Recent Posts

  • A Glimpse Through The Window

    At the age of 11 – I left school and began my life on construction sites.

    I have essentially spent my whole life in the service of manual labour – but have nevertheless been inevitably drawn to the alluring world of Art.

    If I was so attracted to this world, then why did I choose to forgo any formal education and resign myself to a work place that is traditionally bereft of it?

    Let’s say that the traditional education system was not my ‘cup of tea’. The teachers bored me and the only classes that interested me were the ones where I was allowed to exercise a certain level of creativity. Thankfully, my fascination for the Arts endured beyond my limited interest in school. Regardless of where I was, I always felt a draw towards social and cultural circles that were beyond my control.

    It could be a glimpse of a painter halfway through their work or a troupe of dancers stretching before a performance – these people always fascinated me and made me yearn for a more complex fulfilling existence.

    In that respect, making the move to England might have been the best decision I’ve made in my life. This is, after all, the country where I’d go on to meet my wife, raise my kids. Before all of this, I was given a glimpse into a world that I thought I’d never be a part of.

    I first made the trip to England in the late 70s. Although I would eventually choose to settle in London, Manchester was the first city that I called ‘home’. Far too cold for my Spanish blood, I froze in the North of England but was appreciative of the work that I was able to pick up in such a short space of time. My choice to move down to London permanently was more of a practical decision born out of the need for a warmer climate and more regular work. Culturally, I had every reason to stay in Manchester.

    The work I initially picked up was a little out of my ken, in fact I knew next to nothing about the trade when I was first hired by a pair of window fitters in Manchester. They didn’t seem to mind too much, it looked like all they really wanted was a pair of extra hands and if they could help out a young migrant at the same time then that was a bonus. The first few weeks on the job were long and tiring, but not without their perks.

    The clients we worked for were varied. One day we could be at an old lady’s house building a conservatory in Manchester, somewhere in the seemingly endless sprawl of the city’s suburbs. The next we could be installing some brand new sheet glass in one of  the grand landmarks of the area. 

    The day that I will forever cherish – the day where I realised that my rough-worn world of overalls and builder’s tea was not without its glimpses of grace or beauty – took me completely by surprise, thoroughly shaking my young ideas of identity and class. We had been called out to the Manchester City of Art Gallery on an emergency. An attempted break-in had left several windows smashed and precious artworks were exposed to the elements.

    We arrived just a few minutes after the police had left and the staff were glad to see us, nervously plying us with tea and biscuits. They took us through to the main gallery, were the majority of the damage had been caused. Now that the police had left (the would-be thieves had not managed to get away with anything) the staff were permitted to touch the items and clean up the mess.

    With a drab drizzle falling softly through the exposed window frames, the staff were quick to jump into action but also needed our help. I had fallen into something of a reverie at this point, gazing at the priceless pictures on the wall and wondering at their origin. Before I knew it, I was being shaken by the arm and a huge canvas was being thrust into my hand. With my arms stretched out as far as they would go, I could barely hold on to it, I was ordered to follow one of the staff members upstairs to drop the painting off in storage.

    As I shakily ascended the stairs, the gravity of the situation hit me.

    I’d travelled thousands of miles from my home in Spain, never expecting to even get a glimpse into this walled off world – yet here I was, carrying Rossetti’s Proserpine as if it were a dining room table.

  • Personnel Problems…

    This wonderful, filthy city, that I have had the pleasure of calling home for the last year or so, reminds me of my home country of Warsaw in a lot of ways.

    The Summer months bring the best out in the people here.

    When the sun comes out and the days grow longer – the people of London shed their fur lined jackets and their inhibitions along with it.

    When I first arrived here in the United Kingdom, London was in the midst of a hazy Summer and the 8 million or so people living there were busy revelling in the warmth and glow of a golden July. My colleagues and I had arrived at the start of the month – we’d been given a sizeable grant from the Poland Arts Council to explore the rise of Nationalism in the UK. The political movement that had always had a vague presence in our home country, but seemed to be having quite the resurgence of late.

    The money that we had been given, as a lump sum might I add, totalled a grand sum – far more than I had ever been afforded in a Creative capacity before. Thousands of pounds had been transferred to my account, enough to cover the living expenses and professional costs of four media professionals, with the proviso that we would return in a year’s time with hard-hitting documentary that would expose the truth of Nationalism beyond our borders.

    Well, a year has been and gone – and I doubt the Art’s Council of Poland are very pleased with me.

    I suppose a great deal of the responsibility lies on my shoulder. I was, after all, in charge of the project. I had put my submission in front of the Council, I had hired the crew and I had signed for the money. I’ve not been back to Warsaw since and I suppose should probably leave it for a little longer yet…

    So how did it all go so wrong? The problem stems – as it usually does – with money. When we arrived in London, back in July 2016, I’d made the wise decision that, as we were all grown adults, the massive amount of cash that the Council had give us would we divvied out amongst us and we would all organise our own bed and board.

    Gabrjel, our boom operator, was happy staying in Air B’n’Bs – he was secretly intent on saving whilst we were away and taking the money saved back home with him. Ludwik had slightly more expensive tastes, he yearned for the high-life – so his first stop was a 4-Star Hotel off of Oxford Street. Lastly, there was Henio. Had I known that the shy and retiring Sound Mixer, who had come so highly recommended from the most legitimate of sources, was such a gambler, I would never had wired him so much money.

    We had been barely a week acclimatising to our new habitats before we lost contact with Henio altogether.

    He’d been drinking with Ludwik, somewhere in Shoreditch at an expensive bar and had been led into an alley for a game of dice – we didn’t see him again. Unsurprisingly, three weeks into the trip, Ludwik had burnt through all his cash. By this point I was sick of the sight of him, so I sent him packing back to Warsaw to explain himself to the Council – I doubt he ever went.

    To his credit, Gabrjel stayed for a lot longer that he needed to. After Ludwik’s dramatic departure, the project had fallen to pieces and it felt like we’d learnt more about the follies of man than any kind of burgeoning political movement.

    Thankfully, I found PANEK – now I’m looking to start a new project but this time I’ll work on a shoestring budget.

  • The Changing Nature of Our Performers

    The 20 performers in the PANEK improv class have changed so much!

    The weekly classes that we began 3 months, in a strange half finished space behind Paolo’s gallery, have gone from strength from strength.

    Although the initial sessions were a little tricky to start with, the more that our students have got to know each other, the easier the improvisational lessons have flowed.

    Familiarity and ritual breeds comfort. As the weeks have flown by, the warm-ups and exercises that elicited stifled giggles at first are now treated with a reverential silence, as the small gathering of would-be actors are beginning to take their craft seriously. They might not have realised it, but each one of them has undergone a change in their identity. Where once they would consider themselves as just a ‘student’ or just a ‘customer representative’, they now have a new arrow in their quiver.

    By returning to the PANEK drama class, week on week, they’ve been challenging themselves to do something different each week.

    Each session, bar the familiar warm-up exercises, is completely different from the last. The rolling group of 20 or so students ensures that no team-up is ever the same, so each time a new group is put together there are countless possibilities as to what they’ll come up with. Being faced with these variables on a week-by-week basis is what hardens our students as performers.

    They might start out as timid actors, a little scared of making a mistake or breaking character, but these fears soon begin to wane as they make these mistakes and realise that there is no shame in doing so. As each individual has begun to shed their inhibitions, that might have limited their initial enjoyment of their classes, I can see that they now hold themselves a little taller.

    It would be easy to dismiss this change as something that only takes place within our performance space. After all, its not like I see them outside of the class. But as someone who has also benefited from the empowering effects of performance, I understand that it can really cause a positive change in your whole life.

    For some people who struggle with their confidence or self-esteem, like I did when I was younger, the practice of drama and improvisation can be a therapeutic experience. Once you’ve entered into a space where any mistake you can make is irrelevant, you soon understand that the ‘real world’ outside the performance space, really isn’t that much different. Of course, the stakes are always raised significantly whenever you step outside, but I soon learnt that the only person who truly punished me for me errors was myself.

    With this in mind I could go forth into the world with a new sense of confidence and ease that I’d not felt before.

    The challenge of bringing up a difficult topic of conversation no longer seemed so daunting. Walking into a social situation with a group of complete strangers no longer phases me.

    In fact I now relish the chance to do that, something that I know my students do too…

  • Change is Inevitable: Just Go With It

    I’ve lived in the East End of London for coming up to nearly forty years now.

    The city’s face has changed significantly since I first arrived.

    As much as I’d like to promise you that ‘change’ is always something that is instantly noticeable – the truth is really quite the opposite and, as a result, a troubling concept.

    Change is an insidious beast. For years it will work behind the scenes of your everyday life. You’ll assume that because you’re in the same job and you’re living in the same place, that your life, as you know it, is sedentary.  An unmoving constant, a flatline on a graph, a calm sea. Of course, if this is the way you think, then you couldn’t be any more wrong.

    Let me give you an example.

    When my children were just starting school, in the early 90s, times were tough. I was a jobbing tradesman, still fresh faced and newly married. I’d struggled to get work for the past year or so, but with the economy the way it was, it looked like we all would have to tighten our belts for the foreseeable future.

    Children are often more perceptive than we choose to think. It’s a common mistake of the older generations to assume that the thoughts of a child are free of all worries and doubts. I was given a reminder of this, on what was to be the most heart-breaking conversations with my oldest daughter, she was 8 at the time. We were just leaving the local Oxfam with a veritable treasure trove of clothes – enough to last her and her sister for at least the next six months. As we stepped out into the High Street, I remember her gazing at the glossy shops on either side of the tatty store we’d just left and turning to me with a puzzled expression on her face. I’ll never forget the words she asked me:

    “Dad, are we poor?”

    What do you do when you’re asked that question?

    I’d never been a rich man, but it hurt me to think that my daughter might think less of herself for not being as wealthy as her class mates. Was she really that conscious of her surroundings? Of course she was. Thankfully, that was the last time that she asked me a question like that – but it didn’t stop me from thinking about it.

    10 years later and we had all managed to come through the ordeal that was the first Financial Crisis relatively unscathed. Despite both my daughters transforming into anti-establishment, politically motivated young women – that day still stuck in my head and I still felt the need to buy them the things that I could not buy them when they were younger. I knew they were a little too old and testy for a trip to Disney Land, but there was one guilty pleasure that I knew they would still enjoy: clothes.

    Although, ironically, both of them now did the majority of their shopping in charity shops, they still obsessed over finding the best deals and they were most excited when they discovered high-end fashion brands at low prices. Knowing this, I began to dote on them, at completely random intervals. Packages began arriving addressed to them: Monnalisa Clothes from Kathryn’s, Fresh Cream Cakes from Pattiserie Valerie and Tickets to Concerts.

    Initially they were overjoyed; to be showered with unexpected gifts is a pleasant feeling after all. But, something strange happened after a couple of weeks. My daughters sat me down with serious expressions on their face. They told me that they appreciated all these gifts but that they didn’t want anymore. I’d raised them to be frugal and now they were starting to feel guilt-ridden that too much money was being spent on them. I would happily have kept on spending but their serious faces made me think again.

    I decided to stop and save the money for a trip to Disney Land anyway, sometimes children need to be reminded how to be children.

  • 3 Guitarists From Around The World

    There’s a certain sweet pleasure that I get out of listening to guitar music.

    Traditional guitar music, played from the 6-stringed variety, wasn’t an instrument favoured by my family.

    We were all encouraged to get involved with musical groups and classes, but my parents were keen to steer us away from the ‘rock’n’roll instruments’ that would no doubt lead to the drink, drugs and sex that would herald the downfall of our noble clan.

    Despite my parents’ liberal approach to embedding themselves in the community, they also embodied the strict values and morals that might seem a little cliched now. They were devoutly religious, 2nd generation Pakistanis who had spent their childhoods living through tough times in large families.

    Through their faith in God, they had persevered through times of austerity and found a place in a society which  has been initially to their parents before them. They fervently believed that, by funnelling our ambitions through a prism of Religion and quasi-censorship, we would avoid the pitfalls of youth that they had neatly side-stepped during the turbulent 60s.

    It worked…for the most part at least.

    Any parents reading this will be rolling their eyes at my parents approach to censoring what their children are influenced by. However, it was a lot easier back then to do this. Without smart phones, we weren’t constantly open to countless streams of information. The only real source of media we received was through Father’s newspaper (always The Times – a consummate British gentleman) and Radio 4 (my Mother’s choice, a way for her to practice her ‘Queenies English’).

    However it didn’t take long for my brother and I to grow up and start visiting friends’ houses. Then we were well and truly out in the open world – with no way for our parents to censor what we saw or listened to. It was the 80s and although the punk movement was dying a death, it was beginning to be replaced by something a great deal more outrageous and morally dubious.

    The ‘hair-metal’ and ‘glam-rock’ of the 80s captured my heart more than any other kind of music. The loud, brash guitars. The flaunting rhythms and sex-obsessed lyrics were a catalyst to my teenage power fantasies. Before my parents knew it, they’d lost me to a bewildering world of rock’n’roll that was far more alien than what had come before.

    Of course, I never really went off the rails.

    I was too well brought up for that and I never wished to disappoint my parents.

    Today, I’m leaving to pick up three musicians from Heathrow. After booking some parking through Airport Parking Market, I’m going to be heading off to meet them. I’ll be there for the whole day, waving in three talented musicians who could well be the future stars of tomorrow.

    You see, my love for guitar music has never faded. I might have moved away from the 80s music of my youth but the sound of guitars playing in unison still fascinates me. So much so that I’ve found three guitar players, virtuosos from three different countries who have made their fame through YouTube.

    For the first of a series of performances (scheduled for a month’s time), I’m going to be bringing these players in and asking them to collaborate on improvisational material. They’ll be here for a month, living together and playing in the community.

    I hope you can join me for what promises to be an exhilarating performance.

  • First Time Drama Students

    The first time you bring a group of non-performers together for a practical drama session there is always bound to be a certain amount of awkwardness.

    I’ve seen it many times before.

    As a community-based drama teacher I have shared rooms with many brave souls who have pulled together the guts to turn up to something they’d usually be afraid of, but then lack the conviction to actually speak when the time comes to it. This is a completely understandable reaction to being thrust into a novel situation.

    When you’re attempting to bring together a group of 20 or so similarly nervous individuals, who also speak completely different languages, then you’ve got a challenge on your hands.

    An awkward shuffling silence is what faced me when I entered the space behind Paolo’s Art Gallery for the first Community-Free Theatre session. I had been planning this for a good couple of months. In London, offering something for free is always a risky endeavour. It’s not that the people who live here are opportunistic, it’s simply that people appreciate the value of experiences.

    When promoting my series of Free sessions, I’ve been attempting to draw in the kind of people that would not usually put themselves in a performance environment. Although a big part of PANEK’s aim is to bring together disparate artists from a variety of culture, it’s important to me that we also initiate new artists into London’s scene. Advertising ‘free sessions’ or any kind of performance time in London, is like opening a pot of honey in the centre of a bear enclosure.

    You’re likely to get mauled.

    With that in mind, I set about focusing on advertising throughout the smaller boroughs of London that contain higher proportions of ethnic and cultural minorities. I wanted to get a spread of ages, so I targeted the posters and flyers at families. Communities are, after all, built by families and the piece that I envisioned finishing with would be one that celebrates the very social fabric of London’s boroughs.

    Back to the space behind Paolo’s Gallery.

    The nervous group of 20 individuals in front of me were clearly excited to be there, but were conscious of the fact that their English was not as strong as they thought it should be. The first exercise we ran through was a way of showing them that this language barrier was something to be celebrated not feared.

    Mime may be seen by the performance industry as a somewhat outdated medium, but in this situation it worked wonders. Arranging our performers in a large circle, I began a chain reaction of greetings and actions, all without the use of spoken word. I wanted the first session to engage all of the attendees physically – often this can be more challenging than getting people to talk.

    Our bodies are capable of an incredible amount of range of emotion. In that first session, although I was mostly focusing on getting the performers to let go of their initial inhibitions, I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional depths that these amateurs were able to plumb at such an early stage.

    This is bodes well for future rehearsals and performances – I just hope the class stays as popular!