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To support Coventry’s bid for the City of Culture in 2021 we’ve come up with the slightly daunting task of collecting two thousand and twenty one Coventry photos featuring the colour blue. So far Coventry’s Tweeters and Instagrammers have taken up the baton admirably – there were over 100 posts on Instagram in the first week! But, y’know, 2021 is a *lot* of photos so we need all the help we can get! If you are on Twitter or Instagram, please join in this new game: get spotting the colour blue out and about in the city and add your photos by tagging them #2021blue and #thisiscoventry – in the words of Captain Barnacle “Coventry, let’s do this!”.


We sing a story of the soldiers of The Somme

Of whom one from Coventry was named, Montague.

Theatre Absolute and Talking Birds present Montague’s Song, an intimate Requiem for Coventry violinist Montague Johnson, who was lost at the Battle of the Somme exactly 100 years to the hour of this performance.

His story will be told, and the mystery of a discovery made many years later will be uncovered.

Performed by Derek Nisbet, Chris O’Connell and Elinor Coleman.


Date: Saturday 3rd September 2016

Time: 6pm (Doors 5.30pm)

Venue: St John’s Church, Fleet Street, Coventry CV1 3AY

Running time: 30 mins approx

(followed by drinks at the Shop Front Theatre, 38 City Arcade, Coventry, CV1 3HW)

Admission: £4 (£3 concessions) via OxBoffice: Tel 0845 6801926

This performance can be captioned (subtitled) to your mobile device via Talking Birds’ The Difference Engine. To use this service or for any other access enquiries please e-mail:

Guest post: Vanessa Oakes reflects on her stint on The Cart in the #ThisisCoventry tent (which was curated to launch Coventry’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2021) at Godiva Festival last Sunday.


a space… a cart… a place to sit and think… to listen… focus on our past, present and imagined futures… rest, recharge our phones, shut out the festival NOISE and… meditate on a life made up of memorable moments.

heads down.

needles in… stitch by stitch… cultural moments cross the ring road… pale blue, blue, white threads, births, love affairs and friendships thread through cloth, as conversations flow an observation surfaces sideways:

how artists and arts organisations talk about interacting with the community rather than thinking about themselves as part of the community.*

testing our powers of concentration… conversation… commitment… action stitching our way along roads, across precincts, towards homes… we lament: it’s only two thirty…

heads down.

children play, climb and hide… nest and then… disappear/lost… and finally, thankfully, found… we return again to the cloth… thread a needle… pin a note, add a thought, learn a stitch… listen… and… hesitate… a place to rest a pint? is he serious? no… thought not… a hasty retreat.

a cart… a place to… sit… perhaps just sit… rest our feet… process our words… and think, then… once again…

heads down.

we listen… and imagining a future landscape of our stories told on these streets… we stitch.


*quote: Justine Themen

Here are the details of our various outings this weekend (you can find timings etc here):

On Friday, Beyond the Water’s Edge, live poetry from around the world, opens at The Belgrade Theatre. Produced by our friends at Midland Creative Projects, the show features visuals and music from the Birds.

On Saturday, the Whale is surfacing at the Darnhill Festival in Heywood, while the Cricketers take their inimitable brand of sporting buffoonery to The Hat Fair in Winchester.

Then on Sunday, the Whale will be at Godiva Festival in Coventry in the #ThisisCoventry tent helping to launch Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture 2021.

The Cart will also be in the #ThisisCoventry tent, where artist Julia O’Connell and writer Vanessa Oakes will be working with us collecting cultural moments from visitors to the tent to add to the #ThisisCoventry tablecloth. You can join us for as long or short a conversation as you like, stitching optional. We look forward to seeing you there!


Hmm, that’s possibly an unintentionally apt blog title on EURef day, but this post isn’t about that. It’s actually a kind of apology that, when there’s only 3 of you and everyone (not just in the company) seems to be busier than they’ve ever been making great new things, other things fall off your radar and sometimes just fall apart.

For a long time now, Talking Birds has wanted to make ‘The Cart’. Janet, in particular, has been trying to shoehorn it into what feels like every project for the last 10 years. It surfaced as the germ of an idea for a joint (unsuccessful) proposal that we made to Playable Cities with Ludic Rooms; then again as part of a city-wide Pop-Up Cities Conference that didn’t happen with Artspace, Dan Thompson and Theatre Absolute; another unsuccessful evolution of The Cart was entered into the City Arcadia open call…

But it was too good an idea to shelve and also, perhaps, too complex (or vague!) an idea to articulate well?

Talking Birds’ work is about people and places, and over the years we’ve usually gone out and made that work with what we have found in the places where the people are. But The Cart is a little bit different. In a way, perhaps it’s an intersection between our site-specific work and our peripatetic engagement work with, for example, The Oakmobile. Anyway, it wasn’t until Coventry got serious about bidding for UK City of Culture 2021, that we realised there was perhaps a Cart-shaped gap in that process, and that teaming up with the Coventry2021 team could finally make The Cart happen.

We’ve found it hard to describe The Cart in a pithy way, because we want it to be so many things and to be used in lots of different ways, for lots of different things – but perhaps “pop-up workshop space and community engagement environment” might do for now? It’s something that can pop-up across the city (and beyond) offering a friendly, relaxed, comfortable and welcoming space to have a conversation over coffee, over a shared activity such as stitching or a game, or maybe even over a free haircut. An exchange of some kind. Something which allows parents to stop and chat whilst their children play. Something that can go to where people are, and engage them on their terms – visiting neighbourhoods, parks, nurseries; joining existing events or forming the focus of new ones; mapping the cultural engagement in the city on a micro-level, where it’s about people rather than statistics, about communities rather than about wards, about human connections and the things we do together.

The Coventry2021 team and Coventry City Council recognised The Cart’s potential: and so we’re delighted to announce that The Cart is finally happening – with its first outing in the #ThisisCoventry tent at Godiva Festival on July 3rd.

Obviously, this is brilliant and terrifying in almost equal measure – that idea, so long in the gestation is finally being realised and is about to be tested: the first step in finding out what we can do with this new tool. And so, for us, there has been a lot of work in a relatively compressed period of time – and while we’ve been busy sorting it all out, getting everything ready, our website (for one thing) is falling apart! No-one really has time to write a blogpost (I’m on borrowed time for this one), the tool that used to catapult our instagram feed onto the front page has gone out of business (without letting us know) and our What’s On page is missing much of the other stuff we’re also doing.

Maybe that’s inevitable. Maybe sometime we’ll catch up with ourselves. Maybe you’re busy too and you’ll understand. Hopefully you’ll come and see us and The Cart at Godiva and let us know whether it was worth it.

Work in Progress pics of The Cart (Cultural Action Research Tool??)


It’s entirely possible that this blogpost might be construed as blowing our own trumpets (or something) but, you know, I’m going to post it anyway. Just because it is not every day that you get such an absolutely lovely email that makes you pleased that you do what you do – and makes you want to keep doing it. So here goes:

“I would like to express my gratitude for your informing me of the captioning with The Difference Engine. I was most impressed with the high quality standard of the captions and how perfectly it fitted into the small scale one woman monologue performance of Joan.

“As a hearing aid user who lip reads, I found this technology allowed me to fully understand the whole performance with ease. I found I could read quickly ahead and be able to watch the whole show in order to capture the emotions and the visual aspect of the character’s performance. I have watched many [shows with]…closed captions which are often at the side of the stage and by the time I read them, I have missed the performance of the character…the large captions can be distracting…I thoroughly enjoyed how the captions portrayed the different voices to present the various characters within the show and the description of the music genre.

“I most definitely would use this technology again as I feel I was in control of my access and it was discreet [with] the option to glance and…the ability to read ahead. I felt integrated, as there was humour, audience participation and emotions which I felt synchronised with the rest of the audience instead of receiving the information second, later on.

“I am now a fan. Thank you Talking Birds for the technology and…Derby Theatre and Milk Production for allowing the show to be accessible.”

**In case you missed it; Here at Talking Birds we are still looking for a Tech Genius* to work with us on the further development of the Difference Engine and our other techy stuff. If you know someone who might be interested, please get them to look at this (some details including deadline dates are about to be altered, and previous applicants need not re-apply etc etc but it’ll give you the gist – if you’re interested, please do get in touch).

* This is definitely an official job title and exactly what it will say on the business cards 😉

We’re delighted to announce that The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has awarded Talking Birds funds to work further on the development of our in-pocket captioning tool, The Difference Engine. As part of this, we’re recruiting a Resident Technologist, to work alongside us and original programmer James Shuttleworth, to further develop the system and support the companies and audiences testing it. All the recruitment details for the Resident Technologist are here and we hope soon to be able to involve more companies in testing the Difference Engine on their own shows and feeding into its development. Watch, as they say, this space…IMG_1919.JPG[slightly rubbish pic of The Difference Engine in action at the Barbican the other week, captioning The Encounter by Complicite]

Arts Council England has recently announced its Changemakers Fund, to help address the lack of diversity in arts leadership. The fund is open to National Portfolio Organisations to apply jointly with an identified individual.

Talking Birds is seeking to have informal conversations with interested parties, with a view to applying jointly to the fund in order to support the development of Talking Birds’ Difference Engine. For more information on the ChangeMakers fund, click here.

In order to kick start the conversation and help frame what we might be looking to do if such a bid were to be successful, we’ve drawn up this draft person specification. If it sounds interesting, please get in touch (details below)!

Associate Producer (Difference Engine) – draft person specification

Talking Birds is looking for an Associate Producer to work particularly on the company’s new digital accessibility tool in development, The Difference Engine. We will be looking to apply jointly with this person to Arts Council England’s new Changemakers strategic fund to enable the appointment (fund expression of interest deadline 28.4.16)

Though the particular focus of this post is on the Difference Engine, we are interested in working with an individual who has the vision to imagine how it can be used as a creative tool and can act as a champion or ambassador for the system. Ideally you have experience and links into the Disability Arts sector, can champion the Difference Engine in that sector, but can also push the company’s working practice, making sure we continue to productively challenge ourselves around accessibility, casting and participation.

You will need to be a good communicator with a passion for arts and making creative ideas and accessibility go hand in hand.

You will be working alongside Talking Birds’ Co-Artistic Directors, General Manager and Resident Technologist to realise the full potential of the Difference Engine – in terms of the company’s own artistic programme, rolling it out to other artists, companies and producers, and putting it into the hands of those that can benefit from it. A crucial part of this will be working with audience user-testers in the development of both the system itself, and in the nurturing of these new audiences – for our work and work in the independent, small-scale and outdoor arts sector where access provision has historically been patchy. You will help find ways of making The Difference Engine sustainable – which might include running a crowd-funding campaign and developing relationships with funding partners.

We will work closely with you to ensure you have whatever support you need to carry out your role – which will be shaped in close collaboration with you, and informed by your strengths and interests to ensure personal and career development opportunities for you.

Please do get in touch for an informal discussion.

Email: Co-Artistic Director Janet Vaughan janet [@]

Tel: 024 7615 8330

 Notes on Arts Council Changemakers Fund

(From ACE guidance)The primary aim of the fund is to increase the diversity of senior leadership in the arts and culture by helping to develop a cohort of leaders who are Black, minority ethnic and/or disabled by means of a targeted senior leadership training and development programme, hosted by a National Portfolio Organisation or Major Partner Museum, and designed to develop the leadership skills and experience of Black, minority ethnic and disabled potential leaders. The fund supports our aim of addressing the under-representation of Black, minority ethnic and disabled senior leaders across the National portfolio and Major partner museum portfolio by providing opportunities for such potential leaders to gain relevant experience and training so they are able to compete on merit when future Artistic Director, Chief Executive or other senior leadership positions become available.

Notes on Talking Birds’ Difference Engine

The Difference Engine was devised by Talking Birds as a low-cost, always-on way of making live performance accessible through delivering captioning and audio description to the mobile devices in audience members’ pockets. The system was funded to prototype stage by Arts Council England and is now entering a year of intensive testing with small arts organisations and venues in the UK. With funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the company is currently recruiting a Resident Technologist to support the development of the Difference Engine throughout this period of testing.

For information on the background and development of the Difference Engine, see


‘My City, My Art’ is a kind of web-enabled (un)conference pairing artists in the twin cities of Coventry and Volgograd to inspire partnership, the development of new work and identify the potential for exchanges.

Part One:            8 Pecha Kucha style presentations, 4 from each city.
Part Two:            Skype-enabled twin city matchmaking event based around 8 artists’ 60 second introductory video clips.

When: 1 March 2016 15:00 – 17.00 [DOORS AT 14.30] FREE ENTRY
Where: The Tin Music & Arts, Canal Basin, Coventry

For artists, and those interested in the way cities inspire them – please join us!

There will be food provided and the venue will stay open for artists and audience to socialise afterwards.

Produced by Talking Birds in association with Pecha Kucha Coventry

Been a bit quiet on the blog front. Reckon we owe you a catch up, so here goes:

My City, My Art

With Pecha Kucha Coventry, we’re organising a web-enabled artists conference as part of the Twin Story project – linking up artists in Coventry and its twin city Volgograd. Entitled ‘My City, My Art’, the event is in two parts – the first half is powered by Pecha Kucha and the second relies on the magic of skype! It’s an event for artists, and those interested in the way cities inspire them – we’d love you to join us.

When: 1 March 2016 15:00 – 17.00
Where: The Tin Music & Arts, Canal Basin, Leicester Row, Coventry

The Difference Engine

We’re delighted to announce that the Paul Hamlyn Foundation has invested in a years worth of development on the Difference Engine. This means that we are currently recruiting a technologist to work alongside us and we will shortly be getting in touch with companies (and audience members!) who want to partner us in testing it (Hurray!).

Complicite are continuing to use the Difference Engine to caption their extraordinary binaural show, The Encounter. It is at the Barbican at the moment and heading up to Home in Manchester in March.