the ten £140 vouchers simply head on over to our Instagram account and follow the simple instructions. Glimpse, by the way, are I Choose Birmingham's landlords and they've never once done a surprise visit inspection. Unless you count every single day ever when they wander in, usually on a press day, and start asking for bar and restaurant recommendations. Other than that, they're proper sound. Win
WHAT'S 'WHAT'S IN STORE'?
Bearwood, or ‘cheap Harborne’ as it’s affectionately known, is quite the little hub of activity over the Hagley Road border. Straddling Smethwick and Edgbaston border lines, the high street has enjoyed a resurgence in lockdown, and it’s thriving right now as more independent shops and cafes open. Celebrating the diversity of people, food and cultures, What’s In Store festival, on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 June, welcomes poets, performers and musicians to its shops and cafes to lead pop-up performances. Bearwood faves, Why Not? Coffee, Desi Sweets (pictured) and A La Mexicana will host performances, alongside the well-hidden indoor market; vinyl music haven, RPM; Turkish breakfast banger, Anatolia; and loads more. A highlight of the weekend – part of the Birmingham 2022 Festival – is the family show, Where Are You?, taking place in kids’ treasure trove, Bear Bookshop. The twist? The performance will also happen simultaneously in Ghana – in Dzorwulu, Accra. Developed by Black Country Touring with Ghana’s Accra Theatre Workshop, Where Are You? tells the story of two friends, thousands of miles apart, in Bearwood and Dzorwulu, who each set out on a quest to find each other. Told through live performance – streaming between Bearwood and Dzorwulu – plus animation and recorded material, the show will bring the bookshop’s (very comfy) story corner to life. Taking place multiple times throughout the days to avoid clashes (festivals, take note), there’ll be free performances up and down the road, including pop-up poetry from local artists Bohdan Piasecki, Rupinder Kaur and Dreadlockalien, and live music with Sam Frankie Fox, Ricardo Santos Rocha and Grime artist, Deci4Life. More
BUS STOPS UPGRADED
Bus stops. They're like buses aren't they? You wait your whole life for an imaginative one, then seven come at once. Seven new bus stops lining Brum's Soho Road have been converted into art galleries to celebrate the area’s diverse communities and history. China Plate Theatre’s artist, Nilupa Yasmin (pictured), has spent months working with local groups to create the displays for bus stops along the National Express West Midlands number 74 route between Dudluuuy and Birmingham. Reflecting on how buses continued to run throughout lockdown, ensuring hundreds of thousands of key workers were able to get to work, On Our Way celebrates how, although the 74 route has barely changed, the people who use it and the buildings around it have. The pandemic experience is one episode in its long history. The stained glass-style wrapping for each bus shelter tells a different story about the area and its people. These include collages celebrating the range of independent businesses in the area and another, from the Black Heritage Walks Network, highlighting civil rights struggles of Windrush generation bus workers. Transport for West Midlands have worked with China Plate, Birmingham Hippodrome, Soho Road BID and National Express West Midlands to get the bus shelters wrapped. More
The sale of balloons on New Street has been one of Birmingham's weirdly comforting ever-presents. In the mid-80s I remember asking for a helium-filled Beano balloon that stayed grounded for all of three minutes, and these days my daughter pesters me for a Peppa Pig. A Peppa Pig that was last seen through tear-filled eyes, 80 feet above ground, trapped beneath New Street Station's dome atrium. A new photography book by Brum's Stephen Morgan captures a series he did on Birmingham City Centre, between 2013 and 2015, warmly entitled Town. This balloon shot is my personal favourite. "It was in one of the passages that ran off New Street just up from the Britannia Hotel; all closed off now," recalls Stephen. "I don’t think they were abandoned. I always assumed that the guy who sells balloons at the top of New Street would leave them there if he needed to go to the toilet or take a lunch break. Maybe he had a litter picker to retrieve them." The book is brimful (Brumful?) of 'real' Birmingham shots. You won't find an over-stylised shot of the new Library here. This is the stuff Visit Birmingham won't be showing, but the stuff you, me and that guy over there know inside out. A patient, still in his hospital gown, traversing Corporation Street on crutches; closed public toilets; deserted alleyways; a broken down bus; cigarette butts stewing in nondescript gutter waste. Beautiful? Not typically, no. Birmingham? Damn straight. Out June 4, £6.50
Tacos until 1am, anyone? Then wake up for bottomless frozen margaritas? This weekend at Tierra, JQ. —
Comedian, Mark Thomas, is trying out material for his brand new show at The Glee Club, July 29. £12 —
New Korean chicken joint, Itaewon, is taking over the old 30,000 Restaurant near The Electric. — Ninja Warrior, Walsall is opening its doors tomorrow (May 27) and booking is open now. —
The people behind both Tiger Bites Pig and Tierra Tacos are launching a JQ-based pasta house called Trentina, which means Thirtyish. Another missed chance for a Brum resto called Spaghetti Junction. —
Make your way to the top of the Library, to the Shakespeare Memorial Room, for a new exhibition, led by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as part of the ‘Everything to Everybody’ project. Featuring original artwork and Shakespeare Scrapbooks created by kids across Brum, alongside treasures on display from Shakey's archives. More —
From Friday, a billboard art project will roll out across Brum, spanning the next four months and celebrating some fabulous families living in the city and Black Country. You'll know it when you see it. More —
Yesterday, Blood & Fire: Our Journey Through Vanley Burke's History opened at Soho House, Handsworth. The exhibition combines personal objects and evocative images by Burke, some of which have never been on public display before, taking visitors on a journey through the artist’s history and the Black British experience. Details
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
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