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.

DSCF1891In place of the Rugby Player Duo, Rannel‘s Stereomen pumped up the volume, encouraging party-loving passers-by to dance along with them.

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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.

Hippodrome Volunteering Opportunities – Minimum Monument & Summer in Southside

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As part of its education and outreach programme, Hippodrome Plus, the Birmingham Hippodrome is offering two exciting volunteering opportunities over the summer, perfect for those with a passion for the creative arts or looking to add to their CV.

First off, from Thursday 17th July until Friday 2nd August, award-winning Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo will be working on a new public art project, Minimum Monument, in Birmingham’s city centre. Designed to commemorate the First World War 100 years on from the event, Minimum Monument will be a striking display of 5000 figures sculpted from ice, celebrating the common man and the bravery of ordinary people – not only soldiers, but also their families and all those who suffered and made sacrifices during the war.

Minimum Monument 2The finished piece will be presented to viewers in Centenary Square on 2nd August, but in order to turn the idea into a reality, Azevedo requires a dedicated team of 20 volunteers to help create the sculptures and to work alongside the exhibition production team. Volunteers will not be required to work every day, but will need to be able to commit to a minimum of 5 shifts between 17th July and the exhibition opening, and must be aged 18 or over. Those interested should fill out the online application form, or contact zaraharris@birminghamhippodrome.com for more information.

Summer in Southside

Following the exhibition, the theatre’s annual outdoor performance festival, Summer in Southside, will be making a return in three weekends packed full of short plays, dance, circus skills, live music and more. Thanks to the success of last year’s event, Summer in Southside has this year expanded from covering just two weekends, and as such, the theatre will need all hands on deck to ensure everything runs smoothly.

There are a range of roles available for enthusiastic volunteers to try out, including event promotion, stewarding and assisting artists and performers directly. In addition, all volunteers will also receive World Class Service training in Outdoor Arts and a certification of their volunteering hours. Those interested should fill out the online  application form or visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website for more information. All volunteers must be aged 18 or over.

Illuminate and War Horse Sleepover: A Weekend of Special Events at the Hippodrome

As the autumn nights grow longer and the first wintry chills begin to creep into the air, the Birmingham Hippodrome will be bringing a little light into the darkness with a full weekend of special night-time events.

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From 25th-27th October, free, outdoor light spectacular Illuminate will be taking place across Birmingham’s Southside area. Amongst various roaming light performances, the festival will feature a stunning, 360 degree film igloo in which audiences can immerse themselves, awe-inspiring fire dance performances and a series of live, giant projections of Southside faces onto local buildings.

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lightsIn addition, Hurst Street’s Gallon Car Park will also be hosting the Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors exhibition, a breathtaking art installation initially created for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The installation features over 90 larger than life-size figurines inspired by China’s Terracotta Army.

Illuminate will close with a brand new performance, commissioned by the Birmingham Hippodrome in association with DanceXchange. Echoalia combines movement and projections, and was created through an innovative collaboration between choreographer Sonia Sabri and new media artist Andy McKeown.

Events will be taking place from 6pm-10pm on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 October and 6pm-8pm on Sunday 27 October and are all completely free. As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the first 100 visitors to the Hippodrome Square or LeTruc will receive an Illoom glowing balloon to enable them to join in with a light procession in Hurst Street. For more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

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From 7pm on Friday 25th October, families are also invited to participate in a unique, War Horse-themed sleepover that will see the theatre’s Patrick Centre transformed into World War I style trenches. Throughout the evening, guests can take part in a series of activities including art and crafts, games, singing and storytelling, as well as an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour which will offer an exciting insight into the National Theatre‘s award-winning production.

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Said Liz Leck, the Hippodrome’s Creative Learning & Development Manager,

“We will be transporting families back 100 years to a time free of technology in a transformed Patrick Centre; families will find themselves in a ‘far-off field’ in France and make camp in ‘trenches’ overnight.”

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National Army Museum representatives will also be attending to share a range of genuine and replica artefacts from the museum’s collection. At the end of the evening, a collaborative family performance will be created from scratch: act, sing or bring along a musical instrument to join in. For the less theatrically-inclined, the “Hippodrome Herald” will be seeking out budding war correspondents and cartoonists prepared to put their journalistic skills to the test.

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Tickets for the sleepover are priced at £20 for children and £30 for adults, and can be booked by calling 0844 338 5000. Calls cost 5p per minute. A minimum of 1 adult per 3 children is required for each group.

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The Family Sleepover is part of a nationwide Family Arts Festival offering events and activities across the city. Click here for more information on the festival.

Summer in Southside – 24-25 August

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14Almost as soon as I headed out of New Street station towards the Hippodrome and the Southside area, I could feel rhythm pulsing through the streets. As I approached, music filled the air, laden with enough sunshine of its own to chase away the faintly autumnal chills that crept into this Saturday.

This was the second part of Summer in Southside, a double weekend of free live performance around the Birmingham Hippodrome, and the source of the sound was the African music accompanying the acrobatic displays of the Black Eagles dance group.

Immediately afterwards, the crowd shuffled into Inge Street, where a fairytale forest of leaves, poles and cling film was waiting to provide the backdrop for The Red Shoes, a magical fairy-tale performance by Upswing . Beautiful, atmospheric and thoroughly entertaining, this show perfectly captured the spirit of traditional tale-telling, carefully blending humour with the threat of hidden dangers. I’ve never enjoyed a dance performance so much: I loved that the movement and skill were clearly used to serve the story and setting, rather than the other way around.

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Next up were some spectacular circus skills by NoFit State Circus, including trampolining, dancing on roller skates and a record attempt at the largest number of people hula hooping on the streets of Birmingham. The display culminated in spectacular, rope-based acrobatics from a performer who seemed almost to swim through the air as if it were water, and was accompanied throughout by a brilliant live band who promised to make a song out of whatever their audience requested.

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A sign spinning showcase followed featuring Hollywood-based performers Max Durovic and Justin Brown, star of the Daft Signz video (below). Sign spinning is a strange mix of advertising and dance, with large signs incorporated into urban dance moves. Like the NoFit State’s Open House, this performance was particularly good at involving its audience, with the performers encouraging enthusiastic children to get involved.

A little tired and thirsty by this point, I headed for the sweet shop on the corner to grab myself a drink, but before I could reach the counter, a street band dressed in Sergeant Pepper-style outfits appeared outside the door. As they struck up the opening notes of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, and began to make their way down Hurst Street, I realised I’d have to put down the Dandelion & Burdock and come back for it later. The band was Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, a New Orleans-style six-piece playing 90s pop classics. Walking with the band, a group of people travelled towards Arcadian, serenaded with a bizarre version of Black Box’s “Ride on Time”. After this, we were treated to unique renditions of songs by Orbital, Happy Mondays, Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, with Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” as the finale. Without a doubt, listening to them was my favourite part of the weekend. Click here to hear some of their music on Soundcloud.

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Just a couple of shows were left to see: Graeae Theatre’s Iron Man and Captive by Motionhouse. The former was a fun, family friendly show that saw Ted Hughes’ Iron Giant brought to life to fight against the terrible Space Bat. The puppetry was incredible, and the show also taught its audience some sign language, offering positive representation through performers with a range of disabilities.

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The final show was an acrobatic dance piece in which four characters become trapped together in a cage. It explored the relationships between its characters and how these were affected by being forced together in a confined space, finally ending with the possibility of escape and freedom.

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Summer in Southside was a fantastic opportunity to experience a range of different kinds of performance. It was great to see so many people not only watching but interacting with shows, especially children and families.

If you missed Summer in Southside, or if you were there and enjoyed the weekend, you can catch more free outdoor theatre in a couple of weeks’ time at Birmingham’s Four Squares Weekender event. The Four Squares Weekender will take place across a range of Birmingham venues from Friday 6th to  Sunday 8th September to celebrate the opening of the Library of Birmingham. It will feature performances by the CBSO, NoFit State Circus and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, along with a range of street theatre, dance, live music, exhibitions and plenty of opportunities to get involved. Click here for more information.