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James Yarker - Stan’s Cafe’s Community Service Interview.

Theatre company Stan’s Cafe return to the stage with Community Service (touring April-May 2024) - a new gospel-powered theatre show inspired by real life events.

It’s the 1980s, and Trevor - one of the West Midland’s first Black Police officers, and an acclaimed gospel guitarist - is about to face a series of personal and professional challenges that look set to reshape the world around him.

There are deep divisions on the streets, at work, and even in the Pentecostal Church, where Trevor sees a divide developing between generations, as younger attendees begin to listen to secular music on the radio, and rebel against the strict rules of their immigrant parents.

Meanwhile, his band is also gaining momentum, with record labels circling, and it seems everyone is turning to him for advice.

Set against a backdrop of Thatcher's Britain, the Handsworth Riots, miner's strikes and casual racism, Community Service is a music-filled, witty, emotional and uplifting theatre show boasting an infectious live soundtrack that embraces spirit-raising gospel, Jamaican reggae and Motown-influenced funk.

Loosely inspired by the life of Birmingham community hero Trevor Prince, the production is directed by the trio of Reisz Amos (AKA Odd Priest - former Artistic Associate of Birmingham Opera Company); Paul Steadman (AKA DJ Steadman – founding member and Co-Creative Director, Flawless Entertainment Ltd); and Stan’s Cafe’s Artistic Director James Yarker. With gospel consultation from Ray Prince - founder of the Gospel Revisited Project, and younger brother of Trevor (who passed away in 2019).

The show is devised and performed by Reisz Amos, Yasmin Dawes, Kianyah Caesar-Downer, and Dominic Thompson.

Ahead of the tour we caught up with James Yarker, Artistic Director (and co-founder) of Stan's Cafe, and co-director of Community Service.

Where did your arts career begin?
Career? Birmingham, 1991. Shortly after leaving Lancaster University and founding Stan’s Cafe with my mate Graham. I’ve always made stuff up - it just took 21 years to realise making theatre is what I do best.

How did you approach a career in the arts?
As a five year challenge. That wasn’t a disaster so I kept going. I’ve continued to view it as a privilege and a passion, and tried never to think of it as a job.

How would you describe the style of your work to anyone unfamiliar with you?
Unconventional, fun, thoughtful - Stan’s Cafe doesn’t really have a genre.

How have you approached bringing this show to the stage?
Pulling good collaborators in has been crucial: Paul Steadman as co-director - from the off this has been a passion project for him; Reisz Amos also directing but with a special responsibility for music. Then actors who are deeply invested in the subject matter and, of course, a live band for a show with Gospel music close to its heart.

Our approach is to be inspired by the life of Trevor Prince rather than tell the story of his life. We have discussed his life, the challenges he faced and how he approached them.

Did you have to do any research whilst developing the show?
Of course! Personal testimonies, photographs, news stories, music, fashion - even some academic papers.

What does 'community' mean to you?
In our show community means various things, people living in a neighbourhood, people who identify together through culture, people who come together in church, people who work together as colleagues. These communities then all intersect, which is when things get really interesting.

What do you think this piece says to an audience?
If I could encapsulate that here then there would be no point in making the theatre show. I suspect it will say different things to different audience members depending what they bring to the show and the lives they have experienced - I’m not dodging the questions, that’s just the way things work.

How does the music fit in to the piece?
There are original songs, existing gospel songs and atmospheric music, all performed live by the band on stage. The band are all characters in the show and when they’re not playing we get some nostalgic records playing from the 70s through to the 90s.

If you could have dinner with three famous people, who would you invite and why?
Wow - what a tough question! Oprah Winfrey, Brian Eno and Lula da Silva (President of Brazil). I’d invite them round individually.

If you were a biscuit, what biscuit would you be a why?
I’d probably be two rich tea biscuits with some fondant squiggled in between (more interesting and rewarding than first appearances suggest) - is this allowed?

What keeps you inspired as artist?
I love people, I love life, I love learning, I love jokes, everything is inspirational if you think about it hard enough from enough different directions.

Where can people see the show and follow your career beyond?
Our show opens as The Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, running from 10th to 13th April 2024, and goes to Bristol, Ipswich and Derby before coming home to Birmingham Hippodrome, from 8th to 11th May 2024. Everything's on our website:

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