London Grilling with Gary Willis, Walthamstow Arts Champion
This week’s London Grilling comes courtesy of Gary Willis, programme manager over at the Expressive Arts department of Leyton Sixth Form. We met Gary recently at Dane’s Yard in Stratford East, and couldn’t help being charmed by his passion and enthusiasm for the arts programme and the way in which he helps the kids develop through performing.
Gary and the team are working hard to develop a local arts centre for the Walthamstow area, so we thought we would give him the chance to spread the word to our London Living readers…
What’s your background? How did you get involved with expressive arts?
I started life as a performer and then as a director and choreographer. I was in the theatre for 25 years in total working here and abroad. After having more than 50 addresses, I reached the stage where I wanted to settle and as I had always enjoyed working with young people I moved into education. Currently I manage the Expressive Arts department at Leyton Sixth Form College. I have now been teaching Performing Arts for 12 years and I love it! I really enjoy sharing my passion for the arts with young people and helping them to achieve their goals. “Sending the elevator back down” as Jack Lemmon put it. I fervently believe that everyone should follow their dreams and if that is performing, then it requires true vocational training and the development of skills, technique and the essential work ethic. That is what we offer at LSC.
What’s your favourite thing about your job and what are you most excited about this season?
Making a difference. I have many ex-students who keep in touch, who went on to drama school and are now working professionally. Playing a part in getting them where they wanted to be is very fulfilling. Seeing them grow and their excitement when they secure the place they wanted at the next level. We have a great team at Leyton and coming to work is a real pleasure. We run a very full and intense enrichment programme of which the season is part. This offers the students the chance to develop further and hone their skills in fully staged productions. Also the important opportunity to broaden their outlook and understanding through films and concerts. It is very exciting and keeps the place buzzing. It is hard work for everyone and the atmosphere is a little mad! But the world they want to enter is like that so it gives them a taste of what is to come.
This season there are 30 events over the year. I am very proud of what we make happen! They are open to the general public and I really want this year to spread the word and get more of the local community along to enjoy them. That is why I am grateful for this interview.
What will the arts centre bring to Walthamstow?
Walthamstow does not have a venue like this. The Season runs as a professional programme of many and varied events which should appeal to a wide public. Every month there are films, concerts of all kinds of music and theatre events. But also the venues can be booked by artists and groups in the community. There is the Theatre, Dance Studio, Drama Studio, TV Studio, Music Suite. We want people to use it and get involved. The website and contact details are below.
What’s been the proudest moment of your career to date, any claims to fame?!
Never been famous. As I tell the students, fame is fickle. There are many things I am proud of. I created theatre companies in Madrid, Spain and Holland, worked in the USA and have worked in many British theatres including the West End. Over 100 productions, yet no one would know me, but I have worked solidly for 25 years and loved every minute of it, which is achievement enough. To be honest I am equally proud of how many students I have helped and what they are doing now. Seeing them now is a very fulfilling and warm feeling.
How important are the arts for young people in deprived areas of London?
The Arts are crucial to all young people. It is about nurturing creativity and the soul. But to young people from deprived areas, they offer escape, structure, excitement and dreams. They often lack confidence. The arts can really make a difference as they are a great leveller. The skills they acquire are skills for life. I hope the Season at LSC will offer positive new experiences not just for our students but for everyone in the area.
Check out the Autumn Season on the LSC Website: www.leyton.ac.uk
To book tickets, visit: www.lsc-season.co.uk
To enquire about booking a space contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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