How did you picture Poland before you came here?
Well, the truth is I was very, very surprised when I did arrive because it’s very modern. I had this kind of cold war, behind the iron curtain impression that I grew up with. So I didn’t expect very much. Instead I was pleasantly surprised simply because Poland joining the EU very quickly a lot of the large international companies came here and Poland made it accessible for them to improve the economy and of course create jobs.
When did you arrive here?
Six years ago, although I have been coming to Poland for over 10 years now but earlier they were just visits. I mean I’ve seen everything grow here, I’ve seen tremendous increase in visitors to Krakow. It is a very popular destination to come to, very accessible.
How is life in Krakow different from where you’re from?
I’m from Plymouth in the UK, which is down in the south west. I grew up there but I moved to Italy at the beginning of 1988. And I moved from Rome directly to Kraków so I didn’t really go back to my country although I did go back for a couple of years once but I still prefer the continental style of life.
I met Asia in Rome and we have been together for 12 years now. We have two children and I love Krakow because it has a very relaxed rhythm of life, just like it was in Rome. But on the bureaucratic side of life it’s more like Great Britain, although you have to do three things instead of one but I am used to that from my Italian experience.
Poland really hasn’t made me learn Polish because the majority of people are able to speak English to a very good level here. Whereas when I was in Italy, especially Rome, if you didn’t learn the language it would have been very difficult to deal with all those very important documents.
So what do you do here in Kraków?
When I first came to Krakow full time I took up teaching because I was doing that in Italy as well. I did that for a few years but I’ve branched out. I now work for Sports Tours Poland as an event organizer for sports and free time activities. Just lately I’ve been dealing with a group of Asians living in Dubai who want to come to Krakow and play indoor cricket and hockey. So we provide all kinds of services to do with sports.
I also co-organize the Krakow Rugby Festival which is really exciting. We’re coming up with our third edition for June 2018 plus our first International Women’s Tournament in 2018, we have six teams already, three come from Poland and three from the UK.
Would you say that rugby is becoming more popular in Poland?
I’m working very closely with Juvenia Kraków RFC, Kraków’s only professional team in the Extra Liga. I’m actually a coach with them. I coach the youngsters because I played rugby for over 20 years. I do a lot of PR work as well. Recently I went to Great Britain and in my hometown the National Division 1 league Side Plymouth Albion RFC welcomed me. They put me in the official match program and we exchanged club shirts, I got invited to the VIP center along with my sons. A great day, great reception. On that day Juvenia were playing as well and they won so it was a really fantastic day.
You are also involved in the Krakow Fringe Festival.
I was the host. I’m not an actual actor, but I’m a good speaker. I’m quite good at being off the cuff, I don’t need a script. I also wrote some of the sketches. My dear friend Sindu, who works at the Jagiellonian University and is also a great actress, did an adaptation of some Monty Python sketches, a scene from The Life of Brian and The Argument sketch.
We all came from the Kraków King’s Players Theatre Group. Marek Wawrzyniak, who’s one of Kraków stand-up comedians along with Ashley, an Australian comedian, created the festival. They wrote to the KKP and our artistic director sent it out to everyone and asked if anyone would like to do this. So I decided to write some stuff and Sindhu wanted to be the director. We called ourselves Boardwalk. It was hugely successful, we played two evenings and we had a full house every time. Absolutely magnificent.
Can you see any differences between Polish and British sense of humour?
Yes and no. I follow a lot of Polish humour and I don’t get it sometimes even when it’s translated. But then I saw many funny things like my favourite cold war film Miś and I found this hilarious. I know that John Cleese is well-known in Poland, everybody knows Monty Python. So there are similarities but also certain tangents that I don’t think I would share the same enthusiasm for.
I had the pleasure of meeting Christine Paul-Podlasky. She was touring the country celebrating 35 years of Miś and she signed my book “Happy Birthday Mark”, even though it was in September and I met her in June. But I said: “Sign it for my birthday, it’d be a nice present for me.” Wonderful woman, she was just amazed that I knew so much about her role in the film.
Have you been with Kraków’s Kings Players from the very beginning?
Well, almost. My colleague from work introduced me to KKP, she invited me to their first performance and I love theatre, always have. They gave us a questionnaire and I wrote “Great evening, great entertainment. Thanks very much. Can I join your group and help you out?” About a month later I got a call from Don Allen, the artistic director who is the founder of KKP. I didn’t really want to be an actor, just wanted to do some behind the scenes stuff. Initially I was Head Dogsbody which then developed into Stage Manager.
I do everything behind the scenes, from making sure the props are there to making sure the actors go for a pee before the show.
How many shows have you already put on?
It’s increasing all the time. We’ve got a repertoire of around ten plays. They go from drama to comedy. Now we are working on a new production, we have around thirty actors. It’s done on two stages. The actors walk down the middle and the audience are lining the two stages on either side. In the middle there are two story tellers. So the audience is right up there with the actors, you can hear people breathe.
This is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol which I grew up with. This is a story that you have to listen to, watch or read more than once. It’s absolutely magnificent and this production with thirty actors is really something special.