Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth – Hippodrome Youth Ambassadors Trip

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The second arts festival trip of the scheme saw the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors head out to Great Yarmouth for a performance-packed weekend at Sea Change Arts’ Out There Festival. Considerably bigger than Birmingham’s own Summer in Southside, Out There is a huge, international festival of street art with a focus on circus, that brings together some of the best new work from across Europe while providing a platform for emerging artists to try out in-development projects in front of live audiences.

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Arriving late on Friday evening, the first show we caught was Hallali by Compagnie Les Philébulistes. Set against an atmospheric, misty seaside backdrop, the piece showcased some amazing skills and set pieces, but seemed to end a little unexpectedly, without any obvious build-up or climax.

Saturday morning gave us the chance to meet up with some other outdoor arts ambassadors from across the country and learn about the things they’ve been working on. It was great to hear from them and have chance to share ideas: though still in its early stages, the ambassadors scheme seems a lot bigger and more comprehensive than we were previously aware, and so hopefully has the potential to become something really exciting.

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After this, we headed out to St. George’s Park, where 15ft6 presented their explosive show Dynamite and Poetry, a riveting, energetic blend of acrobatics, poetry and physical and spoken comedy that made for one of the weekend’s most fun, engaging and accessible performances.

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At 12.30, we moved on to experience the brilliantly bonkers Looking for Paradise, a two-part journey that encourages participants to unlock their own inner Paradise by travelling down either the path of Belief or the path of Desire. Part I: The Walk, began with Hawaiian lays and an audio introduction, followed by the discovery of some cryptic and weirdly distributed instructions that led us through the streets of Great Yarmouth. There we encountered a series of strange and unexpected street performances, before finally being led into a room to take part in a sort of meditation which happened to involve fruit yoghurt. We were then released into Part II: The Garden where a few of us were invited to paint our own pictures of Paradise and to enjoy some specially made snacks and drinks. Less a traditional show than an immersive, multi-sensory experience, this piece was one of the weekend’s major highlights (though one I’m reluctant to give away too much about!), giving “audiences” a chance to step outside their busy schedules and indulge in a few brief moments of bliss.

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Throughout the day, comedy troupe The Galloping Cuckoos took on the personae of wandering fisherwomen, hauling a fishing hut through St. George’s Park and sharing songs and stories with passers-by as part of their aptly named, roving show Driftwood.

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At 2.45, Dot Comedy staged Lost on Earth, the strange story of a runaway alien, stranded on Earth in a stolen spaceship. It was well received by an audience of enthusiastic kids and families. Meanwhile, in Wires, Dizzy O’Dare skilfully explored themes of friendship, bullying, sisterhood and childhood, transforming their tight wire set into a school playground rich in nostalgic memories and familiar images of growing up. While not as slick and polished as it might be, this work-in-development was full of great ideas with the potential to grow into something much more sophisticated.

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At 3.15, Les P’tits Bras performed their circus spectacular The Scent of Sawdust, a show featuring a stunning set and some amazing costumes. Though full of impressive stunts, this show did take a little too long to get off the ground, with an over-lengthy introduction and set-up describing each of its characters’ personalities.

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At 4.15, I was finally able to catch Wired Aerial Theatre‘s Straw Dog, a show raved about at this year’s Summer in Southside that I unfortunately missed at the time. This elegant, graceful piece conveyed a simple yet powerful conceit about inner conflict through beautiful, well-paced choreography. At just 15 minutes long, it flew by, making it easy for audiences to follow and enjoy.

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Immediately afterwards, Lost in Translation Circus commenced their hilarious Cirque Bordello, with larger-than-life characters and a B&B setting that made use of an actual local house as part of its set. At Mint Fest, we’d heard this idea being pitched, and so were excited to see the show in action. This innovative and entertaining piece is still in development, but was easily as polished and perfected as many of the bigger shows on the programme. Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay until the end, but would love the chance to see the rest at some point.

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The festival’s next big highlight came with Artonik‘s The Colour of Time, beginning with a bold, sensual street performance and parade that gave way to a Holi Festival-inspired explosion of colour. Viewers and passers-by were invited to join the actors in literally painting the town red (and orange, yellow, pink, blue and green) using packets of powdered colour distributed by designated helpers. The result was a glorious, magnificent mess that offered an opportunity to set free your inner child and delight in something silly.

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After washing away as much of the paint as we could manage, we rounded off the evening with Salon Clair de Lune, a long night of cabaret and dancing at STARS Showbar. Hosted by comedy trio Richard Garaghty, Goronwy Thom and Jon Hicks from Slightly Fat Features, the cabaret was an eclectic mix of snippets presented by the various performers present at the festival, giving attendees a chance to get a brief glimpse of things they might have missed throughout the day. Highlights included a surprisingly philosophical wheelie bin-bound comedy routine and a couple of English songs translated into French by Compagnie Kitschnette, including a version of Radiohead’s “Creep” that involved pancakes (I’ll leave you to work out the gag there). This short showcase was followed by some rousing live music from the dynamic Juke and the All Drunk Orchestra. Drinks, dancing and DJing then went on until 4am!

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On Sunday, GlassHouse‘s beautiful You, Me and Everybody Else took to a tucked-away location on the seaside pier, where passers-by little expected to find themselves becoming an audience to a pop-up performance. Tender and touching, this three-part show took viewers on a journey through relationships in different stages, beginning with a young couple in the throes of love. A middle-aged pair clearly undergoing difficulties then stepped in, expressing the difficulties of staying together when things start to get tough. Finally, a couple of elderly picnickers shared lunch on a bench, before breaking into song and dance routines. In a truly heart-wrenching sequence, one finally slips away, making for the most moving moment of the festival.

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Changing the tone completely, Garaghty and Thom delighted audiences in the park with a quickfire comedy show interspersed with some impressive juggling and tricks. Rather than simply following a rehearsed script, the talented double act reacted to things around them, creating comedy almost exclusively out of what their audience presented them with.

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Finally, acclaimed dance group Motionhouse depicted a family’s efforts to stay afloat as their house sank below rising flood waters in Cascade. Played out against a fantastic, visually striking set, this fast-paced show told a clear, easy-to-follow story that could work well in a range of locations, despite being particularly well-placed in a seaside town!

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At this point, it was time to head home and sleep it all off, with another 5 hour journey still ahead of us. For all that, it was certainly a trip well worth making!

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Kendal Mint Fest – Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors Trip

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After yet another successful Summer in Southside, things have begun to wind down at the Birmingham Hippodrome before the Autumn-Winter season kicks off next week with CATS. But for the Hippodrome Plus team, there’s no rest yet, since planning for next year’s festival has already begun!

On Saturday 30th August, four of the Hippodrome Youth Ambassadors, along with Hippodrome Plus Creative Programmes Administrator Zara Harris, travelled up to Cumbria to catch some shows at the Lakes Alive Kendal Mint Fest. Fun and games ensued, but with a purpose: our mission, which we chose to accept, was to scout for talent and exciting show concepts to bring to Summer in Southside 2015.

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First things first, we headed over to the Westmorland shopping centre for a taste of the strangest meal you’ve never seen. Ola Szostak and Willemijn Schellekens’s Table of Thoughts was a strange and startling audio-visual installation, inviting participants to listen in to the private thoughts of a group of dinner party guests. One pair of headphones for each empty chair was fixed to a long dining table, upon which food and crockery had been transformed into unnerving manifestations of the themes and images explored in the recordings. What each listener heard ranged from the childlike to the raunchy, and worked best with a full table, when no one could tell what anyone else was hearing. Participants thus became a part of the “show”, embodying the party guests as they observed each others’ reactions. Sadly, this didn’t happen nearly often enough, since the piece was tucked away in a disused shop that was quite difficult to find if you didn’t already know your way around the town.

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Out on the streets, meanwhile, Peut-Etre Theatre and Dante or Die adapted the surreal writings of Russian author Daniil Kharms with music and madness in their colourful, kid-friendly show Clunk. Aimed primarily at under-5s, it did a great job of engaging the little ones, who were all really excited and made to feel part of the performance. It was a pretty big hit with the grown-ups, too, mind!

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In perhaps the most powerful and moving show of the weekend, surrealist comedy duo Desperate Men explored the absurdity of war and its impact on art, culture and society in Slapstick and Slaughter. Ideas and images crashed and collided with an exuberant, anarchic playfulness half-masking its dark and disturbing themes, as when the classic trust-building exercise of falling backwards onto a partner evolved into a vision of a soldier carrying a dead comrade, a set-up at once funny and desperately sad.

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Roaming the streets amid fixed productions were a series of mobile shows, including Encore’s Sheep, a frolicking flock led around by a singing shepherdess and her faithful sheepdog, and Talking Birds’ The Q, a group of orange-clad representatives from “The Q Corporation” attempting to restore order to the town by awarding prizes to quality queuers and offering Extreme Queuing demonstrations.

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Outside the library, audiences were transported from the old English streets of Kendal to the vibrant, colourful carnivals of Brazil and New Orleans through the lively music of BLAST! Furness, a huge, 20-piece community band whose diverse players were kitted out in crazy hats and striking, red and black attire. Their sound was irresistible – by the end of the performance, even the band themselves were dancing down the road!

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As day wore on into dusk, the amazing Les Krilati performed spectacular feats in their circus cabaret extravaganza, Little Pleasures. Seeking “to snub contemporary society”, the show was set up outside The Factory, Kendal’s newest arts venue, and saw performers climb up into the clouds on ropes, poles and swings, seeming to search for escape and freedom in the sky above them. Gleefully childish and simple yet with a cheeky grown-up edge, this show enthralled and astonished audiences of all ages.

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One of the few productions to follow a clear narrative, Ramshackalicious’s Grime told the story of a dysfunctional family in the unusual setting of a mobile burger bar. Described as “a modern soap opera that aims to push the boundaries of possibility”, the show seemed to take as its theme our taste for the macabre, both in the modern world and throughout entertainment history. Its initially gritty vibe quickly gave way to slapstick comedy and exaggerated goriness, the abusive patriarch morphing into an overblown monster of Penny Dreadful proportions. Grime repeatedly subverts its audience’s expectations, mixing elements of Mr Punch and Sweeney Todd with realistic menace. Both frightening and funny, it’s a fascinating acknowledgement of how violence has always been bound up in the history of British theatre and culture.

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From one violent feast to another, Tetes de Mules’ Parasite Circus saw viewers mercilessly showered with the blood of its “artists”, a series of puppets torn and exploded into pieces before their very eyes. A pair of grim, grimey hosts presented a miniature, mobile circus from their battered caravan, with a strong man, a dancer and an acrobat all brought before the audience and promptly murdered for its entertainment. Parasite Circus is a hilarious splatter-fest with a little of Grime’s influences combined with a few more from the films: from Hammer Horror’s theatricality to the outlandish blood baths of Tarantino movies. Though it took place after hours, squeals of delight were soon ringing out from kids and adults alike – after all, there’s nothing for bringing the family together like a bit of comedy slaughter!

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To end the evening, Gentleman Juggler Mat Ricardo took over the Brewery Arts Centre’s Mint Room for a cabaret night packed with danger, dexterity and dapper elegance. Having sold out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and in London’s West End, Ricardo wowed the Kendal audience with a spectacular array of tricks and stunts, juggling everything from hats to bowling balls, poker cues to electric knives.

The following day, after listening to a series of exciting-sounding pitches in Town Hall, we headed over to the Brewery’s Mint Garden to relax to the cool, uplifting sounds of Polly and the Billet Doux, an energetic four-piece blending elements of soul, pop, folk and blues styles.

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Even with just a few of these acts, it looks like there’ll be plenty to look forward to at next year’s Summer in Southside! Hope to see you there!

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Summer in Southside, Closing Weekend: Bank Holiday Jamboree

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A jamboree jam-packed with a huge range of amazing live acts, the closing weekend of this year’s Summer in Southside finished off the festival in spectacular style, with singing, dancing, clowning, acrobatics and a truly explosive finale!

The events kicked off on Saturday with Ida Barr’s Mash-Up, a hilariously bizarre blend of music hall, R&B and pantomime drag led by acclaimed theatre creative Christopher Green, while Inspector Sands‘ audio tour High Street Odyssey roamed Hurst Street and Arcadian, delving into the past, present and future of Southside with some surprising consequences.

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At 1.30, Wired Aerial Theatre presented a series of spectacular feats in Straw Dog, with two performers portraying internal conflict through a breathtaking physical struggle, inspired by a Native American saying. At the same time, Candoco Dance Company explored the themes of frustration and disappointment through two duets – Studies for C and Two for C – telling the story of a slowly stagnating relationship. Meanwhile, in Push, Tangled Feet offered a playful and touching take on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, perfectly capturing both the sheer joy and utter anguish of bearing and raising children.

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Showcasing circus skills and traditional clowning, Le Navet Bête‘s Extravaganza was a fun, family-friendly farce taking over Arcadian in between appearances by Ida Barr. In sharp contrast, the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre‘s poignant White Suit used music to tell the story of an aspiring footballer who becomes a landmine victim, highlighting people’s willingness to ignore the suffering of others rather than risk the consequences that helping out might have on their own lives.

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Throughout the day, popular arias were presented in a series of pop-up shows by Oyster Opera, while Icarus‘s beefy Rugby Player Duo wandered through the crowds on stilts, chatting to visitors, actors and volunteers alike.

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And of course, beneath the Arcadian Umbrella, the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors were on hand to chat about the shows at the Talkaoke table, hosting a series of interesting discussions with creatives and performers from Wired Aerial Theatre, La Navet Bête, Southpaw Dance Company and High Street Odyssey.

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On Sunday, High Street Odyssey, Straw Dog, White Suit and Extravaganza returned, while Talkaoke was shifted to prime position in front of the Hippodrome theatre.

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Taking over from Ida Barr, Circus Mash set up early in Arcadian, showing off some amazing circus skills and calling on audience members to participate in workshops in Float, with a great response from lots of enthusiastic kids and parents. At 2.30 and 5.30, Company Chameleon‘s Push examined the complexities of human interaction and power balances.

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At the end of the night, audiences were invited to grab themselves some gourmet hot dogs and dance to tunes chosen by Summer in Southside’s guest DJs, The Smoking Dogs, before settling down to watch Southpaw Dance Company‘s Faust. A lively reimagining of the harrowing tale of a man who sells his soul to the Devil, Faust saw the story’s arrogant scholar transported to 1920s Speakeasy, with drinking, gambling and illegitimate boxing all set to cool big band music. Members of the company moved fluidly and faultlessly across a blazing stage, performing complex stunts and energetic dance fusions all with apparent effortlessness.

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DSCF2034Finally Arcadian’s Le Truc played host to a late-night festival wrap party where the Summer in Southside team finally got to relax, enjoying a well-earned rest accompanied by more music. It was fun enough to make some of us miss the last train home….

If you attended any of the shows, please let @brumhippodrome know what you thought on Twitter using the hashtag #BHOutdoors.

Summer in Southside, Day 2: Euro Stars

 

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After a successful launch with Live and Local last Saturday, Summer in Southside 2014 got well underway this weekend. On Saturday 16th August, Euro Stars showcased some amazing live acts from across Britain and Europe.

From 1pm, The Museum of Everyday Life took over Hurst Street, offering passers-by the opportunity to “transform [them]selves into a work of art” as part of an interactive photography exhibition, designed to “make the ordinary extraordinary”. Meanwhile in Arcadian, the Hippodrome Plus Youth Ambassadors busily prepared for Talkaoke and Tea, ready to engage audiences in interesting conversations about the shows they’d seen or hoped to see throughout the day. Discussion kicked off with a family-friendly chat about birthday parties, in advance of Wet Picnic‘s “funny” yet “sad” show The Birthday Party, scheduled to start up nearby at 2pm.

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At 1.30, the first performances of the day began. Outside the Hippodrome theatre, Acrojou wowed audiences with their poignant, physical exploration of our unhealthy obsession with productivity in Frantic. The show scrutinized our determination to give up all our time and energy to jobs and other less important aspects of our lives that all too often leave us unfulfilled – a topic which would later emerge in conversation around the Talkaoke table. At the same time, in Arcadian, a trio of three acrobats showed off their skills in Mattress Circus‘s comic Heights, a fun, lighthearted performance that proved a favourite with family audiences.

 

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At 2, slapstick clowning gave way to moments of dark humour and brutal honesty in The Birthday Party, while in Inge Street, the De Fakto Company from France presented dance spectacular Le Petit Bal 2 Rue, blending inspiration from French films of the 50s and 60s with contemporary dance and hip hop to tell the story of two performers at a very important audition.

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Described as a “funny and funky” sound experiment, Radio Patio was performed by Spanish artist Pere Faura at the Hippodrome Dock at 2.30, combining movement with radio noise to create an entirely unique experience. From the Netherlands, Gijs Van Bon‘s sand-writing robot Skryf roamed the streets, leaving behind a long trail of words soon blown away by the breeze. At Summer in Southside, Skryf’s ephemeral tracks were made up of poetry written by Hippodrome Plus youth ambassadors Sipho Dube and Cassandra Wiggan.

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Following this, in Inge Street, Haywood Hix‘s comedy play Works told the tale of two would-be inventors, mixing ramshackle engineering with a dry sense of humour. Finally, a partially improvised version of Les GoulusThe Horsemen popped up late in the day, after an unfortunate loss of baggage at Paris airport! Three aspiring Olympic equestrians were spotted riding through the streets on broomsticks as part of their…er…training. Let’s hope they eventually retrieved their missing horses!

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As the day came to a close, Southside was once again invaded by strange, alien creatures – very different to last week’s curious tourists The Roswells. Close Act Theatre‘s eerie, one-eyed iPuppets seemed to float around above the crowds, peering into faces and investigating the performance spaces. There may be know way of knowing for sure what these serenely silent robots ultimately made of Birmingham, but we’re confident the festival will have made a good impression!

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Summer in Southside continues next weekend with the Bank Holiday Jamboree, featuring a diverse array of shows taking place across Saturday and Sunday. Visitors will be able to experience Southpaw Dance Company‘s amazing Faust, as well as take part in our late-night wrap party, so make sure you don’t miss it! For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or check out the Summer in Southside tumblr.

Summer in Southside, Day 1: Live and Local

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The summer holidays are here at last, and what better way to spend the warm, sunny days (well, mostly…) than enjoying three weekends packed full of free theatre, music and dance? This Saturday (9th August), marked the first day of Summer in Southside 2014, an exciting outdoor performance festival put together by Hippodrome Plus and taking place in streets, squares and pubs around the Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.

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After the success of Summer in Southside 2013, the festival has this year been expanded from just two weekends to include a much broader range of performances. On Saturday, “Live and Local” kicked off at 1pm with A Haka Day Out in Arcadian and Talking Birds’ Cricketers in the Hippodrome Square. Cricketers is a short, interactive comedy show that sees viewers roped into an amateur game of cricket with some hilarious consequences, while A Haka Day Out allows audiences to learn the traditional Haka war dance in workshops with Maori (New Zealand native) performers. Related arts and crafts activities such as tribal face and body painting also took place alongside the show.

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Next up were 2Faced Dance Company’s Two Old Men, an extraordinary, acrobatic, dance fusion performance telling the story of two old friends over a little journey ending at the local pub, as well as Tin Box Theatre’s Pint Dreams, a blend of folk music, puppetry and traditional storytelling taking place at The Old Fox pub. Following these, Corey Baker’s light-hearted Headphones emerged in Hurst Street, showcasing a plethora of dance styles and musical genres, and at 3pm, Arcadia played host to an hour of hip hop and break-dancing by a series of talented local acts.

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Throughout the day, performances were repeated to ensure plenty of opportunities to catch each show. Every 10-15 minutes, Highly Sprung’s beautiful fairy tale Travelling Treasury was told inside a caravan in Inge Street that had been gorgeously decorated to give audiences the sense that they were walking into the pages of a book. Also by Highly Sprung, alien family The Roswells wandered around the Southside area, taking photos, having a picnic and enjoying their summer holiday on Earth. Meanwhile, Pod Projects and Eye Candy Festival presented an assortment of wares by regional artists, illustrators and designers at the Bicycle Basket Bazaar – a “kind of art fair meets car boot sale”.

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Those who wanted to share their thoughts on the performances – or anything else on their mind – were invited to come and chat to Hippodrome Plus Ambassadors over a cup of iced tea at the Talkaoke table situated in Hurst Street. Talkaoke is a relaxed, pop-up chat show that enables participants to lead a discussion on a topic of their choice. Set to reappear on every day of the festival, Talkaoke will be situated in Arcadian next Saturday.

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As the daytime performances wrapped up and the evening began, budding DJs were invited to bring along their own records and show off their skills in Come Vinyl With Me while enjoying a drink in Arcadian, before moving on to the Hippodrome Dock for a trippy clubbing experience inside a giant white balloon called The Pod.

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If you missed Summer in Southside this weekend, or if you enjoyed the shows, make sure you come along next Saturday (16th August), for “Euro Stars”, where you’ll be able to catch some amazing international acts, ranging from Acrojou’s spectacular Frantic to Gijs van Bon’s sand-writing robot, Skryf. Don’t forget to let us know what you thought on Twitter (@brumhippodrome) using the hashtag #bhoutdoors. For more information on the festival, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or check out the Summer in Southside tumblr.

Talkaoke photos by Matthew Kong.